As busy parents, it's easy to overlook the power of food on our kids. Grocery stores are full of snacks aimed at kids, with colorful packaging, small portions, and easy accessibility. But by and large, these snack options offer little more than a quick carbohydrate boost, and any nutritional value is added, not inherent to the food item itself. For every boost there comes a crash, causing crankiness and a lack of focus. In fact, there is evidence that a lower sugar diet for children can actually increase mental focus. Let's take a closer look at the relationship between food, metabolism, and brain power.
An Ever-Changing Metabolism
From the moment they are born, the metabolism of children is constantly changing. Since babies only start ingesting food after birth, it can take up to a year for their bodies to become accustomed to the practice. After that, babies transition gradually from a diet of milk to a balance of water and solids. This, combined with the increased mobility that comes from learning to crawl, walk, and talk, means that active toddlers require a steady stream of calories to fuel their curiosity! High fat foods are ideal for this stage, as they contain the most calories per gram, and therefore are the best source of energy for a small body to digest.
Not only do toddlers need certain foods as fuel, but also as the building blocks of their growing bodies. A high fat, low fiber diet helps them to build a strong brain and nervous system, and a well-balanced diet with fruits and vegetables represented sets up a healthy immune system. Older toddlers up to age 5 do require more carbohydrates than young toddlers, but beware of sugars! Look for more complex carbohydrates like biscuits, tortillas, and bread to provide energy without the spike/crash that sugar provides.
Food for Focus!
As children enter school age, creating a meal plan which emphasizes foods known for their benefits to focus, memory retention, and mood can help them from morning to night. Let's look at some brain foods perfect for your elementary schooler!
- Eggs: Delicious for any meal, eggs contain protein and nutrients essential for concentration. Plus, eggs pair well with complex carbohydrates, like in a breakfast taco or in egg salad with pita chips for dipping. Plus, their pleasant texture and mild flavor mean lots of potential to add the seasonings your kids love the most, whether that be Italian herbs, Indian spices, or even a little squirt of ketchup!
- Apples and plums: While all fruits are good for our kids, apples and plums contain an antioxidant called quercetin, which specifically fights decline in mental skills. Does your child have a hard time focusing around 3pm? Consider an apple and peanut butter break to get them back on track – skin on!
- Oatmeal: We're always praising the power of oatmeal here at Best Brains! This is one incredible brain food, for sure. Not only is eating oatmeal amazing for your health, it also helps kids who eat it for breakfast out-perform their sugary cereal-eating peers. Plus, cinnamon, a common spice used in oatmeal, can also have positive effects on the brain.
Brain Food for All Ages and Stages
As children age and begin to be more adventurous with their eating, you can start to branch out when choosing their brain food. Omega-3 fatty acids contained in fish have several benefits to brain function. Broccoli, while difficult for the palates of little children, can help prevent certain diseases as well as boost brain function, along with other vegetables like bok choy, cabbage, and brussels sprouts.
While there are many supplements on the market purported to boost brain function, there is no substitute for getting these nutrients directly from diet. Unless directed by a doctor due to a diagnosed deficiency, reach for the real thing, not a pill.
Looking for some brain-boosting recipes to start your child's day right? We have the solution for you!