The answer to “What should a child eat during exams?” can easily be summarized in four words – “Eat a Healthy Diet”. However, the prevailing stressful situation during exams makes sure that a simple solution like this cannot be implemented.
As the exams come closer, the stress levels rise. Both parents and children are stressed. However, what children want to eat because they are stressed is completely different from what parents want to feed them because they are stressed. And this difference of opinion of what should be eaten often leads to clashes at home. The clashes and conflicts add to the already existing stress and everyone is unhappy.
What do parents want the food they feed their children to do?
The ultimate objective of feeding children is – to ensure that the child’s body and mind continue to function well.
The brain should be in top-notch condition and should be able to take in and give out information rapidly and efficiently.
And as the brain works hard – the body should function perfectly to support it. It must be energetic enough to survive the long hours of study and the long duration of exams.
Why are children unable to eat regular meals?
It is simple to understand that children need healthy food in the form of a balanced diet.
However, it is important for adults to take the stress children are under and the time constraints they are bound by – when they plan their meals.
Just like when adults are stressed and busy – when children are stressed and busy the first thing that falls of their priority list is – food and eating.
In the days and weeks leading up to the exams – children start living on “something” “anything” or “nothing”.
If you feel very strongly about your child not eating take a look at these posts When you are upset because your child did not eat and What to do when your child says no to a meal
What happens when the body is deprived of healthy food?
While the stress and the lack of time are very real – the measures children take to combat these problems are not appreciated by the brain or the body. Neither the brain – nor the body really likes being fed “something” “anything” or “nothing”.
In order to remind the child to eat healthy food – the brain and body start malfunctioning.
The brain and body try to communicate their needs for healthy food – by being exhausted, sleepy and tired all the time. Their messages of desperation come out in the form of headaches, stomach aches, body aches, poor concentration and inability to remember.
These signs of illness cause even more panic – and parents and children respond by eating even less and taking a bunch of unnecessary medicines. And this makes things even worse.
How can we support our exam going children?
A month or two before the exams – it is important for parents to begin assisting their children to eat well.
Meals and snacks must be planned keeping in mind the stress that the child is under. In other words the meals must be planned keeping in mind both the quantity and quality of food that a child can actually eat during times of extreme stress.
The 2 most important things to remember while feeding exam going children
Things to remember when feeding an exam going child
- Children cannot eat large quantities of food when they are stressed
- Eating is the only form of entertainment that children have when they are studying. So the food they eat needs to be tasty and served attractively, in addition to being healthy.
5 Tips to follow while planning your child’s exam diet
Tip 1 for the exam diet – serve tasty healthy snacks
Provide a balanced diet. Serve it in the form of small tasty snacks
- Dry fruits are excellent snacks. Dry fruits are rich in all nutrients including antioxidants which help in maintaining the brain. They can be eaten by themselves or put into brownies and muffins
- Fruits , milk and curd can be turned into milk shakes and smoothies
- Egg can be easily included as an ingredient in puddings or junkets
Tip 2 for exam diet – avoid too much sugar
The brain runs on sugar. So when your child studies for long hours – the brains need for sugar manifests as craving for sweets and chocolates.
While it is OK to eat and drink small quantities of sweet things and chocolates to satisfy this craving – taking in too much sugar actually slows down the passage of information in the brain. This results in your child not being able to study as well as he hopes to and leads to stress and anxiety – which makes studying even more difficult.
So avoid giving your child too many sweets chocolates and sugary drinks
Tip 3 for the exam diet – provide a healthy breakfast
A healthy breakfast is essential to ensure that your child’s brain functions well. Breakfast is as important on exam days as it is on days when your child is sitting at home and studying.
A healthy breakfast improves short-term memory and attention and students who eat breakfast have been seen to perform better than those who don’t.
Nervousness may make eating large quantities of breakfast difficult. And so efforts must be made to serve the breakfast as energy rich, tasty food that can be munched away in a few bites.
High fiber whole grains, diary and fruit – top the brain fuel list and must make it to your child’s breakfast plate
Tip 4 for the exam diet – ensure that your child drinks enough water
To study well your child must drink lots of water. Both brain and body require to be well hydrated to function well.
The brain and the nerves that carry information require water to move the information along. Also, without water the body a dehydrated and tired body cannot support the brain which requires to work long hours.
However water must be consumed in its pure form. Juices, tea, coffee and other beverages cannot take over the function of water. In fact beverages like tea coffee and fizzy drinks – actually dehydrate the body further by causing frequent and excessive urination
Place a bottle at a strategic location on the study table so that your child can take frequent sips from it. Adequate water intake can help the brain and body to function well.
Also watch The drink that can keep your child healthy
Tip 5 for exam diet – keep your child away from excess tea and coffee
When there is a lot to study and very little time – children try to cover their vast syllabus by cutting down on their hours of sleep.
It is impossible to stay awake when the brain insists on sleeping without some help from drinks like tea or coffee. And so, just before and during exams – children drink lots and lots of tea and coffee.
But while the caffeine in tea and coffee – do manage to drive away sleep temporarily – over a period of time they start causing several adverse effects which impair the learning process.
With more and more tea and coffee – more and more caffeine accumulates in the body and it causes anxiety, discomfort and inability to concentrate. This defeats the whole purpose of staying awake to study.
Sleep is essential for learning and to retain what is learnt. It is important to encourage children to refresh their brains with enough hours of sleep.
Tip 6 for exam diet – memory enhancing drugs don’t work
As the exams come closer – students often encounter the “I am forgetting everything” feeling.
Children can panic to such an extent that they cause their parents to panic as well. This panic sometimes prompts parents to look out for memory enhancing drugs to help their children.
However, before you buy these drugs – understand that these drugs rarely do the wonderful things they promise. No drug can make you remember what you have not studied. In fact they may actually do the opposite and make your child forget what he has studied. It is therefore safer to stay away from these medicines.
A great deal of research is still required in most cases to prove the efficacy of these drugs and ensure their safety and absence of side effects. In such a scenario – it is best to exercise extreme caution before experimenting with medications or supplements.
If you have an exam going child remember this
Exams are never easy – especially not for those who are taking them. It is wrong to expect children to handle pressure and stress the way we with our decades of experience do. Be compassionate and help your child in all the small ways that you can. Make sure you face life’s challenges as a team.
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