by Kathleen Aguzzi
I’ve always been outspoken about my passion for nutrition. I had been working at a preschool as a teacher’s assistant for a year before the director approached me concerned about their meal calendar. The director noticed that after years of running this business, more and more kids were struggling with behavioral disorders. She strongly felt that this could be partly due to what kids were eating. This facility provided two meals and two snacks a day to toddlers and pre-kindergarteners and I was given the responsibility of planning these meals.
I was eager to see what I could change that would bring about improvement in the children’s behavior. I started with reviewing their current meal plan and identifying what could be igniting certain issues. I noticed that their breakfasts often consisted of sugary cereals and that their snacks were packaged foods. I wondered if the missing nutrient rich foods could be the culprit. I changed some of the foods to whole foods like eggs, oatmeal, and fruit. The children were excited about the new additions and it was surprising to see even the pickiest of eaters giving it a try.
I also introduced mindfulness techniques to meal times and taught the teachers how to engage the children. Before they got their plates, we’d take three deep breaths and I’d encourage the kids to place a hand on their stomach and notice what it felt like. Then as they ate, I’d stimulate conversation about how they were feeling that day. Once they were finished eating, they were excused by saying something they liked about the meal or noticing their feeling of fullness.
The effects of the meal changes and mindfulness techniques were evident in the children’s behavior. Certain kids that had trouble siting still at circle time were now focusing on the lesson. Other kids who struggled with aggression seemed to have less conflict during play time, and they were all able to settle down for nap after lunch. Additionally, the kids were gaining body awareness and were able to better advocate for their needs.
In an age where we are so quick to label children with disorders, I was reminded how crucial it is to bring awareness to what could be the root of problem. Seeing with my own eyes the power that nutrition and mindfulness could make has really motivated my passion for dietetics and I can’t wait to continue having a positive impact on people’s health.
Kathleen Aguzzi is an undergraduate dietetics student at Florida State University who plans on pursuing a career in behavioral health. Her long-term goal is to improve the lives of those struggling with mental illness though nutrition. She is passionate about mental health awareness, writing, mindfulness and exercise.