As the new school year kicks off, many parents are asking themselves “what can I do to help my child do well in school?” If you are one of these parents, stop a moment before you rush out and find a tutor and ask yourself “is what I am feeding my child helping or hindering their brain function?”
The food your child eats has a major influence on brain function. The adult brain weighs 3lbs (1,400g), yet the average 2 year old brain weighs 1,100g and in preteens it weighs 1,300g. The brain is 75% water and it is the fattiest organ in the body. Despite making up only 2% of our body weight the brain uses about 20% of the body’s circulation and oxygen and the brain is very sensitive to chemicals circulating in the blood and the levels of nutrients we ingest. The brain is so greedy because it is busy 24-7, even while we sleep. It’s capable of making new connections, throughout our life, but it is of course during childhood that the most remarkable development occurs.
The brain is the control center for the whole body! It controls thought, memory, emotion, attention, behavior, movement, breathing and function of pretty much every other body function. So if you want to consider improving your child’s health, happiness, behavior and performance at school, in sport and in hobbies, it is essential to take a look at their diet.
A brain healthy diet includes:
- Adequate water intake, about 3 to 4 pints per day, including water in food.
- Healthy protein such as good quality chicken, turkey, fish, dairy. A small portion with each meal, especially breakfast. A portion is the size of the child’s palm.
- Carbohydrates, best in the form of fresh fruit, vegetables, beans and minimally processed grains or cereal. These fresh foods have the added bonus of being packed with micronutrients, essential for good health. Encourage your child to eat a variety of colors of fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Fats. Children need fat for their busy brains. Brain healthy fats include olive oil, grapeseed oil, avocados, nuts and fish oil. High quality fish oil supplements such as Krill are available for children.
- Three meals per day and one or two snacks.
- Limit highly processed food. Consider avoiding any food with more than ten ingredients or containing ingredients that sound like they were made in a lab. Avoid, if you can, artificial colors and sweeteners (better to have a small amount of sugar), high fructose corn-syrup, MSG, sodium benzoate, sodium nitrate and trans-fats. These have no nutritional value, and can be damaging to the developing brain. I love the phrase: eat if it’s made BY a plant, avoid if it’s made IN a “plant”.
6 sneaky ways to get your child to eat more brain healthy foods:
- Blend spinach, kale, avocado, banana and berries, into smoothies or add to homemade ice-cream mix. Start with small amounts, blend well and increase amount slowly.
- If your child asks for a sugary snack, get them to eat fruit first, such as an apple or plum. By the time they have finished their desire for sugar will be reduced and they will stay full for longer.
- Hide veggies in pasta or pizza sauce. Carrots, broccoli, zucchini and spinach all blend almost invisibly into marinara sauce,. If you have a “super-taster”, start slowly, increasing the amount, with each meal.
- Involve your kids in making healthy snacks, during a play-date, such as homemade granola bars or a favorite of mine: fruit kebabs (cut up several different fruits into bite sized pieces and get the kids to assemble onto a blunted kebab stick).
- To make fish more palatable consider starting your child off with homemade salmon or cod fish cakes, made with potato, flour, egg and a little seasoning. Jamie Oliver has a great super easy recipe on his website.
- If you are still struggling consider good quality supplements such as a “whole food” nutrition supplement (available in a gummy, for the very fussy kids), a krill oil supplement and vitamin D drops. There is mounting evidence that vitamin supplements are not absorbed by the body and therefore do not improve health.
So what are you waiting for? Boost your child’s brain power, performance, health, happiness and attention, with a few small changes to their diet, they’ll thank you for it one day!