Power junior’s smarts: 10 brain-booster foods

Just like his body, your child’s brain needs nutrients, so keep him in tip-top shape with the best foods!

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We all know that certain foods can fire up your child’s brain power by increasing his brain function, along with his memory and concentration. Law Chin Chin, senior dietitian and manager at The Nutrition Place, notes that children should be encouraged to eat a variety of foods from the four food groups — rice and alternatives, meat and others, fruits and vegetables.

“The right number of servings from each group ensures that they are obtaining adequate nutrition for their overall growth and development,” she explains.

Foods high in fibre provide lasting energy for the brain; protein is needed for brain-cell development and maintenance; and fruits and veggies are rich sources of vitamins and minerals, many of which aid mental function and memory, in addition to promoting cognitive development.

In particular, kids should avoid skipping breakfast as “it has been shown to have some positive effect in improving children’s attention and memory, thus contributing to better academic performance”, Law points out.

If you always pack your mini-me’s meal, try to include one or more of these brain-boosting superfoods for them.

“Studies have shown that berries help improve one’s memory, possibly due to the high levels of antioxidants that protect brain cells from damage by harmful free radicals.”

1. Fish

An excellent source of protein, fish is a good source of the essential fatty acids crucial for your child’s brain, nerve and visual functions to develop, Law explains. Besides steaming and pan-frying the fish, tuna sandwiches make a good snack, or offer crispy baked fish fingers, a creamy fish pie, or grill the fish and serve with a dipping sauce.

2. Berries

These include strawberries, blueberries and cranberries. They are high in antioxidants, vitamins and polyphenols, particularly flavonoids. Law notes, “Recent studies have shown that berries help improve one’s memory, possibly due to the high levels of antioxidants that protect brain cells from damage by harmful free radicals.” Add berries to a fresh vegetable salad, or homemade bread and cakes.

3. Tomatoes

Add some freshly sliced tomatoes to your kiddo’s sandwiches, or offer a bowl of cherry tomatoes along with breakfast. Lycopene, a powerful antioxidant found in tomatoes, is good for the brain, and is even said to be able to protect against free-radical damage to cells (which occurs in the development of dementia).

4. Lean beef

One of the best sources of iron, it is essential to help junior stay energised, as well as concentrate in school. Beef also contains zinc, which helps with memory. Since kids love eating from sticks, make kebabs by grilling beef with veggie chunks. Stir-fried beef with broccoli also goes well with rice. If you don’t take beef, spinach, black beans and soy are great iron-rich options.

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5. Dairy foods

Low-fat milk poured over wholegrain cereal makes a hearty and nutritious breakfast for your kids. Dairy foods are packed with protein and B-vitamins, which are necessary for the growth of brain tissue, neurotransmitters and enzymes. You can also serve cheese sticks as a snack. As fat is important for brain health, full-fat Greek yoghurt keeps your little ones’ brain cells in top form for sending and receiving information.

6. Dark-green, leafy vegetables

Spinach, broccoli and kale are excellent sources of the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants essential for promoting brain function. If your little one isn’t fond of veggies, Law suggests adding vegetable purée to soups or sauces, minced vegetables to meat patties, or serving celery and cucumber sticks with a yoghurt dip or melted cheese.

7. Eggs

Such an easy and convenient way to boost your little one’s diet! Boiled, scrambled, poached or steamed in custard. Most of the nutrients are found in the yolk. Law says, “It contains carotenes, essential fatty acids, as well as vitamins A, D, E and K, B vitamins, calcium, iron, phosphorus, zinc and folate.” They also feature choline, important in brain development, memory and cardiovascular function.

“Packed with fibre, an oatmeal breakfast will power your child’s brain through the school day. It’s also rich in vitamin E, B vitamins, potassium and zinc.”

8. Oatmeal

Packed with fibre, an oatmeal breakfast will power your child’s brain through the school day. It’s also rich in vitamin E, B vitamins, potassium and zinc, which help keep brain function at full throttle. Serve it with cinnamon — research shows that the spice helps to protect brain cells.

9. Avocados

This nutrient-packed fruit has lots of unsaturated fat that is essential for children’s brain and nerve development, Law says. “Parents can just cut out the avocado flesh into chunks and serve with wholemeal bread or whole-wheat crackers,” she suggests. “Or simply mash it and use it in place of mayonnaise, or serve an avocado smoothie for an afternoon snack.”

10. Nuts

A good source of both vitamin E and unsaturated fat, a handful of nuts a day may improve your child’s brain function. Law suggests adding these to cereal, salad or yoghurt, although she advises moderation as these are also energy-rich foods.

Photos: iStock

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