Brain Food for Back-To-School Mondays: Nutrition Expert Offers Tips

September 11, 2013

This blog from ACA’s Educational Ally The Monday Campaigns is designed to help you keep those healthy camp habits alive at the start of school! Some of these tips your child might have learned at camp; others might be fresh ideas! Bon appetit!

We all know that “Monday morning” feeling. We wake up early to find that a weekend full of lax routine and play has left our brains in need of a reboot. Mondays can be especially tough for school kids who may have stayed up late and taken “brain breaks” all weekend. Why not give your kids a healthy start for the week by offering food that is helpful for their minds? On behalf of Kids Cook Monday, Allison Righter, registered dietitian and program officer for the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, offers these tasty tips.

Full Bellies, Alert Minds

Keep kids’ bellies full and their minds free of distraction by offering hearty whole grains for breakfast. Oatmeal, for example, is a great brain-awakening breakfast that provides enough fiber and protein to keep kids satiated until lunchtime. Oatmeal is also a good source of iron, which supports healthy brain development. Tip: Steer clear of sugary instant oatmeal packets — sugar gives kids quick energy but will inevitably lead to a pre-lunch crash. Spruce up plain oatmeal by adding natural and nutrient-rich sweeteners and flavors like applesauce, banana,s and cinnamon.

The Power of Purple

Purple foods may be especially beneficial for the brain thanks to the memory-boosting and anti-inflammatory properties of anthocyanins, the phytochemical that give food that bluish-purple hue. Seek out fruits like blackberries, blueberries, grapes, and plums, and vegetables like eggplant and purple cabbage. Tip: Add some natural color to breakfast by letting your kids garnish their oatmeal with purple fruit, or have some fun with a scavenger hunt at the grocery store and farmers’ market with your kids to find more unusual purple veggies like purple carrots, asparagus, and peppers.

The Brilliant Egg

An egg provides a protein punch in addition to many important nutrients, such as choline, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids, which are all essential for maximizing cognitive capabilities. With their versatility, eggs can be a part of a mind refreshing meal or snack any time of the day. Tip: Get your kids’ brains working by engaging them in the cooking process! Ask your kids to help crack the eggs for a quick veggie omelet in the morning, or to help prepare hard-boiled eggs ahead of time for a convenient high-energy snack or for making healthy egg salad sandwiches.

Monday Brain Smoothies

Running late on Monday morning? Blend frozen purple fruit, oats, and some low-fat plain yogurt together for a brain boosting breakfast on the go. Don’t forget to make one for yourself! Smoothies also make for great after-school snacks and are a fun, easy, and refreshing way to get more fruit (and even veggies!) into your child’s diet. Tip: If you’re feeling creative on Sunday night, pour the smoothies into popsicle molds to enjoy a prep-free breakfast, snack, or even dessert!

For Sharp Minds, Think Dark Green

Green leafy vegetables, especially darker varieties such as spinach, kale, and collards, are nutritional powerhouses rich in many vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients to help grow and maintain strong brains as well as bodies. Tip: Try adding spinach to fruit smoothies for a green energy booster, mixing greens into pasta dishes, or having your kids create their own leafy veggie salad masterpiece.

Water = Concentration

Dehydration can lead to poor concentration as well as fatigue. Providing your kids with constant access to filtered water will reduce the risk of dehydration and its consequences. Water-rich snacks like cucumber and watermelon will also aid in hydration. Warn your kids about sugary drinks — they may hydrate, but they come with empty calories and a sugar crash at homework time. Tip: Increase the appeal of plain water by adding slices of lemon, lime, or cucumber, or a sprig of fresh mint.

Developing healthy eating habits from a young age is crucial for optimizing and maintaining cognitive function and overall health for a lifetime. For this new school year, pledge to start adopting these tips into your weekly Monday routine to help your child reach his/her full potential!

The Kids Cook Monday, a project of The Monday Campaigns, is a nonprofit organization associated with Johns Hopkins, Columbia and Syracuse universities. Kids Cook Monday provides a weekly opportunity for parents and kids to cook and eat together. Its Web site and social media program feature weekly kid-friendly recipes and tips for parents, as well as comprehensive resources for educators developed with the help of Columbia Teacher’s College in New York.

Photo courtesy of Pali Adventures, Running Springs, California