Back-to-school season is a good time to think about boosting your kids’ brain power. But instead of focusing on flashcards and spelling drills, you might want to look at their diet – what your kids eat can impact everything from their energy level to their mood and academic performance. Megan Barna, MS, RD, a dietitian at Children’s National who works closely with the Obesity Institute, has a few tips on brain foods for kids.
Don’t skip breakfast!
Breakfast time is important for many reasons, especially because of the essential nutrients kids need. In fact, eating breakfast has been linked to improved concentration, performance, mood, attendance and behavior.
“When kids skip breakfast, it’s really hard to make up for all the nutrients they miss,” says Megan.
Here are some tips for healthful breakfasts:
- Try to eat a balance of whole grains, low-fat dairy, fruit and protein. Megan recommends peanut butter or eggs as an easy way to incorporate protein into breakfast.
- Read the cereal labels! Look for whole grains as the first ingredient, with 3 or more grams of fiber in each serving. Each serving should have no more than 12 grams of sugar.
- Avoid caffeine and energy drinks, especially with young children.
Meals to keep your mind sharp
Since the brain is a highly active organ, it needs a lot of blood, oxygen and nutrients. Research shows that a Mediterranean-style diet that includes plenty of B vitamins along with antioxidant vitamins C and E and Vitamin D can help protect the brain.
DHA – an omega-3 fatty acid that is found in salmon, mackerel, trout, sardines and other fish – is another important ingredient for brain health because it helps repair and maintain brain cells. DHA supplements may also improve your kids’ memory, learning ability and cognitive performance.
Other foods that have brain benefits include blueberries, spinach and quinoa.
Include your kids in the decision making
Angela Boadu, RD, LDN/LD, also a dietitian at Children’s National, recommends including your children in the growing, shopping and preparation of meals.
She recommends making fruit cups with your children, allowing them to pick out colorful options to add.
Having accessible, healthy snacks on hand is also important. A banana and peanut butter, cheese and apple slices or berries and yogurt are some easy snacks.