Now that exam season is upon us, it is especially important to make sure children and young people are eating properly to keep their strength up and safeguard their health during a stressful few weeks. Here are some key areas to consider when looking at an exam-season diet – both for your children and for yourself as their supporter and counsellor.
It can be tempting to not have breakfast, for example, if you are running late or feel too nervous to eat. However, it is vital that exam candidates eat a proper breakfast to help them stay focused right from the start. Choose foods that release energy slowly to keep sugar levels steady, help maintain concentration for longer and stop hunger pangs from reappearing too quickly. Examples include whole-wheat pancakes, muesli, fruit smoothies, boiled eggs and French toast.
The timing of lunch can sometimes be affected by exams, so give your child plenty of healthy options to take with them in a packed lunch. As well as sandwiches and wraps, you could also opt for spring rolls, sushi, cubes of cheese, sliced peppers, a yoghurt, handful of berries and a small chocolate bar for dessert. In the evening, a healthy, home-cooked dinner will offer a welcome chance for everyone to relax and reflect on the day’s work.
The right foods
Choose high protein foods, which include lean meat, fish and eggs, to provide plenty of energy. Another key component to help with concentration is stocking up on the omega-3 fats, known to support the brain as well as the heart. Bananas are a good source of omega-3 fats, as are salmon, trout and mackerel. Flax, chia or sunflower seeds can also be eaten by themselves, added to salads or ground up and mixed into soups or sauces. Nuts such as almonds and cashews also help provide energy that won’t be burned up too fast.
Fruit and veg are also essential, both as part of a larger meal and as easy to prepare snacks. Stop your child consuming too much sugar or caffeine as these will only have a temporary effect and will ultimately contribute to an energy ‘come down’ later on. Also, consider ways to help your child avoid any colds, bugs or viruses going around by boosting their immune system. Try to avoid ill health impeding a good exam performance wherever possible. Foods like citrus fruits, garlic, ginger and dark leafy vegetables (spinach, broccoli…) are well known for their medicinal benefits, as are yoghurts, almonds and avocados.
Water, water everywhere
Allowing yourself to become thirsty will result in feelings of tiredness, irritability and lethargy – not especially helpful during exams season. Drink water regularly, even when you don’t think you need to, as this will ward off dehydration and its associated symptoms. If your child finds water boring to drink all the time, add some interest
with coconut water, fruit cordials or herbal teas, which also have the advantage of helping to keep them calm.
Make sure your child has access to water during the exam – go out and purchase a water bottle that will meet the relevant exam board requirements if necessary and ensure your child knows where to go to fill it up before the exam begins. Give them a drink of water before they go in to help clear their mind, calm their nerves and stop them from becoming distracted by feeling thirsty or having a dry mouth as they begin.