What your child eats has a major impact on learning. Here are the best foods to help your child make the grade.
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Brain-Boosting FoodsIf you want to give your kids an academic edge this school year, you may ask them to study harder, spend less time in front of the TV, or log more hours at the library. But those aren’t the only ways to boost their brainpower. Studies have found that the quality of a child’s diet is directly linked to academic performance. Before your kids hit the books, make sure they fuel up with these power foods first.
ChiliChili, a unique combo of beef, beans, and tomatoes, dishes up a hefty dose of iron, a mineral kids need to deliver oxygen to their brains. Making yours with lean cuts of beef, like top or bottom round, can keep it healthy by slashing saturated fat. You can also trim the fat by using 95 percent lean ground sirloin and draining off the excess fat after sauteing. Prefer to go meatless? No worries. The tomatoes in chili are rich in vitamin C which helps your child soak up more iron from the beans.
PastaIf you feel guilty about serving white pasta to your child, you don’t have to. Unlike white bread, semolina flour used to make most dry pasta is packed with slowly digested carbs which kids need to provide a steady stream of fuel to their brains. It’s also fortified with iron too. Just one cup of cooked spaghetti serves up roughly 20 percent of the iron a school aged child needs in a day. Top it with tomato sauce and you’ll up its iron absorption even more.
EggsKids who eat breakfast perform better on math and reading tests and pay more attention in school. Why not scramble up some eggs? They’re rich in choline, a nutrient needed to produce acetylcholine (a neurotransmitter that’s critical for memory). For a quick, portable morning meal, tuck a scrambled egg into a warm corn tortilla and top with a dash of salsa or homemade ranchero sauce. One large egg sports half the daily choline a four to eight year old requires and a third of the choline needed for kids ages nine to 13.
AvocadosIt’s hard to learn if you can’t see the chalkboard (or – these days – the computer screen). Avocados are rich in lutein and vitamin E, nutrients that are linked to better eye health. And because lutein and vitamin E require fat for absorption, monounsaturated fat rich avocados are the perfect delivery vehicle. Mash some up with lime juice, garlic, and cilantro and serve with all natural tortilla chips for a healthy after school snack.
MilkMilk doesn’t just do a body good. It does a brain good, too. A North Dakota State University study released in 2011 found that children who drank more milk - and less fruit juice and sweetened drinks - had higher standardized test scores in both math and reading. Moo juice supplies nine essential nutrients, including protein, which keeps blood sugar on an even keel, helping your child stay energized and focused.
Whole GrainsWhole grains don't just make for a healthy breakfast, but a smart snack, too. Try Double-Chocolate Cereal Treats that feature a whole-grain cereal, chocolate chips, and marshmallows—a sweet little snack with a dose of healthy goodness. Whole grain cereal is rich in fiber and energizing complex carbs. Be sure to read labels carefully, and choose one that’s enriched with zinc, a mineral that’s especially abundant in the brain and is linked to attention span and learning. While you’re at it, choose one with added vitamin B12, another nutrient that’s important for memory.
SalmonGetting kids to eat their two weekly servings of fish can be a challenge. That means they may not be getting all the long chain omega-3 fats, DHA and EPA, they need for optimal brain development. Enter canned salmon. Easy to camouflage, it’s a cinch to morph into salmon cakes, tuck it into fish tacos, or stir into a chowder for a fast, no-fuss fish meal. Thanks to its long shelf life it’s an ideal pantry staple for nights when there’s no time to shop for dinner.
WaterYour child’s brain is 70 percent water. No wonder dehydration has been linked to decreased concentration and the ability to think clearly. On the flip side, a little H2O can go a long way. Children in a British study who were offered extra water performed better on visual attention tasks than those who sipped less. Making sure your child has a water bottle in his backpack can ensure he gets the fluids he needs to flex his mental muscle all day long. At home, try a refreshing, fizzy drink that packs them with water while giving them a hit of tart flavor to enjoy with dinner.
YogurtIf your child is moody and can’t concentrate, regularly eating yogurt might help. According to a Texas Tech University study, probiotics, live bacteria found in certain foods like yogurt, can enhance the production of brain chemicals that alleviate stress and anxiety. That said, all yogurts aren’t created equally. Steer clear of kiddy versions that have been pumped up with sugar and artificial colors and opt for lower sugar adult varieties instead, like the Greek yogurt called for in this easy after-school snack or dessert.
Dark Leafy GreensA vibrant green color means these greens are full of health benefits. Take kale, for example, which has anti-inflammatory agents and immune boosters. It's also rich in antioxidants that help protect the body and act as a natural detoxifier, removing impurities. Plus, it's high in fiber. If you think your kids won't eat kale, try it with something they're guaranteed to like, like pizza.
AlmondsThese little nuts are powerhouses, rich in vitamin E, calcium, magnesium, and potassium. Almonds are also high in protein, healthy unsaturated fat, and fiber, yet low in sugar—helping to keep your kids full and focused. The omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and magnesium in almonds help to strengthen the nerves in the brain, making them effective brain food. Try them in homemade granola bars, which are the perfect after-school snack.
Nut ButtersNut butters contain all the benefits of nuts: full of fiber, protein, healthy fats, and vitamins and minerals. While they are high in fat, it's the kind that (in moderation) keeps your kid full, focused, and satiated longer. Instead of a handful of pretzels as a snack, pack 2 tablespoons of nut butter or ditch the cereal for breakfast and make these Fresh-Toast Sandwiches with a nut butter and potassium-packed banana slices.
BroccoliBroccoli has been touted as one of the healthiest veggies for a reason. It's loaded with fiber, antioxidants that fight cancer, and vitamin C to that helps iron absorption. It's also a great source of calcium that, while not as much as a glass of milk, aids in building strong bones. Try it in this easy (and healthy) one-pan bacon mac 'n' cheese.
BerriesSmall but mighty, berries are loaded with nutrients, antioxidants, and phytochemicals that help prevent diseases like diabetes. Plus, they're a sweet, low-calorie treat. Add berries, like vitamin-C-rich strawberries, to smoothies, yogurt, muffins, and these chocolate buckwheat waffles that may seem like a weekend treat, but are actually whole-grain (and can be frozen and popped in the toaster for weekday convenience).
Olive OilOlive oil is full of monounsaturated fatty acids, healthy fats that promote heart health and brain function. It also contains the essential omega-9 concentrations children need for normal brain development and maturity. Drizzle olive oil on roasted vegetables, use it as a replacement for butter on toast, use it to fry eggs, or add it to mashed potatoes.