Top 5 foods to boost your child's brainpower

Which foods boost concentration and aid learning? Our dietitian Emer Delaney gives her top five brain-boosting foods as well as family-friendly recipes for incorporating them into your everyday diet...

Now school has started again, it’s the perfect time to start thinking about the best foods to help concentration. We’re all aware of the importance of enough fruit and vegetables, but what else can we offer our children to optimise their chances of having a good day at school? Here are my top five foods to include in your child’s diet weekly, from 12 months of age:

Eggs

Egg and marmite soldiers

Children’s brains are developing at a significant rate, especially for the first years of their life. Choline is a very important vitamin that plays an integral role in this, as it is vital for the creation of memory cells deep within the brain.  Rich in choline, the yolk of an egg almost meets the daily needs of children up to eight years.  Egg are also high in protein and contain iron, folate and vitamin A – all of which are important for growth, repair and development of cells. So encourage your kids to eat eggs regularly, unless they are allergic. 

Hard boiled eggs mixed with a small amount of mayonnaise are perfect in a sandwich, or why not try egg and soldiers or French toast as a weekend breakfast when you have a little more time. 

Oily fish

Rich in omega-3 which is vital for brain development and health, oily fish has so many benefits.  Omega-3 fatty acids are essential components of the building blocks needed for cell development. Certain types of omega-3 fats are the most abundant fat found in the brain and some studies have shown they may help manage behavioural problems due to their role in neurotransmitter function. Other studies have linked poorer reading ability with low levels of omega-3 and supplementation was linked to improved memory function. 

Salmon, mackerel, fresh tuna, trout, sardines and herring are great sources of omega-3 oils and should be eaten once a week.  Try substituting one of your children’s meat dishes to include one of these healthy fish choices with these family-friendly recipes.

Oats, cereals & wholegrain breads

Porridge with cranberries

Packed with carbohydrates, wholegrains provide essential glucose and energy to fuel the brain. They are also full of B-vitamins, which nourish a healthy nervous system. Numerous studies have shown that a breakfast filled with wholegrains improves short-term memory and attention, when compared with refined carbohydrates or no morning meal at all.  Wholegrains are found in oats, granary breads, rye, wild rice, quinoa and buckwheat. Wholegrain foods are also high in fibre, which regulates glucose supply into the body. 

So why not try and start your child’s days with wholegrain cereals or oats. Wholegrain crackers with tasty toppings such as cheese, mashed avocado or banana are a great treat; houmous or a bean dip with wholegrain pita is an easy and quick idea for lunchboxes; or swap rice or couscous for whole wheat couscous for dinner.

Beans

Mexican bean burgers

High in protein and packed with vitamins and minerals, beans are an excellent food choice for your kids.  Kidney and pinto beans contain more omega-3 fats than other beans which we know are important for brain growth and function.  Not only do they release energy slowly which keeps them filled with energy, it will help them concentrate in the classroom if they’re enjoyed at lunch time.

Sprinkle mixed beans over salad, try them mashed and spread on a pitta pocket or add them to shredded lettuce and cheese to make the perfect sandwich filler. Mixing beans in spaghetti sauce or swapping them occasionally for meat will also make a good dinner choice.

Milk, yogurt & cheese

Fruit & nut yogurt

Milk, yogurt and cheese are so nutritious and are packed with protein and B-vitamins which are essential for growth of brain tissue, neurotransmitters and enzymes which all play an important role in the brain. Another benefit is these foods are high in calcium which is vital for growth of strong and healthy teeth and bones.  Children have different requirements for calcium depending on their age, but you should aim to include two to three calcium-rich sources a day.  For more information about calcium requirements, click here.

If your child isn’t a lover of milk, don’t worry, as there are other ways that you can add dairy into the diet: use milk instead of water when making porridge, puddings or pancakes; why not serve yogurt as a dip for sliced vegetables, fruits, breadsticks or pitta pockets; sprinkle grated cheese into pasta, omelettes, fish pie or shepherd’s pie.

You may also be interested in...

School packed lunch inspiration

Behaviour in children: how diet can help

Healthy eating: What older children need

This article was last reviewed on 21 September 2016 by dietitian Emer Delaney.

Emer Delaney BSc (Hons), RD has an honours degree in Human Nutrition and Dietetics from the University of Ulster. She has worked as a dietitian in some of London's top teaching hospitals and is currently based in Chelsea.

All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact  your local health care provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

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