You asked and I listened. Here’s a simple list of brain boosting foods for kids. You might be surprised what’s revealed.
Right from the word go nature has your kids covered with the power of omega-3 fatty acids in breastmilk.
Why breastmilk? It is naturally enriched with docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), in the perfect ratio essential for optimal growth.
DHA and EPA are types of long-chain fats necessary for normal brain, nerve and eye development in infants.
What’s intriguing is during the last trimester of pregnancy and until your toddler reaches two years of age, DHA accumulates in the eye and brain which is a significant period of brain growth.
During these golden years help your toddler reach optimal levels of DHA through breastmilk or DHA enriched formula and then solids.
Store-bought infant formula now has omega-3 fats added but amounts can vary. Remember that levels also vary in breastmilk and is dependent on the amount that mum eats.
A brilliant brain food for kids that literally ticks all the boxes. A source of protein, B vitamins, selenium and zinc, oily fish is the only food that is abundant in DHA.
You may not think of fish as a complementary food to breastfeeding but it’s a great choice. Include it as early as 6-7 months once your baby is comfortably managing fruit and vegetables.
What about children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder?
Research suggests that children with ADHD are not eating their weekly target of two portions of fish per week. As a result, their blood levels of omega-3 fats are lower compared to children who do.
Does it matter? The results are mixed but children who have higher blood levels of omega-3 fats may have improved symptoms.
As adults, eating oily fish may reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease via lowered blood pressure and reduced build-up of fat in your arteries.
For more on fish see A Fishy Bite – Should Your Kids Be Eating Fish?
Are all omega-3 fats the same?
If children really cannot bear to eat fish, then include plant sources of this super fat. They do not contain DHA that is naturally present in fish, but plant sources of parent omega-3 fats can be converted to DHA to a small extent by the body.
For more read your top five fats for healthy kids.
Walnuts are a fabulous brain food. It is unique in that it has the perfect ratio of polyunsaturated fats.
To avoid choking, whole nuts should not be offered to children under the age of five. Get around this by grinding it to a powder or drizzle walnut oil onto salad vegetables and into dips.
Have you also thought about using ground walnuts as a lovely plant brain food in baking? Delicious.
Nuts can be expensive but a few pieces go a long way as they are energy and fat dense.
Now before you wrinkle your nose at the thought of tofu this is an excellent protein food that also houses the holy brain loving fat.
Best of all, tofu is high in tyrosine, a type of amino acid required to build neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine. These brain chemicals can affect mood and energy levels.
You can use it in egg-free baking or buy calcium-set tofu as a gorgeous addition to stir-fry.
When picky eaters start to go off meat, do not despair. Like quinoa, tofu contains all of the essential amino acids making it a valuable protein food in plant-based diets.
Also, a source of calcium and iron, feature it with Asian style noodles that kids simply cannot resist. You can lightly fry, grill, scramble or even use it to prepare a scrummy lasagne dish to load up on this brain development food for children.
Why not try a satay sauce with tofu?
Disappointingly only a few studies with small sample sizes have linked blueberries with improved spatial learning and memory.
This just-about-perfect fruit still receives a thumbs up as it is low in calories and stuffed with fibre and antioxidants such as phenolic compounds thought to be more powerful than vitamins C and E.
Why not enjoy these by jazzing up smoothies and breakfast cereals using frozen varieties for a serious purple explosion as a potential brain healthy food?
Although brazil nuts are the richest source of selenium, mushrooms deserve a special mention as they are an easy everyday source that is still well decked with this trace mineral.
Selenium is involved in a diverse range of functions to support the central nervous system such as motor performance, coordination, memory and cognition.
Choose wild or common mushroom and use it in stir-fries, curries, casseroles, risottos or soup for a bargain nutrient dense brain food for kids.
If you are wondering how this leafy green made into the list of brain-boosting foods for kids, Popeye the Sailor was onto it when he indulged in this green stuff.
He may have originally thought that it had ten times more iron than it truly did, but spinach is still a valuable source of iron.
Why iron? Red blood cells need iron to make haemoglobin which carries oxygen to the main parts of the body including the brain.
Iron deficiency anaemia has been linked to reduced cognitive function such as altered attention span, intelligence and changes in emotion and behaviour.
For these reasons, iron-rich foods should form the foundation of a healthy diet for kids.
Dried Beans, Peas & Lentils
Known to aid wound healing, zinc is essential for brain development and has been linked to learning and memory.
For every meaty dish, throw in at least half a cup of soaked beans, peas or lentils for an instant boost in zinc. You can also add it to rice dishes for an easy pilaf with vegetables, herbs and mild spices.
For recipe inspiration check out Martha Stewart’s Lentil and Rice Pilaf .
Finally, but not least a vitamin close to my heart. I have researched the link between blood levels of vitamin A and calcium in children with renal disease with its findings published here.
For healthy kids, a well-known fact about vitamin A is that it is necessary for normal vision, skin and a healthy immune function.
What you may not know is that retinoic acid, an end-product of vitamin A metabolism has multiple functions in the body. Vitamin A aids learning and memory by facilitating brain cell communication.
Fancy a feast of vitamin A in every bite? Then try sweet potato mash or chips instead of regular potato.
Orange, red and green coloured fruit and vegetables are sources of vitamin A but sweet potato is exceptionally high in this fat-soluble vitamin.
As in life, when it comes to brain foods for kids, it’s best not to overcomplicate things.
Simple choices of coloured fruit, vegetables and pulses with every meal are sufficient to aid concentration, learning and normal healthy brain development for children.