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Ask Elsa

My eight-year-old son finds it difficult to concentrate on school work. We know there is no developmental or behavioural issue. His diet isn't great so I'm wondering if perhaps this might be a contributing factor. Is good nutrition important for good learning?

AIn a word, yes. A young student's mental energy and ability to concentrate depends to a large extent on the types of food they eat. The brain is an extremely metabolically active organ, making it a very hungry one, so make sure to feed it well.

By following a healthy diet, kids can improve their mental alertness, concentration and memory, balance stress hormones and achieve a sustained release of energy throughout the day.

Breakfast-wise, I would suggest any of the following: porridge, muesli, shredded wheat, fresh fruit smoothies (fruit blended with yoghurt and seeds), boiled egg with wholemeal soldiers or rye toast with peanut butter.

For lunch, I'd recommend a sandwich made with wholemeal bread that includes a portion of good quality protein such as tuna, chicken, egg, cheese or hummus. Try adding thin slices of cucumber, tomato or salad leaves.

For dinner, I'd suggest giving classic kid-friendly meals a few healthy tweaks. For example, if he likes spaghetti bolognese, simply swap the white spaghetti for the wholemeal variety and be sneaky by adding some liquidised veggies into the bolognese sauce, chances are, he won't even notice

Healthy snack options would include fresh fruit with natural yogurt (for fussy eaters it often helps to cut fruit into tiny pieces), oat cakes with peanut butter, almonds and pumpkin seeds, carrot sticks with hummus, or homemade flapjacks sweetened with dried fruit or honey.

QMy boyfriend, who's coeliac, loves cakes but it's hard to find decent gluten-free ones in the supermarket. I'd love to bake him one as a treat, any recipe ideas?

AYou could try this yummy gluten-free banana cake recipe. First, preheat the oven to 180C or Gas 4. Cream 110g of butter and 100g of xylitol (natural sweetener) together until pale, light and soft. Add two organic eggs, one by one, and beat well between each addition. Mash three large ripe bananas and add to the creamed mixture.

Sift 175g of rice flour, 50g of corn flour, 2tsp of gluten-free baking powder and a pinch of salt together and fold carefully into the banana mixture. Very gently, stir in the sultanas, so that they are evenly distributed through the mixture.

Pour the mixture into a lined 2lb loaf tin and bake in the oven for about 80 minutes, ie until golden on top and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Remove the loaf from the tin, cool it on a wire rack and enjoy.

Elsa Jones is a qualified nutritional therapist. She offers one-to-one consultations to treat your individual health concerns. www.elsajones nutrition.ie