Nourishing Sporty Kids: Nutrition For Mental Health


Dr. Natalie Flatt (nee McCabe), East Sandringham JFC Chief Mental Health Officer and Mum of  2 Zebbies 🦓 🦓

The food our children eat not only fuels their bodies for athletic performance but also impacts their mental well-being. Just as high-performance cars require premium fuel, children need the right nutrients for optimal mental health and cognitive function. Essential nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids vitamins B6, B12, D, zinc, magnesium, and antioxidants play critical roles in brain function, mood regulation, and development.

Further, research indicates a strong correlation between diet and mental health outcomes in children and adolescents. Diets rich in processed foods, refined sugars, and unhealthy fats increase the risk of depression, anxiety and inattentiveness, while nutrient-dense diets promote better mental health and reduced mood disorders.

What foods link to what moods?

We know it can be really difficult to change some dietary habits but it does always start in the home. Starting with incorporation rather than subtraction can lead to better outcomes and ultimate choices (the outcome? Too full to bother with unhealthy snacks! 😊).

  • High in Vitamin B6:. Supports brain health Foods like chickpeas, tuna, salmon, chicken breast, turkey, potatoes, bananas, and spinach.


  • High in Vitamin B12: contributes to mood regulation and emotional balance. Shellfish like clams, mussels, and oysters, along with beef liver, salmon, trout, tuna, fortified breakfast cereals, fortified plant-based milk, and nutritional yeast.


  • Omega-3-rich foods: supports overall brain and health cognitive function. Fatty fish like salmon and mackerel, as well as plant-based sources such as flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, flaxseed oil and soybeans.


  • High Iron Foods: prevent fatigue-related mood changes. Red meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, beans, tofu, spinach, fortified cereals, pumpkin seeds, and quinoa.


  • High Magnesium Foods: Supports mood stability, aids in muscle relaxation, promotes sleep regulation. Nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains, dark chocolate, leafy greens, avocado, bananas, yogurt, and fatty fish.


  • Zinc: support stress management. Meat, poultry, shellfish, legumes, seeds, nuts, dairy products, whole grains, eggs, and dark chocolate.


  • High Vitamin D Foods: may help alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression through its anti-inflammatory properties. Fatty fish, cod liver oil, fortified dairy and plant-based milk, egg yolks, fortified orange juice, mushrooms (especially sun-exposed), fortified cereals, and beef liver.

Here are some ideas to help you ensure your sporty kids are getting the essential vitamins and minerals they need. Customise them based on your child’s preferences and dietary needs and remember to try to eat seasonal fruit and veg (there is a reason why some foods come into season based on what nutrition we need for that time!)

Aim to engage your child in meal planning and preparation to build a positive relationship with food and empower them to make healthy choices for their physical and mental well-being. Variety is the key and there may be some trial and error to reach that ultimate family shopping list.

Further, proper hydration is also crucial for mental clarity, as dehydration can impair mood, concentration, and athletic performance;

Omega-3 Boosting Smoothie:

Blend together spinach, banana, frozen berries, passionfruit pulp, a few tablespoons of flaxseed, plain Greek yogurt and a dash of honey for a tasty and nutritious smoothie. Top with some walnuts or coconut to add some extra crunch.

Salmon and Quinoa Bowl:

Cook a cup of quinoa topped with grilled or baked salmon, and a dollop of homemade guacamole, and a drizzle of olive oil.

Egg and Avocado Toast:

Top whole-grain toast with mashed avocado and a poached or scrambled egg. Eggs are a good source of vitamin D, while avocados provide healthy fats and fibre.

Turkey and Veggie Wrap:

Fill a whole-grain wrap with sliced turkey breast, cheese, hummus, spinach, shredded carrots, and cucumber slices.

Greek Yogurt Parfait:

Layer Greek yogurt with mixed berries, granola, and a drizzle of honey for a nutritious and satisfying parfait.

Chicken and Vegetable Stir-Fry:

Stir-fry chicken breast strips with a variety of colourful vegetables (such as bell peppers, broccoli, snap peas, and carrots) in a light soy sauce or teriyaki sauce. Serve over brown rice or quinoa for a balanced meal rich in protein, fibre, and vitamins.

Spinach and Feta Omelette:

Make a fluffy omelette filled with sautéed spinach, diced tomatoes, and crumbled feta cheese.

Mexican ‘San Choy Bau’:

Make a hearty dish using chicken stock and water. Add cooked brown rice, kidney beans, black beans, corn, diced tomatoes, capsicum, and spices such as paprika, cumin and garlic. Serve in a lettuce cup with a dollop of salsa and sour cream.

Oatmeal with Nut Butter and Fruit:

Cook oats with oat milk and top with a spoonful of almond, cashew or peanut butter, sliced bananas or berries, and a sprinkle of cinnamon, coconut and pepitas.

Remember, fuelling the champion within starts with nourishing the body and mind. 😉

Go Zebbies!!! 🦓