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Childrens Mental Wellbeing – Food

This week is Childrens Mental Health Week and I am writing three blogs highlighting the main areas that we can actively work on to help our children have a healthy mental wellbeing. Previously I have done sleep and I will finish with exercise. Today I am going to be writing about food.

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I love food, my family loves food. I love to cook, my family doesn’t always like what I cook but its about getting your children to try new foods and broden their tastes, the world would be a boring place in my opinion if we only ate a few favourite dishes. Educating our children like this is our job as parents. Anyway, this blog isnt about ensuring your child like sushi but for me to discuss how important what your child eats and whats in their diet, and how it can have a very positive effect on their mental wellbeing as well as their physical health.

Having a healthy diet has shown these benefits

  • Doing better at school
  • Feeling better about themselves
  • Feeling better about their bodies
  • Feeling better about their abilities
  • Coping better with stress
  • Managing their emotions
  • Sleeping better

The other factor that to me is ultimately the most important thing is that we much teach our children to be healthy and also teach them to cook so that in adult life they can do this for themselves. The more knowledge we have about food, the better choices we make about what we are eating.

What should my child be eating?

Each child is different so there is no fixed rule about what should be eaten and when, children are different sizes and do different amounts of exercise so there can be no strict rule on how much they should eat. There are charts that show you guidelines by the British Nutrition Foundation which I have attached here. These are based on your childs health in general but I would like to focus on their mental health.

For a healthy mental health we need foods that

  • give us energy
  • keep us full
  • that we enjoy

 

If we have energy then we can achieve more, when we achieve more we feel better about ourselves. POSITIVE MENTAL WELLBEING

When we are full we able to concentrate on what we are doing and do it to our best ability. It will also enable us to have a great nights sleep. POSITIVE MENTAL WELLBEING.

Enjoying food shows us that we can enjoy something. One of the signs of depression is not enjoying food and struggling eat. Having food that you enjoy and you know is healthy is a winning combination. POSITIVE MENTAL WELLBEING.

Its not that confusing and its no different for children. I could say that kids need pulses and nuts all day but its not going to happen, they simply wont eat it.

So lets work through the day.

Breakfast

It is the most important meal of the day and it does ‘break the fast’ so we need to make it a good meal. One common mistake with children is feeding them sugary cereals, they are no good and thats the end of it. Not only will children get a rush followed by a crash from sugar it will also potentially give children a sweet tooth.

My advice is to give a non sugar coated cereal such a weetabix, shreaded wheat, bran flakes and if necessary add some honey and fruit. Wholemeal toast is a good option too with butter and honey or some palm oil free peanut butter. These foods will keep them full and learn better at school. Keeping alert in lessons will mean that they learn more and their confidence will flourish.

Even on the weekends I wouldnt recommend “treat” cereals on both days. You want your children to achieve things on the weekend, whether it be a great painting or a really muddy walk. Giving them a good breakfast will enable them to have the energy to learn new skills that are not the ones that are taught to them at school, we want our kids to seek new adventures (essentially not be stuck to screens where the adventures are made for them nor have no energy from poor food choices).

If you are feeling flashy then eggs are the ideal breakfast with a lovely wholemeal bagel, packed full of protein, fats and carbs it really is a brilliant start to the day.

Lunch

Packed Lunches – The amount of rubbish that is so easy to put in packed lunches is endless. A packed lunch is what our child is having in the middle of their “working” day. We need it to be packed full of fruit, veg, protein and carbs. I give my daughter a small wholemeal roll or pitta with cheese or ham or chicken (she doesnt like having tuna at school as it smells fishy!!). Then I will add a little cheese block or a bit of salami depending what the sandwich is. I then have one of those compratment lunch boxes so I put different vegetables in each (fruit is for snack time). I do allow her some crisps or a different treat but I pick baked crisps or some ricecakes.

Lunches at home generally can be similar to packed lunches. I find my kids love a “picky” meal and for my older ones I just do a bigger sandwich.

Dinner

Kids need carbs! To get them through the night they NEED carbs. Yes they also need protein and fat and veg but to ensure good sleep then carbs is the answer for children. Also they burn calories at a fast rate so carbs are perfect.

Pasta (wholemeal is better), jacket potatoes, rice (again wholemeal is best), sweet potatoes, noodles… these are easy bases for all your favourite meals. For a full break down on what your child could and should have then please follow the link above but here are a few of the meals we have at home.

