We’ve come a long way since a bowl of cornflakes and a glass of orange juice in the morning, a carton of milk for snack, followed by some PB&J for lunch was considered enough to provide a nutritious day for our kids.
Nutrition is a science and decades of research can benefit parents who want the best for their kids. Knowing what foods to eat and when can help our kids to thrive in school and all day long.
Brain Foods — Can Certain Foods Help Kids Focus?
There has also been a lot of talk recently about so-called “brain foods”. Foods that boost concentration and increase kids’ ability to focus throughout the day, improving cognition and also memory.
Christie at MamaOT, an occupational therapist from Los Angeles, suggests the acronym “F.O.C.U.S.+P.” to help parents remember which foods are best for boosting concentration. The foods included include two groups known by occupational therapists to greatly help kids’ concentration — “crunchy” foods and those you can “suck through a straw”.
[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” class=”” size=””]Vitamin E, choline, and iron are also essential for good brain health and are found in foods many kids love[/pullquote]
Let’s start with this list:
F — Fibre is the backbone to most advice for kids’ diets. The range of foods in this category includes edamame, avocados, and berries as well as whole grain breads. The fibre really helps to slow down the absorption of sugar, making sure that kids don’t “crash”.
O — Omega 3 Fatty Acids are in the well-known “brain foods” like salmon and nuts. The options here include any fatty fishes such as salmon and tuna, but also many rich foods like avocados, pumpkin seeds and walnuts.
C — Crunchy Foods! There are two categories in this acronym that are considered standbys for occupational therapists when working with kids, but are not as well known outside those circles.
Well, now the secret is out! Eating crunchy foods actually helps kids concentrate and focus on tasks. And, of course, if you choose crunchy foods that are also high in omega 3 fatty acids, you’re ahead of the game 🙂
U — Unprocessed Foods should be a staple of any child’s diet, for many reasons. The reason for choosing unprocessed foods centres around the idea that they’ll get lots more of what they need, and way less of the “junk” that they don’t need.
S — Sucking (as through a straw) is again a tip from the occupational therapists. The task of using a straw helps kids focus, so the simple trick of packing a water bottle with a straw can go a long way to helping them stay focused as they work.
P — Protein is the added nutritional puzzle piece mentioned time and again across all professions. Kids need a solid amount of protein to function at their best. Most recommend starting the day with a high protein meal, and including protein with lunch will help to keep energy levels stable throughout the day at school.
[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”#002d72″ class=”” size=””]Decades of research going back to the 1950s have emphasised the importance of a good breakfast for kids’ health.[/pullquote]
Don’t Forget to Hydrate
In addition to the above list, others, such as Leslie Beck, a Toronto-based dietitian, suggest drinking lots of water throughout the day to keep kids hydrated. As she notes, “even mild cases (of dehydration) can make kids sluggish and irritable” in school.
Berries and Other Goodies
Nutritious foods that help kids function also happen to be delicious. And that’s great news for parents who want kids to thrive in school — nutrients in berries have been shown to improve memory, so load up on them at breakfast or snack.
Vitamin E, choline, and iron are also essential for good brain health and are found in foods many kids love: though it’s important to be aware of peanut allergies, if you are able, peanuts and peanut butter are a great source for all three of those nutrients. Eggs, green leafy vegetables, and dried fruits are also good sources to try.
Start with a Good Breakfast
Start with a solid breakfast. Decades of research going back to the 1950s have emphasised the importance of a good breakfast for kids’ health.
Concentration and memory boosts after a breakfast as simple as oatmeal go a long way to helping kids remember important information and to balancing moods.
Aside from a solid breakfast, another important eating milestone during the day is the social family dinner. Studies have shown that kids who are able to eat together with their families at least four times per week have better school outcomes than those who don’t.
Beyond those two important meals, many nutritionists recommend eating at regular intervals throughout the day to keep kids’ energy levels moderated and avoid spikes. As Leslie Beck notes, “eating a snack between meals maintains a steady stream of glucose to the brain.”
Trying to Focus? Foods to Avoid
Nutritionist Jo Lewin notes in the BBC that if your child is having trouble concentrating or showing signs of ADHD, try looking to diet first.
Certain additives have been shown to hinder concentration and add to hyperactivity in kids. The worst culprits include many of the artificial colours used to brighten processed foods. Canadian law does not require manufacturers to label which colouring is in the foods, so your best bet is to try eliminating artificial colours altogether to see if your child’s behaviour is affected by these additives.
In addition, though rare, some children are affected by a group of chemicals called salicylates. The list of foods rich in salicylates includes apples, oranges, nectarines, tangerines, grapes, cherries, cranberries, peaches, apricots, plums, prunes, raisins, almonds, tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers — lots of really healthy foods! But if you notice your child having trouble concentrating and they’re eating many of these foods, it might help to consider eliminating them to see if there is an effect.
Diet for a Lifetime
When helping our kids choose which foods to eat, we’re really hoping for a lifetime of healthy choices. By offering a wide range of choices, they’ll be able to find a diet that suits them, and that they are comfortable with. In other words, that they’ll still choose to eat even when adults are not around to remind them.
Study after study has shown both the immediate effects of eating a healthy diet and the long-term effects in kids who eat a balanced diet of foods rich in the nutrients that come from a diet of whole, unprocessed foods.
Nutrition plays an important role in helping kids maintain focus and concentrated throughout their day at school. Make sure that above all, kids have lots of choices so that food choices are made for a lifetime and that a healthy relationship with food is maintained.