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How food can affect kids moods.

When nutritionist and naturopath Claire Grullemans talks about food and kids’ moods, she isn’t referring to that time you made tuna bake for dinner and the children were less than impressed. She’s talking about much more fun stuff, like guts and digestive systems and poop! Turns out, it’s a bit fascinating (and incredibly helpful) to understand how it all comes together.

As grown-ups, when we feel bloated or full (because we have ‘accidentally’ polished off a family-serve of pasta), it can make us tired and less interested in all things we have to do. Well, kids feel like that, too.

The difference is we know we have to buck up and tackle that to-do list, so we keep going. But kids don’t feel the same obligation to get things done, so when their tummy is upset, their behaviour is quite likely to change. That might look like:

• Increased irritability
• Inability to focus on one thing
• Extreme variations in temperament
• Lethargy and tiredness

If you’re noticing these behaviours, keep an eye on it. It’s not necessarily cause for alarm, but you might want to try some gut-health strategies to see if there’s improvement.

And the simplest place to start is to look at their poo! (Sorry.)

• Is it dry and pellet like?
• Is it sloppy and wet?
• Is it shaped like a sausage?
• Are there lots of strands of fibre or pieces of carrot from yesterday’s lunch?

These four categories can help a lot when figuring out what is going on with your little one’s tum. Our poos can change day to day, but generally we want them formed like sausages. So if they’re varying a lot, try focusing on these areas...

1. Hydration. Kids need LOTS of water (unflavoured and uncarbonated). Babies will get their hydration through breast milk and formula, until it’s time for solids. Then they need 1/4 of a sippy cup around each meal. If they are over 18 months, two small drink bottles a day.

2. Fibre. Our gut bacteria thrive on this stuff! The best way to get fibre is from vegetables and fruits. For little ones just starting solids; pureed pear with skin on, boiled sweet potato and spinach, mashed avocado (a true-blue-Aussie-baby food). These are great first foods for bub that’ll provide them the best start to their gut health.

3. Probiotic foods. The best thing about breast milk is that it contains all the probiotics your baby needs. Those Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus strains are integral for the formation of their developing gut microbiome. The great thing about many formulas is that they contain these strains, too. Once your baby is no longer exclusively on milk, those bacteria will keep flourishing if given the right amount of fibre, water, and exposure to other bacteria (from pets, dirt, and surfaces they are in contact with).

4. Vegetables. Veggies contain vitamins, minerals, prebiotic fibre, water, phytonutrients, and lots of other good stuff, so incorporate them wherever you can. (And the kids will let you!) Grate them onto food, steam and puree them, bake them into cakes and muffins, mix them into smoothies, and let them see you eat veggies every day to normalise them. Try a colourful snack plattersweet potato and quinoa salad or healthy homemade fried rice. (YUM.)

If your kid’s poos are still changing a lot and you’ve focused on these four categories then there is more that can be done. A practitioner will be able to support you with specific food ideas, poo tests, and more. (And, of course, always seek the advice of your medical professional if you feel there’s something more serious at play.)