Skip to main content

Natural Awakenings Fairfield & Southern Litchfield Counties

5 Snack Mistakes Parents Make

Jul 31, 2023 10:00AM ● By Renee Edge
Food has a significant impact on attention, behavior and mood. When we get that phone call from the school about our child’s misbehavior, it can often be frustrating and overwhelming. Children are more likely to find success in school when the child feels good physically and emotionally. A cranky, crabby child complaining of a headache or stomach aches, or about to throw a tantrum, always throws a wrench into the day. When thinking about a child experiencing those challenges in school, it can certainly be easy to overlook one of the simplest solutions: what the child is eating during the day.

This is a problem that can be solved with a few simple changes to your snack selections to make the day better for you and your child, improving your child’s attention, behavior and mood.
Here are five snack mistakes parents commonly make which can make a child’s behavior worse.

1. Processed Snacks Containing MSG
Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a common food additive which is intended to intensify and enhance umami flavors in sauces, broths, soups and other foods. Glutamate is a natural excitatory neurotransmitter found in our brains which allows messages to zip between our neurons. Foods containing MSG increase the amount of that neurotransmitter in our brains. MSG intake damages the nerve fibers and causes neurological challenges like anxiety, depression, disorientation, dizziness, hyperactivity, light-headedness, loss of balance, mental confusion, migraine headache, mood swings, panic attacks, rage reactions and other behavioral problems in children. 

Avoid the pre-packaged foods as much as possible. MSG is found most often in fast food, seasonings, soups, dressings and condiments, chips, frozen foods, and instant noodle products. MSG may also be hiding under these other names: hydrolyzed vegetable protein, autolyzed yeast, hydrolyzed yeast, yeast extract, soy extracts or protein isolate.

Choose instead fresh fruits or vegetables, dried fruit, nuts or seeds, or look for an alternate version of the same snack.

2.  Snacks with Artificial Food Dyes
The most popular food dyes are Red 40, Yellow 5 and Yellow 6. These three make up 90% of all the food dye used in the U.S. and are banned in several other countries. For children who have sensitivities to food dyes, consuming them often results in behavioral changes such as irritability, restlessness and sleep disturbance. They can also impact memory and learning. They can even cause changes to the neurotransmitters in the brain and changes to the brain structure.
Instead look for foods that use natural vegetable dyes. There are a lot of great dye-free options out there to match with all of the traditional snack foods and candies your kids might be craving. 

Snacks High in Sugar
Our brains were built to crave sugar. It is an intense source of energy that is easy for our bodies to use. When sugar hits our brains, dopamine is released. Dopamine is a brain chemical released by neurons and can signal that an event was positive. Dopamine can lead to feelings of euphoria, bliss, and enhanced motivation and concentration. This is why initially, after your child receives a sugary treat, they seem calmer and happier.

But then all that sugar hits the brain and impacts two parts of the brain: the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus. It impacts the inhibitory neurons responsible for controlling your impulses, which is why your child seems to be acting without thinking. It also impacts the hippocampus, causing brain fog, depression, anxiety, irritability, anger, memory loss and fatigue. 

While the argument can be made that sugar doesn’t actually make children hyper, it definitely impacts the parts of the brain that are responsible for helping your child with decision-making, impulse control and delaying gratification.

There are plenty of low sugar snack choices you can grab if you plan at home. Instead of going for the cookies, grab one of these choices: GoGo Squeeze packs, low-sugar fruit snacks or fruit leather, Kind bars, beef sticks, nuts, veggie straws or veggie chips, popcorn, trail mix (ones with nuts and dried fruit, not chocolate), sunflower seeds, or pumpkin seeds.

4. Snacks Containing Dairy
Diary-based snacks present a challenge on two fronts. First, the ones kids most often choose as a dairy-based snack are squeeze yogurts, which are full of sugar. You may be thinking that a cheese stick is a safer option as it has no sugar, but many children struggle to digest casein in dairy, or lactose, the sugar in dairy. If your child is lactose-intolerant or allergic to the proteins found in dairy, you may see changes in mood and behavior. Children can become aggressive, cranky or irritable. 

Children with leaky gut may have challenges with the protein in dairy not being fully broken down, but instead forming a compound called casomorphines. The protein structure is like morphine. These proteins get absorbed into the bloodstream through the gut; they cross the blood-brain barrier and bind to opiate receptors in the brain as well along the gastrointestinal tract. When this occurs, kids can’t seem to follow multiple step instructions and once they seem “off,” there is no reasoning with them.

There are many dairy-free alternatives, including products made from almonds, cashew, coconut, rice and soy, which can be considered in place of cow milk-based options to eliminate casein and lactose from your child’s snacks. There are even dairy-free chocolate and ice cream products. A great thing to consider is the vegan alternatives to your child’s favorite milk, yogurt or cheese.

Juice, Milk or Soda With a Snack
Children often complain of being thirsty when eating a snack, so we pack them a juice box, jug of milk or soda to accompany their snack. Each of those choices provides a high dose of sugar in proportion to the amount of liquid you are drinking. However, soda ranks the highest on its impact on the body and behavior.

Among teens, those who drank soft drinks more frequently had higher scores for aggression. Children who drank four or more soft drinks per day were more than twice as likely to destroy other people’s belongings, get into fights, and physically attack people. Children who drank high levels of soda were more likely to exhibit withdrawn behavior and attention problems. 

Water is important for detoxification and removal of waste, maintaining blood volume, and brain health as 73% of the brain is water. A dehydrated brain causes headaches and impacts clarity of thinking. So do your children a favor and pack them a bottle of water for their next snack.

As you pack your child’s lunch box this school year, consider the above tips to make it a healthier one. 

Renee Edge of Edge to Health focuses on how food impacts physical health and brain function, and how that impacts behavior, learning, and the ability to form and sustain connections. She has a bachelor’s degree in child development and a master’s degree in special education. Connect at 860-681-3427 or

pRenee Edge brp

Edge to Health

Change your child’s attention, behavior, and mood using food everyone in the family will enjoy. Helping parents make changes to their child’s diet and food choices to bring about healing ... Read More »