Some days, you’re grateful your kids eat enough food, let alone healthy kinds. But wouldn’t it be awesome if the stuff they did down made them smarter? Yes, it’s possible — and foods for brain development are key right now.
“Your child’s brain and nervous system is in a rapid state of growth and development until age five,” says Karlene Karst, RD, a dietitian, mom to two boys ages three and five and author of The Full-Fat Solution. “You want to turbo-boost kids’ brain power with a diet of fun, simple, yet delicious foods that incorporate protein and omega-3s — the building blocks for smart and healthy brains.”
In one meta-study that examined existing research on the effect of fish oil on children, researchers found that supplementing newborns with omega-3s ultimately boosted children’s IQs by more than 3.5 points. These fatty acids can help provide building blocks for key nerve and brain cell development. In another study, low levels of omega-3s in children were associated with poorer performance on reading tests and working memory.
Here, Karst’s reality-checked ways for getting more brain-boosters into your child’s meals:
Raise a genius! 1 of 10
Click on through for kid-friendly eats that can help make them even smarter.
Buy brainiac foods and drinks 2 of 10
Happily, plenty of foods and beverages including juice, milk, yogurt, bread and even cereal are now fortified with Omega-3s. The richest sources of Omega-3: fatty fish like salmon and sardines. If a child over 1 years old is not eating at least one serving a week, consider adding fish oil to her diet.
Karlene's the inventor of the Sea-licious supplement, available in two flavors. Check with your doctor on dosage — and before giving fish-oil (or any kind) of supplement to a child. A doctor might recommend a higher dosage for a child with ADD or other learning or behavioral issues.
Image source: Flickr/Simon Law
Hello, nut butter 3 of 10
After age 1, says Karst, parents can begin to incorporate nut butters into kids' diets such as almond butter and sunflower butter as a way to increase healthy omega-3s.
"As with any new foods, especially nuts, you'll want to use caution," says Karst. "Try a dab on a food a child has already eaten — say, peanut butter on a thin slice of banana. Because the texture is somewhat sticky and dry, make sure fluids are offered."
For older kids, spread nut butter on brown rice cakes, pita bread or sprouted grain bread for a delicious breakfast or snack. FYI, peanut butter doesn't contain as much of the healthy fat as the other choices do.
Image source: Flickr/USDAgov
Go for oatmeal at breakfast 4 of 10
"With tons of protein, oatmeal is a great brain food," says Karst. The fiber is filling, so kids' tummies won't rumble at day care or school. "And you can get creative with what's added," says Karst.
Try sliced nuts, berries, seeds, raw honey (just avoid giving honey to any child until age 1) and your favorite milk beverage. "I like to prepare a big batch of steel-cut oatmeal on Sunday, and it lasts three days or so," she says.
Image source: Flickr/The Culinary Geek
…Or serve eggs 5 of 10
Bake in the brain food 6 of 10
"Incorporate ground flaxseeds, chia and pumpkin seeds — all good sources of plant Omega-3s — into baked goods such as muffins, loafs and cookies," suggests Karst. "They can even be added to soups and stews, too."
Image source: Flickr/Keith McDuffee
Make yogurt a super-power food 7 of 10
"Greek yogurt is such a delicious, healthy snack!" says Karst. "You can incorporate fish oil right into the yogurt if your child doesn't want to take omega-3 oil on its own."
Bonus: "Sprinkle in blueberries, a great brain food due to their high antioxidant content." Almond slivers give an extra shot of protein.
Image source: Flickr/The Pink Peppercorn
Whip up a brain-boosting smoothie 8 of 10
"A smoothie is one of the easiest and delicious ways to pack a ton of healthy, brain-boosting nutrients into your child's diet," says Karp. "As a base use organic milk or a dairy alternative such as rice, or almond milk. Load it up with spinach and berries and add a banana for sweetness. You can also add chia or flaxseeds as well as fish oil right into the blender." Her boys love this blend:
â€¢ 1 cup rice or almond milk
â€¢ 1/2 cup frozen blueberries
â€¢ 1/2 banana
â€¢ 1 handful of spinach
â€¢ 1 Tbsp. Greek yogurt (adds creaminess)
â€¢ 1 tsp. raw honey
â€¢ 1 tsp. ground flax, chia seeds or hemp hearts.
Blend and serve with a straw (key for kids)! For an extra boost of protein add ricotta cheese, almonds or any nut.
Click for yummy after-school smoothies made with five ingredients — or less!
Image source: Flickr/Pamela Bates
Let them eat fish 9 of 10
"You can't beat the omega-3 boosts from fatty fish such as salmon or halibut," says Karst.
One of her family's favorite recipes: Simply wash the fillet, pat dry, sprinkle with salt pepper and garlic salt. Melt coconut oil in a pan, add the fish and sautÃ© on medium heat, turning once until thoroughly cooked.
Image source: Flickr/infowidget
Remember: Eat as you preach! 10 of 10
You know it's true, but it's always a good reminder: "Be your child's role model for food, too — they will do what you do!" says Karst. "If you eat healthy, so will your children. One of the nutrition mantras I've followed for years for me and the boys is that we eat five to six times per day, and each time we include protein, fiber and a healthy fat. This combination is the best way to boost your brain, improve immunity and provide energy."
Image source: Flickr/Devin