Click here for shortcuts to regional language blogs and city-specific events.
Do you remember your exams days, when your mother would stand around with a bowl of soaked and peeled almonds? Or keep feeding you these ghee soaked snacks, insisting it was all brain food? Do you remember anything else after that except perhaps falling asleep?
Its exam time again folks, another generation burning the midnight oil and going through the grind! There’s not much we can do to help as parents, except keep our own stress levels down, provide a quiet comfortable place to study and ensure their nutrition is adequate and appropriate at this time. Now, you don’t need to hit google trying to find out the nutritional values of every food group or go berserk calculating whether you’ve met the recommended mg of each vitamin and mineral requirement! We’ve put together some basic facts, some lesser known ones and some easy guidelines to help you take care of your child’s nutritional needs during examinations. For the expert perspective, we spoke with Rachna Chhachhi, Nutritional Therapist and co-founder, The Wellness Coach.
So why the fuss about food?
Simply because this is a time when your child’s brain has to be at its peak – alert and energized. The body is having a tough time as it is, balancing hormones to respond to high levels of stress, and without the right kind of food, children are bound to just become more tired, edgy and still more stressed.
Children’s diet must not only contain the most balanced and nutritious food but also food that is easy to digest and does not make them drowsy. Different foods are broken down in different ways and have varied effects on the body. Needless to say, avoid foods with high refined sugar content, deep fried food and ensure you include foods which are high in essential fats – these are the 'good' fats found in nuts, seeds and oily varieties of fish. Also avoid packaged foods which may have unnecessary chemical additives or colourings. This is because certain additives have been associated with changes in mood and behaviour and artificial sweeteners may hinder the stabilisation of blood sugar levels which means concentration may waver.
“To keep it simple, focus on high fibre and high protein food at this time. Unfortunately many adults themselves eat very little fibre, but for their children they must add high fibre food like whole grains and fresh fruits to the daily diet. High protein foods are also simple to maintain in your meals – fish and curd are great sources of protein. Curd in fact, can be considered a superfood packed with nutrients and will always leave you feeling light and fresh”, says Rachna Chhachhi.
‘Ma, chill…I’ll eat later’
With the pressure of time and the stress of revising and re-revising large chunks of syllabus, the first thing to go down the drain is a meals schedule. Sure, how they eat is as important as what they eat, but as long as your child does not skip a meal, especially breakfast - don’t stress. It is easier for our stomach and brain to handle 5 smaller meals through the day than 3 elaborate sleep inducing ones. Also eating frequently will help keep nutrient and energy levels more stable, and more importantly curb the temptation of chomping on empty-nutrient snacks, which is mostly nervous eating.
Plan a light and healthy breakfast consisting of oat bran or wheat flakes, muesli, curd and a mix of chopped fruits. Lunch on mixed grain rotis - preferable over rice, dals and vegetables. Non vegetarian preparations like fish or mutton curry are very good on the nutritional report card, but should be made simple, low fat and light. Dinner should follow the same guidelines and in addition, should be eaten early. A light and early meal will help your child wake up fresh and ready for high concentration study. Snack smart all day with nutritional choices like nuts, chaach, fresh fruits perhaps with curd, whole wheat toast or sandwiches with hummus, steamed veggies with a light dressing or a piece of cheese, or a couple of idlis with sambhar.
Go nutty and spare those almonds a drowning
“Soaked and peeled almonds first thing in the morning are so typical of our culture, especially during exams. But the peel of the almond is what contains the most critical nutrients,” explains Rachna. “A handful of nuts make a great mid meal snack. You can also add nuts to your cereal if it doesn’t already have them”.
Real food beats supplements any day, unless of course your doctor has advised otherwise. According to experts, healthy children under 12 don’t necessarily need supplements. “If your child is over 12 years and tends to get very stressed because of exams, then about a month before you can start giving Omega 3 supplements. This is not only excellent for the development of the brain but also has a calming effect on the body. You just have to be careful about its administration, as Omega 3 should not be combined with other foods and is best taken on an empty stomach,” says Rachna.
Fruits and vegetables take the cake
There’s nothing to beat the goodness of fresh fruits and vegetables in your daily diet. Don’t ignore the less common but equally tasty figs, dates, prunes etc. While each vegetable has a different score on the nutrient chart, there are some vegetables that have much more to offer the mind. According to Rachna, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, beans and carrots for example, are much better choices during exams than potato, brinjal, ladyfinger and colocassia (arbi). Plan your day with a glass of juice or chopped fruits with breakfast, a piece of fruit mid morning, a bowl of vegetable soup with lunch, some carrot and celery sticks with a dip as an afternoon snack and a large green salad with your evening meal.
Recharge with water
Apart from food fuel, your brain needs hydrating too! Keep those sugary colas and cups of coffee to a minimum, as too much caffeine can make you jittery. The much advertised ‘energy drinks’ may give a instant boost of energy but that will be followed by a blood sugar slump which will certainly not help in an already high-stress situation. Better choices include fruit juice, milk, and anti-oxidant-rich green tea, buttermilk, and good ol’ nimbu paani, and of course plain water. Dehydration can be a cause of fatigue and lack of focus. Don’t leave it to children to remember to drink adequate water on their own. As Rachna suggests, just walk into the study room every 2 hours with a 250 ml glass of water.
Sleep well, relax right and don’t forget to eat smart.
Please Note: This article only contains health and wellness guidelines for general information purpose only and should not be treated as medical advice or instruction