As students across the Illawarra settle into their HSC exams, the focus of parents turns to how to help their children survive this stressful time. Eating well can make all the difference to exam performance. Dietitian Geraldine Georgeou of Designer Diets, together with themainmeal.com.au, has developed a study diet to meet students' needs.
The study diet is high in nutrient-rich protein foods, with low-GI carbs providing essential nutrients to fuel the body and mind, including iron to produce energy for brain function and zinc for a healthy immune system. We have some tips on getting through the exams here but the separate meal plans for boys and girls can be found at www.themainmeal. com.au/studydiet.
1. Get them to eat breakfast
Skipping breakfast can make your student feel light-headed and lose concentration; on exam day provide a healthy breakfast packed with protein and low-GI carbs, such as eggs on grainy toast, porridge with reduced-fat milk, fruit and nuts or high-fibre cereal with reduced-fat milk and banana.
This will keep them fuller for longer and improve their concentration throughout the day.
2. Include nutrient-rich protein foods
Foods such as beef and lamb three to four times a week help meet iron and zinc requirements. These micronutrients help produce energy for brain function, helping with concentration and learning. Protein-rich foods are also filling so you feel fuller for longer. Use leftovers from last night's dinner for lunch the next day; eg, roast beef or lamb in a wrap or salad for lunch.
3. Keep them hydrated
Make sure your students stay hydrated, especially during the warmer weather. Dehydration affects the brain and hence academic performance. Encourage water breaks, provide a water bottle for school and limit the availability of fizzy/energy drinks.
4. Support healthy snacking
Avoid sugary junk foods and fizzy drinks, because while they provide a quick fix of energy they will leave your student feeling sluggish and tired after a short period. Support healthy snacking at home by keeping a plate of fresh cut fruit in the fridge and stock the pantry with nuts, seeds, wholegrain crackers and low-fat yoghurt.
If your student is not a fruit eater try offering a homemade smoothie. For a filling snack, try a toasted sandwich with roast beef or lamb to keep your child energised throughout the day.
5. Go low GI
Low GI foods are "smart carbs" that your body will slowly digest and absorb, resulting in only a small rise in your blood glucose levels, giving you longer-lasting energy. Further, adding protein to your meal, such as beef, lamb, chicken, fish or eggs, will also help sustain your energy for longer. Swap your bread to either a soy or linseed, grainy or sourdough bread. Try adding legumes such as lentils or beans to a beef casserole or salad. Choose lower GI grains such as basmati rice, bulgur or quinoa.
6. Encourage good sleeping patterns
Aiming for a minimum of eight hours sleep by eliminating high caffeine-containing foods and drinks in the evening; eg, soft drinks and chocolate. Try herbal infusion teas such as peppermint or ginger, which are a great alternative without caffeine.
7. Get them outdoors
Make sure your student has some study-free time to relax, unwind and recharge. Regular physical activity releases endorphins that help improve mood and reduce stress. Encourage outdoor activities during study breaks such as walking the dog or playing sport with friends, rather than sedentary activities such as watching TV or using mobile devices and social media.
8. Don't let them miss meals
During stressful times it is easy for students to let time slip away and forget to eat meals. Make sure there are plenty of healthy snacks and quick meals available in the home such as savoury mince or baked beans on toast, a burrito or wrap, nut bars and breakfast cereal. Missing meals can lead to negative effects such as fatigue, loss of concentration and tiredness; all of which are detrimental to studying and performance.
9. Set a daily routine
Helping your student establish a daily routine with regular study periods, meal times and breaks for physical activity or time with friends may help reduce stress and avoid "cramming" the night before a test. Help them set study milestones and reward them for achieving goals.
10. Boost happiness
Laughter helps you feel good and research suggests happiness is linked with increased serotonin levels. Serotonin is a chemical known to reduce stress and provide a calm feeling. Certain foods, such as milk and bananas, can increase serotonin levels.