Back-to-school time calls for stocking up on school supplies, clothing and books. As you prepare for another busy school year, this is also the perfect time to plan brain-fueling foods for your kids. The brain is one of the first major organs to absorb nutrients, which explains the correlation between food and brain power at school. Maintaining this brain power means more than just deciphering between school lunches and packing a healthy lunchbox. It requires choosing the right foods on a regular basis to properly fuel and nourish the brain. While this might seem overwhelming, providing the right nutrition for the brain is actually easier than it seems.
Fuel for Breakfast
Breakfast is often touted as the most important meal of the day because it gives you a boost of morning energy and sets up your metabolism for a steady speed throughout the entire day. With a busy schedule, it’s tempting to heat up something from the freezer or pour a bowl of sugary cereal to save time. While such selections may be better than skipping breakfast altogether, these foods do little to power your child’s brain. Among the best brain-friendly breakfast foods include:
- Eggs – These have choline to help improve memory.
- Oatmeal – Whole oats tend to fuel the brain for longer than cold cereal, and can help keep your child from going hungry before lunch time. Instead of sugary boxed versions, serve plain oats topped with fruit or cinnamon for an extra brain boost.
- Milk – It helps to protect brain tissue.
Many parents have difficulty getting their children to eat breakfast before school because of the early time schedule. If your child doesn’t like eating first thing in the morning, find ways to make sure he or she eats something before they make it to class. Whole grain granola bars, dried fruit with nuts and fresh fruit are all sensible choices that will provide some fuel to the brain.
Lunches are a top concern for parents with children going back to school, and rightfully so—you are not present for this important meal, and want to make sure your kids have the right foods to make it through the rest of the school day. There are numerous packaged, ready-to-go lunches available to buy. These are not only expensive, but they can pack a lot of sodium and fat that can actually make your child tired at school. Packing the right brain foods doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated. The best choices are:
- Peanut butter – This is an affordable choice of protein and it’s easy to pack in school lunches even on the busiest of days. Peanut butter also happens to provide excellent nourishment for the brain with thiamin and vitamin E. Mix up the regular old PB&J and try peanut butter with fruit.
- Beans – These will aid thinking skills.
- Baby carrots – These are easy to eat at school and they also provide antioxidant to protect brain cells. Swap fattening salad dressing dips for hummus instead.
- Berries – These help to improve memory function.
- Yogurt – These help neurotransmitters in the brain work properly. Opt for plain yogurt with fruit instead of sugar-laden versions whenever possible.
You or your child might prefer school lunches, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. School lunches have improved in recent years, with lower levels of fat and sodium, coupled with broader choices in lean meats, whole grains and produce. Keep tabs on your child’s school lunch menu to identify any meals that might concern you. Also encourage your child to make healthy choices in the lunch line, with the occasional treat. Avoid being too restrictive, and instead keep a positive attitude about healthy lunch options.
Don’t Forget the Importance of Dinner
You may not necessarily think of dinner as an important meal for brain function at school. The fact is, however, that proper brain nourishment is a 24-hour a day effort that requires the right foods all of the time to help sustain healthy energy. Dinner should be family time, where you learn about your child’s school day and enjoy a nutritious meal together. You can help set up your child for another great school day by offering the following foods at dinner:
- Eat fish. Salmon is among the best choice that is both heart and brain-healthy, thanks to its DHA content. This same omega-3 fatty acid is also recommended during pregnancy for fetal brain development, so it’s not surprising that children need it, too.
- Load up on colorful vegetables, which protect the brain with antioxidants. Generally, the darker the vegetables, the higher levels of antioxidants they contain. Examples include carrots, leafy greens and sweet potatoes.
- Lean beef, which contains iron and zinc to help improve memory.
Studying hard is important, but your child may not reach his or her full potential without the right foods. Brain foods are great kick-starts to balanced, nutritious meals that will last through the entire school day and beyond. Call your pediatrician if you have any specific dietary questions pertaining to your child’s health.