Kids who want to stay focused and alert in school need to eat the right foods. Not power drinks and potato chips, but foods rich in healthy fats, protein and slow-burning carbohydrates that provide energy throughout the day.
"Fats build the brain, proteins unite the brain, and carbohydrates fuel the brain," says school nutritionist Julia Bryant.
The brain accounts for 2 percent of our body weight but eats up roughly 20 percent of our daily calories, according to Robin Nixon of LiveScience online. It's a picky eater and demands a constant supply of glucose -- primarily obtained from recently eaten carbohydrates.
Nutritionists say the best way to feed the brain is in small doses several times a day. Here are some expert recommendations of best brain foods for kids:
Foods with protein and complex carbs, which are digested more slowly, will help kids keep their energy levels stable throughout the morning, says Steven Zeisel, a researcher at Duke University.
Kids should also avoid high-sugar foods at breakfast which sets them up for a midmorning energy crash, he says, when they're likely to be in the middle of more demanding classes like math or reading.
Eggs contain choline, a vitamin-like substance that helps create memory stem cells formed deep in the brain. Try:
• Cheese toast
• Scrambled eggs
• Breakfast pizza with sausage and eggs
• Whole-grain cereal
• Power balls made with whole grains
• Eggs and low-fat cheese on a fortified roll (instead of a calorie-laden biscuit)
• French toast made with whole-wheat bread, topped with fruit
• Oatmeal, which contains protein and high fiber and digests slowly, giving kids with a steady stream of energy. A Tufts University study found that kids who ate oatmeal performed better on memory tasks.
• Strawberries and blueberries
• Low-fat milk and cheeses
Whole-grain bread is one of the cornerstones of brain food at lunch. Whole wheat breads are high in fiber and rich in folate, a B vitamin that is used to manufacture of memory cells in the brain, according to LiveScience.
Whole grains are a good source of other B vitamins that have been shown to improve alertness. Pre-packaged lunch items such as Lunchables are fine, says Bryant, but parents should use caution as these products are high in sodium and fat and have a lot of fillers.
• Peanut butter
• Low-fat or fat-free milk
• Whole-grain bread
Fruit, yogurt, nuts and granola-type products all make good snacks, as long as they aren't high in sugar. Bryant and others also recommend kids drink lots of water. Dehydration, even a very mild case, will sap energy from the body and make kids lethargic and irritable.
Power drinks are popular among students, but Bryant isn't recommending them for most kids. "Power drinks have a lot of electrolytes that we don't necessarily need," she >says. "There's a lot of sugar in those drinks."
• Granola and trail mix (low in sugar)
• Power bars (low in sugar)
Dinner is one of the best times where children can see adults eating a variety of different brain foods. Nutritionists have discovered that what parents say to and offer kids make little difference; they will eat primarily what you eat.
Lean beef is one of the best absorbed iron sources, and iron deficiency can lead to a decline in cognitive functioning and poor performance in school. Researchers also believe that the omega-3 fats found in fish, especially oily fish like salmon, mackerel and tuna -- are important to early brain development and to maintaining healthy brain function throughout life.
• Fish, especially tuna and salmon
• Lean meat
Makes 2 dozen cookies¾ cup old-fashioned oatmeal
1 ½ cups whole-wheat flour
¼ cup, plus 1 teaspoon canola oil
½ cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons raspberry jam
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat cookie sheet with cooking spray.
Place the oatmeal into food processor bowl and pulse until you have oatmeal flour.
Mix together in a medium bowl: oatmeal flour, whole-wheat flour, oil, syrup, extracts and egg.
Roll the dough into 1 inch balls and place on cookie sheet. Gently flatten cookie dough and make a thumb imprint in the center of each cookie. Fill each indention with ¼-½ teaspoon jam.
Bake for 18-20 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool on wire racks.
COOL TURKEY WRAPS
Makes 4 servings1 can (15 ounces) white beans (such as navy or cannellini), rinsed and drained
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 small garlic clove
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
¼ teaspoon pepper
4 large (10-12 inch) flour tortillas
½ pound thinly sliced deli turkey
1 large tomato, thinly sliced
¼ medium red onion, thinly sliced (optional)
4 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, shredded
1 cup baby spinach leaves
Combine beans, oil, lemon juice, garlic, thyme, salt and pepper in the bowl of a food processor. Puree until smooth.
Spread about ¼ cup bean spread on one side of each tortilla leaving a 1-inch border around the edge. Arrange 2 ounces turkey down the center of each tortilla. Layer with 2-3 slices tomato, 1-2 slices onion, 1 tablespoon cheese and ¼ cup spinach.
Starting at one end, tightly roll each tortilla and place, seam side down, on a serving plate. Cut crosswise in half and serve.
CHICKPEAS TO GO
Makes about 1 ¾ cups1 (16-ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
2 teaspoons lemon-pepper seasoning
¾ teaspoon Cajun or Creole seasoning
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Coat baking sheet with cooking spray.
Lightly pat chickpeas with a paper towel to absorb excess moisture.
In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients and toss to coat. Transfer to baking sheet and bake for 25 minutes, shaking the pan every 5 minutes to promote even cooking.
Remove pan from the oven, coat chickpeas with cooking spray and bake until chickpeas are golden brown, about 10 minutes more. Remove from oven, spread out on paper towels to cool. Makes about 1 ¾ cups.
Variation: For a sweet version, use 2 tablespoons sugar, ½ teaspoon cinnamon and ¼ teaspoon nutmeg. Reduce cooking time to 20 minutes.