Is your child hangry? The connection between hunger and tantrums | Wholesome Child
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Is your child hangry? The connection between hunger and tantrums

Toddler tantrums can strike at any point – in the grocery store, in the shopping centre or even just as you’re lounging around at home.

There can be many different causes for a tantrum too. Lack of sleep is normally one of the first things to spring to mind, along with being uncomfortable or upset in a situation. But have you ever thought your toddler might be having a tantrum because of their hunger and nutrition?

Ah yes, hangry. I bet you’ve felt hangry before (that awful combination when hungry turns into anger) and welcome to one of the biggest influencing factors to toddler tantrums that I see frequently.

The food we eat and the nutrients we choose to sustain ourselves and our children with has a big impact on our emotions. I go into depth in my book about how sugar, for example, can contribute to a range of long-term health problems such as diabetes, obesity and immune deficiency, but what about the short-term issues?

The almost instant impact of the sweet stuff is a sugar rush (we’ve all been there). This is when blood sugar levels spike and children experience an energy increase. Following this, is the dreaded come down – the crash and burn – and this is where the tantrums often kick-in.

For this reason, it’s important to try and ensure your child’s diet contains a wide variety of nutrient-dense and calm-inducing foods. Here are my top tips on how to tackle those hunger tantrums – before they hit:

Ensure your child is satiated.

Avoiding hunger-induced tantrums doesn’t start when your child begins to get grizzly, it starts by ensuring your child is properly satiated at mealtimes. Mealtimes and snacks should be both filling and nutritious, packed with a variety of healthy fats, proteins and veggies so there’s less room for tantrums to sneak their way into your day. If you're struggling to get any of these food groups into your kids, my new range of wholefood boostes is here to help. Easy to add to cooking, baking or sprinkle on top of finished meals, Veggies+ and Protein+ deliver a potent hit of nutrients to help satiate and nourish your child. 

In my book, I have dedicated chapters on how to boost protein and increase healthy fats, as well as many family-friendly recipes that include a delicious combo of the two food groups. Try the tasty Salmon and Millet Rissoles or my Coconut Lamb Meatloaf which will ensure your child is firing on all cylinders. Or for a substantial dose of protein and healthy fats on one easy spoon, try adding Protein+ Choc or Vanilla to cereal, smoothies, baked goods, raw treats or more. View the Wholesome Kitchen for more recipe ideas and inspiration.

Preempt hunger attacks.

Often children don’t register their hunger, so it pays to know the warning signs of a hunger attack and address it before it escalates. While you know your child better than anyone, some of the most common signs to look out for are…

  • Continual whining which is out of character,
  • Aggression towards other children or toys,
  • Signs of tiredness – yawning, rubbing their eyes,
  • Asking for food or snacks in between their normal eating routine.

Once you can identify these signs for your child, it’s a lot easier to remedy the situation with snacks or their next meal before it turns into a tantrum.

Always arm yourself with nutritious snacks.

Mums are magicians at packing a fool-proof bag that contains everything you could possibly need for any situation. With that in mind, don’t let snacks slip. If you know your child is prone to tantrums when you’re out at the shops or in the car, make sure you have healthy snacks on hand.

Some of my favourite and easily transportable snacks are…

Look for hidden food preservatives and additives.

Many food additives or preservatives can cause your child to experience hyperactivity, lack of concentration, tummy issues and even induce irritability and tantrums. As these are typically found in pre-packaged foods such as vegetable oils, margarine, baked goods and cordials it’s my advice to leave as many of these on the shelf as possible. I go into depth in my book about how to best avoid these nasties. Sign up to My Wholesome Child for complimentary access to my Wholesome Shopping Course for more advice here.

Move over food colouring.

Artificial food colourings have been studied for years for their link to hyperactivity and irritability in children, with some countries even taking matters into their own hands and banning synthetic colourings altogether.

This one can be easy to spot as they’re typically found in processed, coloured foods. But, avoiding colourings doesn’t mean it’s time for boring food. In fact, I’ve developed a Natural Rainbow Cake recipe which can be found in my book (page 281), which is completely coloured with natural ingredients.

Check for Sodium Benzoate.

Sodium Benzoate is another commonly used preservative that’s been linked to hyperactivity and inattention in children. It’s actually used to hide that ‘processed taste’ some foods may have and can be specifically found in orange products like fizzy drink, cordial and juices. Keep your eyes peeled for it on product labels, or simply start to reduce processed orange products.

Although the jury is still out on the evidence suggesting that these can impact your child’s behaviour, there is enough reason to reduce your child’s intake and watch for signs of improvement.

Boost Omega-3’s.

Omega-3’s have been proven to improve mood disorders, so if your child is prone to regular tantrums, it’s a good idea to increase their intake of omega-3’s in order to bring a sense of calm. Some easy additions to their diet are chia seeds which you could whip up in my Mango Chia Pudding (page 197 of my book), flaxseeds which make scrumptious Flaxseed Crackers (page 185 of my book) or even salmon. Protein+ contains omega-3s from chia and flaxseed meal - an easy option for getting these into the diet through adding to porridge, yoghurt, cereal, spreads, baked goods and more.

Include stress-reducing foods.

You may want to start introducing foods which reduce stress and help calm your child as a preventative method. Here are my favourite stress-busting foods:

  • Spinach – Leafy greens are packed with magnesium to regulate cortisol levels and boost serotonin. 
  • Blueberries – Berries are a superfood packed with antioxidants like vitamin C to help our bodies ease stress. Use berries as the perfect stress-busting topping to your morning porridge. Or enlist some help to get these into your fussy eater by adding Superfruits+ to foods they're happy to eat (these are packed with superfood berries including blueberries!)
  • Asparagus – This green veggie is great for increasing levels of folic acid which can improve the mood of little ones and even ease depression symptoms. Add this powerful veggie to your stews, soups or roast veggies.
  • Almonds – Munching on some almonds throughout the day or when you preempt a tantrum can help to support the immune system, and ease stress and tension. You could even swap out their peanut butter sandwiches for almond butter instead (not at school of course!)

If you’ve made sure your child is properly nourished and they’re eating plenty of satiating protein and fats, there could be an underlying issue. If you’re concerned, we recommend seeing your GP or contacting Mandy for a consultation.

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