  • Spaghetti bolognese with hidden veg, soya mince and wholemeal pasta.
  • Chicken noodles with loads of much loved veggies (sweetcorn, peppers, brocolli etc)
  • Jacket potates beans and cheese (stick a salad on the side and its a great meal!)
  • Salmon pasta with philadelphia. Veggies on the side
  • Chicken curry and rice. Stick some chikpeas, cauliflower and spinach in the mix!
  • Sweet potato fries, keep the skin on and make a homemade nandos!!

What is a great thing to do once a week is let your child cook with you. Not only will this allow them to see what is going in their dinner, they will also learn how to prepare and cook it (this process is going to make them more likely to eat the meal). The other thing that cooking with your child will do is allow you to have a time to talk, maybe for your child to open up about potential issues that have been affecting them, when the mind is given a different task some of the underlying issues can come out.

Snacks

At school I only allow fruit, I dont allow cereal bars because they are packed full of sugar. If in need a box of raisins comes to the rescue.

At home I make fruit salad bowls and I also make sure I have rich tea biscuits in the tin. These have the lowest amount of sugar in them and my girls love them, dont get me wrong the girls have treats too. I just try to limit them. I also ensure that they only get them when they have eaten ALL of their dinner/lunch.

Yoghurts are also great and much needed for the calcium.

I know all this already

I am sure I am just rambling away to people who know far more than me (or not and nobody is reading it so it doesnt matter). I am not claiming to be a professional in this area I just know that what we eat will help our kids to have a clear and healthy head to take on the challenges of their day. Fuel your kids to achieve their absolute best!

Thank you for reading

Jo xxx

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Separated parents, parenting together

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We live in the modern world and a considerable percentage of us are not with the mother/father of our child. This is the case with me, but I have 2 ex’s and 3 children. My eldest two from my first marriage, and my youngest from a relationship after that. Having to deal with ex partners/husbands/ wives can be a nightmare, especially at the beginning, but what I have learnt along the way and what I am still learning is that having a “bad” relationship is unhealthy and destructive to your child, but also for your own well being.

When I was going through my divorce I never thought my ex husband and I would ever be friendly again, we couldn’t talk to each other and used (very expensive) lawyers as go between, by the end of the divorce and child residency I alone wracked up a bill of £30,000. It is such a ludicrous amount of money, but when I look back at it now do I regret that cost? no I don’t, because through it all, through all the courses and meetings, mediation and solicitors letter, I learnt a great deal and I am proud of my relationships that I have with my daughters fathers. I learnt from my first break up how to deal with the second and a lot of it is quite simple.

There was a stage where, during our court process, the only words that were passed between my daughters’ father and I were via a ‘communications book’, now thinking of it it seems awful but actually it was a very sensible way to ensure that no bad words were ever passed in front of the children, also this communication book could be called into court at any time so it made us be think before we wrote (this was a valuable lesson). It is something that both the court and CAFCASS would recommend if needed. In fact the suggestion of a communication book came about because we were both sent on a Separated Parents Information Programme (SPIP) course by the judge. You go separately but I wasn’t sure about it but knew I had to, and I am so pleased I did. We were shown a heartbreaking film which demonstrated the impact that poor communication between separated parents has on children. As a group and with the teachers we discussed the film, one point that was reiterated and is very common in the modern age were messages sent via texts and other apps, due to not having to face the person, nor hear the voice it is easy to let the situation become angry and words can get typed that you wouldn’t say to someone’s face (obviously this is the most common way to communicate, but while things are fraught its most likely the worst approach). If an argument happens in this way, the parent who has the child in their care will be affected by it and that will impact the child, it made me realise how destructive it was. Sometimes now, when I am in a conversation with either Dad and I can feel it veering towards bad vibes the conversation stops for another day. 9 times out of 10 nothing more needs to get talked about, it was all in that moment and could have easily escalated.

Whether it’s in the early stages, or further along (when new partners are involved, or house moves happen), it is sometimes very hard to come to an understanding of what is going to happen with decisions to do the children, it is easy to always find fault in the other parent’s suggestions due to anger you may feel. What was reiterated by SPIPs was the fact you cannot control the other parent (whether straight after the separation or 5 years down the line) and you can only be responsible for yourself. What I also found very true was that up until recently you had been in a relationship with this person, you had loved them at one point (most probably) and you had chosen to have a child with them. So to then change your tune after breaking up and conclude that the other parent is incapable or has faults will not only seem insincere but also will be projected onto your child/children as perhaps a feeling they did not come from a loving relationship. Your job as a parent is to be the adult, and the best thing for your child is to support the other parent.

