Article by Susannah Wollman
Back to the books
The summer has simply flown by like salt spray fleeing the waves. It’s time to start getting ready to buy school supplies, new clothes (or uniforms), backpacks, and lunch boxes. Lots has been written about what should be in the box, but we want to start even earlier than that. Let’s look at brain-healthy breakfasts.
What does the brain need to be healthy and energetic?
The nutrition your child needs to boost energy levels starts in her brain. Food rich in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats. Unfortunately, a bowl of sugar-laden cereal and milk don’t help your child’s brain. During the school year and especially as the new year starts will require alertness, attention span, and an ability to process new information. Here are five breakfast menus that fit the bill and a couple of snacks thrown in.
Recipes for optimal brain health
If your child is a fan of oatmeal, changing it up just a little bit can give him great brain nutrition in a familiar form. Choose whole grains, such as barley, quinoa and wheat berries and prepare it the night before or make it in the morning. Frozen whole grains come together with mashed bananas to make a delicious start to the morning. Here’s how:
Combine the milk and bananas with cinnamon and a pinch of salt in a medium saucepan. Using medium heat, cook and stir until thickened slightly (about 3 minutes). Add the oatmeal and whole grains and cook until everything his heated through. About 5 minutes should do it. Serve in a bowl with fruit, maple syrup, and almonds.
In study after study, blueberries rate high on the ability to help cognition. Not only do they improve short-term memory, they also help protect the brain from stress. They are considered a superfood that is a rich source of brain-enhancing nutrients, including dietary fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, and phytochemical compounds called anthocyanins.
This delicious smoothie has milk, yogurt, honey, and blueberries. Blended together with ice cubes turns out a frothy, smooth, delicious drink that requires very little preparation but guarantees your child is prepared to meet the challenges of the day.
I haven’t met a kid yet who didn’t like granola bars. And these bars can be made with almost any combination of nuts and dried fruits. This version contains cranberries. Growing evidence suggests that cranberries are good for your brain. Pumpkin seeds are full of powerful antioxidants necessary to protect against free radical damage in your child’s brain. They are a great source for the minerals magnesium, iron, zinc, and copper which are all vital for brain health. In fact, magnesium is essential for memory and learning.
This one takes a little preparation, so why not enlist your child’s help and make them together on Saturday. Then she’ll have a great-tasting and healthy grab-and-go breakfast that can also be packed in the lunch box for a snack when her energy starts to fade.
This is one of the easiest and most filling breakfasts you can offer your child, and it tastes great, too. The Greek yogurt packs protein and probiotics which are keep your child healthy. But the brain boost comes from the walnuts. Among nuts, walnuts rate highest for brain health, as they have a high concentration of DHA (a type of omega-3 fatty acid our brains need). They are also well-known to improve memory and proper functioning of the brain.
As far as preparation goes, just grab a container of Greek yogurt, top it with some walnuts and stir in some shredded coconut. A sure kid-pleaser!
Another superfood, avocados are high in monounsaturated fats (good fats). Keeping blood sugar level is one of the benefits of eating this wonderful fruits. Avocados are also rich in folate and vitamin K, so they improve brain functions like memory and concentration.
It just can’t get any easier than this. Toast some nutrient-dense whole-grain bread, cut open an avocado and mash it with a fork. When the toast is ready, spread some of the avocado on the toast and your child will be all ready for the challenges in her day. (Hint: If your child doesn’t like avocados, adding it to a smoothie will produce a creamy texture and she’ll never even guess that creaminess is from avocados!)
Bonus: Healthy snacks for healthy brains
Women especially know that dark chocolate is good for you but it’s just as healthy for your kiddo’s brain, too. Maybe you don’t actually know why dark chocolate is good for you. It increases blood flow to the brain improving all the brain’s thinking and problem-solving functions. It also is a great source of antioxidants and also has anti-inflammatory properties, too. Opt for chocolate that is at least 70% cocoa. You can’t substitute milk or white chocolate, because they are too high in refined sugar.
Snacking on nuts is a delicious way to get more minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants into your child, all of which increase memory, alertness, and concentration. Any kind of nut is good for you but walnuts top the list for brain health.
If you find yourself telling your child to eat his vegetables, this one may be a life-saver. Kale has more vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that just about any other food. That’s probably why it’s called a superfood! it’s best to buy organic kale and wash it thoroughly before eating it. Then, once it has dried (you can use a paper towel), remove the main stem and tear the leaves into smaller pieces. Thenmoisten your hands with olive oil and “massage” the leaves the leaves for 2-3 minutes. This ensures the best flavor and makes it easier to digest (not that it’s hard). Spread the leaves on a parchment sheet on a cookie sheet, making sure the leaves don’t overlap. Bake in a 400° oven for 5 minutes on one side and then flip and cook 2 minutes longer. Since ovens vary, keep an eye on the chips while they bake.