This blog was written in conjunction with Rachel Jessey, a qualified nutritionist, member of the British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy, and a specialist in infant and childhood nutrition.
'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse...
Where is that house?
In my house, the troopers are so excited they can barely sleep. Just as it should be. But what I don't want to do is add to that natural stimulation by giving them foods that could leave them feeling bad tempered and exhausted but unable to sleep: Tired But Wired. Take it from one who knows - this is not a smart Commando Dad move.
Instead, I make sure on Christmas Eve my troopers eat a diet rich in the wonderful amino acid, tryptophan. These foods are readily available and include beef, chicken, turkey, milk, yogurt, eggs, salmon, tuna and bananas.
Tryptophan rich foods keep trooper's blood sugar levels balanced and moods stable throughout the day, and when eaten in the late afternoon and early evening it can help them sleep. It does this because their bodies use it to make serotonin. This basically slows down nerve traffic to their brains, making it easier for them to relax and go to sleep. Of course this doesn't mean that they will drop off at 6pm on the dot - they are still going to be very excited - but you are doing all you can to make them as calm and relaxed as possible. Put it like this, if you let them have access to all those lovely Christmas treats that are inevitably going to be in the house - fizzy drinks and chocolate for example - you are doing the dietary equivalent of throwing petrol on the flames of their excitement. Expect a short flash to bang time*.
To make sure the maximum amount of tryptophan makes it to your trooper's brain, you'll need to serve it with a carbohydrate rich food. Here are some great Christmas Eve choices:
• Boiled eggs and wholegrain soldiers
• Scrambled eggs on wholegrain toast
• Porridge with chopped banana
• Yoghurt and berries
• Banana (perfect as it contains both tryptophan and carbohydrate)
• Warm milk and a wholegrain biscuit
• Cheese and crackers or oatcakes
• Peanut butter on wholegrain toast
• Chicken stew: perfect Commando Dad choice as it is easy to make and can be prepared beforehand. If you don't eat meat, make this a thick vegetable stew with pulses, such as lentils or kidney beans.
• Beef chilli served with brown rice. Again, a great choice to prepare beforehand - even the night before. Very easy to cook. I make it without using chilli as the other ingredients give it plenty of flavour. I then add heat to my own portion using tabasco.
• Prawn stir fry with noodles: Quick and easy to make. Dried noodles just need to be soaked in water for a few minutes and you can stir fry any veg you have. I regularly stir fry cabbage, carrot and little onion. If your troopers don't like prawns (give them the opportunity to try them though as I am yet to meet a trooper that doesn't) use chicken. Soybeans or soy products can be used for a vegetarian option.
• Fish, steamed vegetables and brown rice. I cannot say enough good things about fish. It's quick to cook, even straight from the freezer, bursting with nutrients and the kids love it. I don't have a steamer, I just steam vegetables in a sieve over a little saucepan of boiling water.
But the benefits of tryptophan don't end with relaxation and elevated mood. It can also regulate your trooper's appetite. With all of these benefits, why wouldn't you want to get more of these foods into your troopers' - and your - diet?
I know first-hand that diet can have a massive effect on the morale of the whole unit. If you don't already provide your troopers with a diet rich in fresh vegetables, lean protein and fruit, make diet adjustments now and observe the results for yourself.
The key thing to remember is that your troopers learn by example, and will mimic your behaviour. Lead from the front. Want them to eat the right amount of healthy nutritious foods? Then you need to do the same. Start now.
*Flash to Bang Time. In the army, the time it takes for the fuse to detonate the bomb. Here used to mean the time it takes from the stimulus (already excited troopers eating sugary and processed foods) to the response (BANG).