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After our course we came up with a child residency order which was agreed on but then was altered a few years later. During the second round of the court process we were sent to CAFCASS and we had meetings with a team who spoke with great insight into co parenting and the benefits for children. We covered many topics and made ‘contracts’ about the upbringing of the girls, they helped us open up communications and taught us that it was imperative for our kids to make decisions together. I am not saying it was all easy, but due to the fact we were not in the midst of our own break up, it allowed us to be productive rather than blaming each other. Some relationships, even years later constantly blame and have a power struggle, but I will talk about that next). The point that was very evident was that we were not in a relationship anymore  and so though we could make it hard for the other person and throw words at each other, the only person it will ever hurt is the child.

When my next break up happened, things could have been very difficult and I think that our relationship and break up could have ended in a high conflict situation, but I am really proud at the decision from both of us to to have a unity for our daughter. We knew she was and is the only thing that matters and once you come to terms with the fact you are not together there is no need for anything other that parental duties.

High conflict parents will be the first to tell you that it’s not their fault, I have met many people like this, and it is not a criticism (I absolutely understand how it feels, its where i was many moons ago), but it is hindering themselves and their children. They will always blame the other parent and I can clearly remember a judge in court one day telling me that once you get in to a situation where you are constantly arguing it is only with mediation that you will have some calm. To quote The Happy Family Lawyer “They will be so far involved in their own conflict that they won’t be able to see the ‘wood for the trees’. Only with specialised professional assistance can these parents improve their parenting techniques.”. It is also key to remember that it doesn’t matter who started or didn’t start an argument, you are not in control of anyone else but yourself, it takes two to tango and I am sure when these explosions occur between two ex’s the starting discussion is a distant memory.

So to conclude on my journey, most of the time I have a calm and steady “friendship” with the Dads of my daughters, I have learnt that they will ALWAYS be in my life, so why would I waste my energy feeling any anger for them (not that I do), but when something annoys me, I don’t rise to it, as long as my children are safe and well that’s all that matters. I also always try to be respectful, so always including them in decisions about the girls, for example which school they go to or whether to have certain immunisations. No matter who the children reside with the majority of the time, it doesn’t give you the right to be sole decision maker. (That being said it is not the resident parents job to inform the other of when events are happening or school choices are being made, both sign up to school emails and both keep upto date with the milestones of your children).

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I have summarised a few important factors that I learnt so far on my journey and I am always interested in hearing feedback from my blogs, or just any other information anyone has about successful co parenting.

I will attach links to a few websites that I found very helpful, especially the programme booklet for the SPIP course I went on.

  • Respect that your children may have different feelings to your own
  • Do not use your child as a messenger
  • DON’T make it a power struggle
  • Think about what you can do, not what your ex partner should/ shouldn’t be doing
  • Make small steps towards the end goal
  • Look after yourself and be the best you can for your children
  • Have faith in the other parent, no matter how they treat you don’t fight fire with fire.

CAFCASS

SPIPS

THE HAPPY LAWYER

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When it comes to body image, how can I be a good role model?

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After having my first daughter I developed an eating disorder, I suppose it would come under anorexia as I really struggled to eat and felt like even the smallest amount of food would make me fat, I would skip meals by telling people I was going out for dinner later (and so wouldn’t eat lunch) and then do the opposite later on in the day, some days I wouldn’t eat, on days I would eat I would then make myself sick. I looked awful, really really awful. My skin was bad, my body was all out of proportion and my hair was thinning. I weighed 7 and a half stone, I had a BMI of 16.4 (that’s seriously underweight and should be between 18.5 and 25). It impacted into every part of my life and it would cause me panic when it came to anything food related for example family events, weekends away and birthdays. It was a very low point in my life.

Fast forward to now (11 years later) I weigh 9 and half stone and have a BMI of 20.6. I try and keep myself around this weight although last year I was a stone heavier, I only lost the weight again (very slowly) so my clothes would fit better as I can’t afford to buy a whole new wardrobe. I understand that I will always have a strange relationship with food and that I can slip into a negative place from time to time, but I have come a long way since those darker days, but what I must make sure is that I do not project this bad relationship with food and body image onto my children, but just how does someone who has had (and will in a small way always have) an eating disorder do that? How does any parent do that? We all have hang ups don’t we?

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I have used my experience as a mum to three girls (one of whom is at a very delicate age of nearly 12), plus I have done a fair amount of research. Here are my ideas how we project a positive body image onto our children.

