“Back to school” time means back to packing lunches and sifting through snacks. One critical pillar of the development of self-regulation skills is sub-cortical regulation: management of sleep, movement, hydration, and eating. When you feed your body healthy foods, you are simultaneously feeding your brain. If children don’t eat a sufficient amount of healthy foods, their neural (brain) systems that regulate attention and alertness aren’t as responsive as they should be. Hungry students have trouble paying attention, managing their emotions, and using rational thought to problem solve.
Is breakfast really the most important meal of the day? According to the American Dietetic Association, children who eat breakfast perform better in the classroom and on the playground, with improved concentration, problem-solving skills, and eye-hand coordination. Studies have shown that eating a healthy breakfast (skip the donuts, pastries, and sugary cereals) can help with:
• A more nutritionally complete diet, higher in nutrients, vitamins, and minerals
• Improved concentration and performance throughout the day
• More strength and endurance to engage in physical activity
• Lower cholesterol levels
What can families do to support brain health?
• As a family, decide to try one new fruit or vegetable per week (or month). You and your children can have fun finding recipes with that food item, looking for it at the supermarket, and discovering its “superfood” qualities (i.e., antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals).
• Get your child involved in preparing breakfast and lunch. Children often feel more excited about eating something they have ownership over.
• Discover ways to add healthy foods into old favorites. Cooking chocolate chip cookies? Add some flax or chia seeds (big time brain food). Making berry smoothies? Toss in some spinach (brain food to the max).
• Visit your local farmer’s market. A big part of our appetite comes from the visual stimulation of seeing food that looks delicious. Farmers’ markets are great ways to add “eye candy” to produce shopping, without the downsides of actual candy. Plus, most farmers’ markets have great prepared food options so the whole family can try healthy, new dishes.