Kids are tough critics, but a healthy lunch isn’t necessarily a hard sell. “If kids are repeatedly exposed to healthy foods, they’re going to be more accepting,” says Harriet Worobey, director of Nutritional Science Preschool at Rutgers. Kids don’t care that omega-3 fatty acids in tuna may help them concentrate, so it’s up to parents to make the right choices. Variety is key. Combine whole grains with protein to combat post-lunch lethargy. Tofu, turkey, and tuna contain tyrosine, which synthesizes norepinephrine, a stress buster and energy booster.
Reaching for packaged foods is easy, but convenience has its price. “Not only do excess calories contribute to obesity, but children are missing opportunities to get good nutrition, and they’re getting used to that sweet taste,” says Worobey. Highly refined sugars enter the bloodstream rapidly, and are quickly metabolized, after which blood sugar plummets. The drop signals adrenal hormones to discharge sugar stored in the liver, resulting in a secondary rush. This ping-pong effect can result in irritability, fatigue, and even depression.
Breakfast can get lost in the scramble to get the kids out the door. Shoving a sugary Pop Tart and a juice box at them may leave them groggy and disinterested by the end of first period.
Eggs: They’re high in choline, a nutrient vital for the creation of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter essential in memory formation and maintenance. The debate over whether dietary cholesterol in eggs alters blood cholesterol rages on, so keep weekly egg consumption to three or four.
Oatmeal: A 2002 Tufts University study found that children who eat oatmeal perform better on spatial-memory tests. Oatmeal’s whole grain, high fiber, and protein promote a slower release of glucose into the blood. This may enhance cognitive performance because the brain needs a steady supply of glucose to satisfy energy demands.
Blueberries/blackberries/strawberries: High levels of antioxidants found in berries prevent formation of free radicals. A 1999 Journal of Neuroscience study suggests that blueberry extract may improve memory by generating blood vessel growth in the brain.
Yogurt/milk: Vitamins and minerals in milk are essential for bone density and energy. Milk also contains thiamin, a B- vitamin vital for memory.
Snacks provide about 20 percent of a child’s energy and nutrients during the day.
Pumpkin seeds: These tasty morsels contain zinc, which may enhance memory and thinking skills, according to a 2004 study by the Human Nutrition Research Center.
Nuts: The American Journal of Epidemiology suggests that Vitamin E in nuts may keep memory sharp. In 2004, MIT’s Picower Center for Learning and Memory found that magnesium, also found in nuts, helps regulate a key brain receptor important for learning and memory.
Fruit: Grapefruits, apples, cherries, oranges, and grapes are high in vitamins and have a low glycemic index, which stabilizes blood sugar and increases brain function.
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