  • Listen – When my child comes to me, I listen, no matter how silly or small the problem is I give them time. Obviously there are times where you have ask them to wait till you are free, but they do get my ear eventually and I do listen. When I am faced with problems about the body, or things that have been said about their image at school I sympathise, it doesn’t matter if what has been said is ridiculous, if it has hurt your child then its serious to them and to you. I let my girls know about situations in my life where I have faced similar scenarios as by letting them into my life I feel they let me into theirs a bit more. Yes we need to be strong for our kids but they also need to know we are human too.

  • Skills, talents and achievements – As we know there is so much more to us in this life than just how we look, but as a child/ teenager there will be stages where it doesn’t feel like that. As well a listening we need to make sure that our children know that their skills and achievements are acknowledged. Many of these skills (especially academically) will stay with them forever, where as the way we look will change drastically (looking back at photos of me aged 12 is actually hysterical and only my Mum would be able to tell that it was me). We are all special and unique, we are all good at things and we should all be proud of ourselves, this doesn’t come naturally and we must help our children realise their potential. So pay your children compliments, about the way they look AND what they are good at.

  • Self Love – This is the hardest one for me, and I cant preach that I am remotely good at it, but I do know its important. We must try and show outward body confidence, easier said than done, I know, but while researching for this and contemplating writing this bit of advice (as I feel hypocritical) it got me thinking that we all must try to be more confident for the sake of our children, and I think the more we do, the more we will believe it. Remember, our children think we are the most beautiful women in the world, lets not burst their bubble!

  • Self affirmations – A while ago, my best friend Jennie said to my girls that they must believe in themselves and love themselves, she told them to write self affirmations and say them to themselves every morning. Well, they sniggered at her. Later that week I made them do it, and though they don’t read them everyday, they decorated them and we have kept them, so when we have a down day we can get them out and read them. I kept them relative to their age, very simple to more meaningful, but not too complex. I have photographed mine and an example of a child’s. Give it a go, it helped me at least.
  • Dads – My girls are lucky enough to have a Dad and a Step Dad. A man’s perspective on women and themselves is incredibly important. The way that your husband or partner talks to you and them about appearance (men and women) is as integral as you as Mum. The same goes with the way they feel about their own appearance.

  • Food  – An essential part of life is eating and if you are like me, then sometimes it can be an issue. The way I see it is that you should show your children how to be healthy (by making healthy food choices and cooking homemade food) and also by having some treats. Let them see you eat a slab of cake once in a while, or a big burger and fries. Never eat in secret, this is a something I have real knowledge of and is very harming to children, there is nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to eating. I know some of us women like people to think that we live off lettuce leaves and air, but when we get home will be eating ham or another quick fridge find straight out the pack. Well I am telling you, we shouldn’t do this, for ourselves and our kids. Food is great, and is a social enjoyable thing, family meals are so important too, sitting toegther and enjoying food will give your children a healthy relationship with it.
  • Modern technology –  This is THE BIG ONE. The world has changed/ evolved and nearly all kids have use of the internet and eventually social media. I read a horrendous statistic today in an article called ‘uncomfortable in your skin report’ that young girls who use social media are bombarded by up to 5000 digitally enhanced images every week, what on earth will that be doing to the way they feel they should look. I don’t believe that we can stop this, yes we can educate our children to follow appropriate people but if you have a daughter like mine I think I am asking the impossible. She loves the Kardashians and that’s that. I think as parents in this day and age we have to adjust our mindset and work with this being part of our children’s lives, we have to teach them that it’s not real and I think we can show them some amazing people who are far better role models, so that they may follow them alongside the digitally enhanced loves of their lives. I have found a few amazing instagram/ web sites that are fantastic for every one to help with body image, firstly the beautiful Megan Jayne Crabbe (bodyposipanda) and Taryn Brumfitt (body image movement) both pages are rammed full of fantastic content. I have also attached a link to Taryns trailerHere  for her amazing Embrace documentary, give it a watch and if you want to you watch the full film on Netflix, I recommend it for all you Mums and Dads out there and then decide if you want to show your children, they advise on the website that it is for age 10/11+ but as that’s at the parents discretion.

I hope this has helped and as always I have found it invigorating to write. I hate to imagine my children being unhappy with their perfect bodies but I think we have to accept at times it will happen (I know I have already faced a fair few problems with the kids), it’s about us dealing with them and supporting our children in their journey.

Thanks for reading

Jo