Brain-Boosting Food for Kids
When it comes to nurturing your toddler’s noggin, mealtime is just as important as playtime. That’s why you’d be wise to stock your kitchen with these brain foods for kids.
Brain Food for Kids: Antioxidants
What they are: You can think of antioxidants as the nutritional equivalent of Scotch Gard — these nutrients protect your toddler’s brain from normal wear and tear.
Where you’ll find them: Blueberries are packed with antioxidants. Strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries are great choices, too. You’ll also find antioxidants in tons of other fruits and vegetables — the more brightly colored, the more nutrient dense. In addition, nuts, seeds, and nut/seed butters are good sources of the antioxidant vitamin E, which protects brain-cell membranes from damage.
How to tempt your toddler: That classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich is a brain-building powerhouse when you start with peanut butter enriched with omega-3s (see the brain benefits of omega-3s below) and use sliced blueberries or strawberries instead of jam. Another antioxidant-rich recipe: Stir fresh berries into plain low-fat yogurt (which is rich in choline — see below); or toss the yogurt and fruit, along with some low-fat milk, into the blender to make a smoothie.
Brain Food for Kids: Choline
What it is: Choline is a nutrient that is essential for brain development and memory function, and it helps the brain communicate with the rest of the body.
Where you’ll find it: Eggs (especially the yolk), beans, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, yogurt, tofu, buckwheat, and lean beef.
How to tempt your toddler: Serve up scrambled eggs, buckwheat pancakes, or waffles. Try a stir-fry with cubes of tofu or lean beef, broccoli, and cauliflower served over buckwheat soba noodles.
Brain Food for Kids: Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids
What they are: These healthy fats are the good stuff in breast milk and fortified baby formulas. They are crucial to brain and eye development, and they help stabilize mood.
Where you’ll find them: Salmon, shrimp, scallops, walnuts, flaxseed, and omega-3 enriched eggs and yogurt.
How to tempt your toddler: Serve salmon fillets for dinner or put salmon salad (you can prepare it as you would prepare tuna salad) on whole-grain bread or tucked inside a pita pocket for lunch. For older toddlers (who are not nut-allergic), you can make a brain-boosting trail mix with walnut pieces, dry whole-grain cereal (like Cheerios), and some dried fruits like blueberries and cranberries — perfect for snack time.
Brain Food for Kids: Complex Carbohydrates
What they are: Complex carbohydrates are fiber-rich whole grains (or starches). They are crucial to the brain’s functioning because they are its main source of fuel. When the body absorbs complex carbohydrates, they’re broken down into glucose, which the body (and brain) uses as energy. If you’re thinking that glucose is a fancy word for sugar, keep in mind that sweets and candy don’t make the grade here. That’s because they are simple carbohydrates (which lack fiber), and when they’re broken down by the body into glucose, they’re absorbed very quickly, causing fast energy highs and even faster lows. The fiber in complex carbohydrates, on the other hand, slows the body’s absorption of energy, which ensures that the brain gets a slow and steady supply of fuel.
Where you’ll find it: Whole-grain breads, pastas, crackers, cereals, pancakes, waffles, and brown rice.
How to tempt your toddler: This can be as simple as pouring a bowl of whole-grain cereal or cooking some oatmeal for breakfast. Also easy: Put that brain-building peanut butter and fresh berry sandwich on whole-grain bread for lunch, or make whole-wheat spaghetti with meatballs.