Fatty fish like salmon are an excellent source of the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA -- both essential for brain growth and function, says Andrea Giancoli, MPH, RD, a Los Angeles nutritionist and ADA spokeswoman.
In fact, recent research has also shown that people who get more of these fatty acids in their diet have sharper minds and do better at mental skills tests.
How about a canned salmon salad sandwich? Salmon burger? Or include canned salmon in your child's soup.
2. Brain Food: Eggs
Eggs are well-known as a great protein source -- but the egg yolks are also packed with choline, which helps memory development.
Bryce and Paige both love hard cooked eggs for breakfast or packed in their lunches.
3. Brain Food: Peanut Butter
"Peanuts and peanut butter are a good source of vitamin E, a potent antioxidant that protects nervous membranes -- plus thiamin to help the brain and nervous system use glucose for energy," says Giancoli.
Try a peanut butter and banana sandwich, top a pancake with peanut butter or a scoop of it in their oatmeal. As a dip for apple slices or mini carrots.
4. Brain Food: Whole Grains
The brain needs a constant supply of glucose -- and whole grains provide that in spades. The fiber helps regulate the release of glucose into the body, Giancoli explains. "Whole grains also have B-vitamins, which nourish a healthy nervous system."
We use whole grain pastas most of the time at home. The kids love it and no one can tell the difference.
5. Brain Food: Oats/Oatmeal
Oats are one of the most familiar hot cereals for kids and a very nutritious “grain for the brain,” says Sarah Krieger, MPH, RD, LD/N, a St. Petersburg, Fla. consultant and ADA spokeswoman. "Oats provide excellent energy or fuel for the brain that kids need first thing in the morning."
Loaded with fiber, oats keep a child’s brain fed all morning at school. Oats also are good sources of vitamin E, B-vitamins, potassium and zinc -- which make our bodies and brains function at full capacity.
6. Brain Food: Berries
Strawberries, cherries, blueberries, blackberries. "In general, the more intense the color, the more nutrition in the berries," Krieger says. Berries boast high levels of antioxidants, especially vitamin C, which may help prevent cancer.
Studies have shown improved memory with the extracts of blueberries and strawberries. "But eat the real thing to get a more nutritious package," Krieger says. "The seeds from berries are also a good source of omega-3 fats.."
Fruit is like nature's candy. My kids can't get enough of it!
7. Brain Food: Beans
Beans are special because they have energy from protein and complex carbs -- and fiber -- plus lots of vitamins and minerals, Krieger says. "These are an excellent brain food since they keep a child's energy and thinking level at peak all afternoon if they enjoy them with lunch."
Kidney and pinto beans contain more omega 3 fatty acids than other beans -- specifically ALA, another of the omega-3’s important for brain growth and function, says Krieger.
Bean burritos are a great way for kids to eat their beans. And this is the only way, thus far, that I can get my kids to eat beans.
8. Brain Food: Colorful Veggies
Tomatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, carrots, spinach -- vegetables with rich, deep color are the best sources of antioxidants that keep brain cells strong and healthy, Thayer says.
Raw veggies with ranch dip are a huge hit at my house.
9. Brain Food: Milk & Yogurt
Dairy foods are packed with protein and B-vitamins -- essential for growth of brain tissue, neurotransmitters, and enzymes. "Milk and yogurt also provide a bigger punch with both protein and carbohydrates – the preferred source of energy for the brain," Thayer says.
Recent research suggests that children and teens need 10 times more the recommended dose of vitamin D -- a vitamin that benefits the neuromuscular system and the overall life cycle of human cells.
The choices are endless with dairy; smoothies, cheese sticks, yogurt, a tall glass of ice cold milk with a few cookies for dessert....yum!
10. Brain Food: Lean Beef
Iron is an essential mineral that helps kids stay energized and concentrate at school. Lean beef is one of the best absorbed sources of iron. In fact, just 1 ounce per day has been shown to help the body absorb iron from other sources. Beef also contains zinc, which helps with memory.
Both my kids are carnivores, eating beef is not a problem in our house. But if it's a problem in your house, try mixing it into not so spicy chili, tacos or burritos.
Hope you find this information as useful as I did!