There’s the common and well know saying “you are what you eat”… this saying applies to many aspects of health. Choosing the right foods can also help support mood, sleep, and even the ability to focus and concentrate.
As a Holistic Nutritionist and a mother, I know that there are many factors that play into a child’s ability to focus. I also know that there are no magic foods that will get any child to laser-focus on their maths or reading when they want to zombie out in front of the TV or play electronic games.. so chill out time is also an important part of their daily routine.
What I do know is that there are certain brain-boosting foods that could potentially support proper brain development, cognitive skills and concentration. Foods which will help kids to concentrate on their schoolwork, project or other task in conjunction with quality sleep, daily activity and exercise and minimal electronic distractions.
These seven foods can help kids stay sharp. Hopefully, these suggestions give some lunchtime inspiration too!
The U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recommends eggs as a first food for babies and toddlers as eggs are a rich source of choline and because early and sustained exposure to eggs may help reduce the risk of developing an egg allergy. But the benefits of eggs continue well beyond the first two years of life. Eggs are a nutritional powerhouse that contribute to health and well-being at every age and life stage.
Egg yolks are one of the richest sources of dietary choline, a nutrient that helps brain cells produce acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that plays a key role in cognition. Plus, eggs have the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, which support eye health and may help protect the eyes from harmful blue light from computers and phones. New research shows lutein may also play an important role in brain health, too.
Eggs are easy to prepare and easy to love at any age, and at any meal. Enjoy an egg as part of breakfast, make an egg salad sandwich for a quick at-home meal or pack in a lunch box for a portable meal, or pre-make hard-boiled eggs for simple grab-and-go snacks to satisfy hungry tummies after a long day of learning. Another favourite are pancakes made with oats, bananas or wholemeal flour.
Thank goodness beef is a favourite in many households, because eating it may help keep your kiddo's head in the game. Beef is a source of two important nutrients, iron and zinc. Both have been shown to play a role in cognition and restlessness in children.
Fish and seafood are rich in a slew of brain-boosting nutrients that can help your little one in many ways. Having your kids enjoy those fruits of the sea can result in some seriously amazing outcomes. In one study, for example, children who ate fish at least once a week slept better and had higher IQs by an average of 4 points versus kids who were not fish eaters. Good quality oven cooked fish sticks or homemade fish cakes, anyone? Try these simple salmon cakes or a more gourmet version.
Avocados can easily be added to sandwiches for a healthy fat boost. Why is fat important? Eating fat with carbs helps slow the digestion and helps kids feel fuller longer – AKA no tummy rumbles to distract them from their studies. Shoot for healthy fats found in avocados and nuts instead of trans or saturated fats when feeding your precious little ones.
Avocados also fuel your child's belly with tyrosine, an amino acid that is the precursor to dopamine. Dopamine is a brain chemical that plays a role in memory function.
Strawberries offer a slew of benefits to kids, one being that it contains natural vitamin C. This vitamin plays a role in producing norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in increasing attention. Your little one doesn't care for strawberries? No sweat! Kiwi, citrus, and red peppers can be swapped out for a vitamin C boost. Strawberries can be added to a smoothie with bananas and some calcium rich yogurt.
Although conducted on adults, data from a study published in the Journal of Nutrition, Health, and Ageing suggests that eating a handful of walnuts every day may help support memory and concentration. While the same study was not conducted on children, eating walnuts certainly won't hurt anything, assuming your child is developmentally ready to eat this nut.
Try some walnut butter on a piece of fruit for an afternoon snack or, for a decadent treat, dip shelled walnuts in dark chocolate. Tell your kids they are chocolate covered brains for a creative story. (Errrm.. walnuts do look like little brains !)
I know … breakfast is not a specific food – yet it is the most important meal of the day and needs to be a focus if parents are trying to support their child's ability to focus in school or otherwise. According to researchers who reviewed from 45 articles focusing on the effects of skipping breakfast, tasks requiring attention, executive function, and memory were made more effective by eating breakfast.
While it may be an overly ambitious goal to get your kids to eat a well-balanced breakfast every morning before school – let’s be realistic that eating breakfast that early in the morning is not for everyone – myself included !
It would be good if you could get them to eat a boiled egg with some toast or yogurt topped with granola or fruit and then they could take with them a nutritious sandwich and some healthy snacks to tuck into at school.
Avoid giving them a packaged juice to take to school every day as they are high in sugar and will interfere with their concentration.
It’s better to get them to eat something rather than nothing – even if that means grabbing a healthy granola bar on the way out the door.
As the saying goes - any breakfast is better than no breakfast when trying to support concentration.
Barbara is a qualified nutritionist offering Health, Nutrition & Lifestyle Counseling. She gives Healthy weight loss advice and promotes the Mediterranean diet. She is the author of the Med Life Diet - creating healthy lifestyle habits and attitudes for life !