Want to supercharge your child’s brain? Then take a look at what’s on their plate. Feeding your children with the right foods can not only improve mood and behaviour but have a profound effect on their ability to focus, concentrate and think clearly. Nutritionist and Author of the Brain Boost Diet shares the top smart foods and meals to enhance brain power.
With a weight of 1.3kg/3lb our brains are one of our heaviest organs, demanding the most oxygen and glucose, and using about 30 per cent of the body’s glucose to function. During early childhood the brain is rapidly growing and developing and dependent on vital nutrients to function optimally. These include essential amino acids, omega 3 fats and phospholipids and vital vitamins and minerals needed to make brain chemicals that affect how we think and feel and optimise the health and functioning of our brain cells known as neurons.
Include the following brain healthy foods at each meal to supercharge your child’s brain power.
Eggs with Veggies
Eggs are one of best brain foods for your child. Rich in protein which are the building blocks to create our neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) plus essential nutrients for optimal brain function including iron, B vitamins and zinc. Eggs are also a rich source of brain-boosting choline, which helps enhance memory. Try scrambling eggs with omega 3 smoked salmon – another great brain boosting food. Toss in some spinach leaves or other vegetables too for their vitamin and mineral content which include B vitamins and magnesium essential for the production of mood boosting brain chemicals like serotonin and dopamine.
Porridge with Berries
Ditch the sugary cereals and switch to slow releasing oats instead. Packed with fibre and a good source of protein to help balance blood sugar levels to keep your child focused through the morning. Oats are also a good source of the amino acid tryptophan which the body converts to mood boosting serotonin. For an extra boost stir in a handful of flaxseeds or chia seeds. These little seeds are packed with omega 3 fats an essential healthy fat for brain function. Top with berries and yogurt for a healthy energising breakfast option.
Chicken & Turkey
Chicken and turkey are protein packed foods rich in tryptophan, which the body uses to make serotonin – our feel good neurotransmitter. By including plenty of lean protein at lunch you also help stabilise your child’s blood sugar levels through the afternoon enabling them to focus and concentrate. Lean poultry also contains another amino acid called tyrosine, which can help boost motivation by improving levels of dopamine too. Lean meats also provide iron which is not only vital for the production of haemoglobin but also participates in the production of brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) such as serotonin and dopamine that effect mood and brain function. Studies have shown that optimising iron levels can improve brain function.
Try making up chicken wraps or tacos sneaking in plenty of veggies and avocado. Avocados are another fabulous brain power food. Packed with tyrosine, the amino acid that helps the body produce dopamine which helps increase feelings of reward, motivation and overall mood. While your child may have a disliking for leafy greens, they are rich in folate and vitamins, which are linked to brain growth. Try sneaking them in to your child’s omelettes, wraps, smoothies, bakes and soups.
Greek Yogurt and Berries
Probiotic rich foods like yogurt and kefir are a must for a healthy brain. Packed with beneficial bacteria researchers have found probiotics can help boost mood and reduce anxiety. Berries are loaded with antioxidants including anthocyanidins, known to boost brain function and promote brain and nervous system health. Berries are also low in sugar and calories and packed with fibre to help balance blood sugar and energy levels.
Fish Pie with Veggies
Wild-caught salmon is one of the best foods for both mood and brain power. Packed with omega 3 fats which help optimize brain function and production of neurotransmitters helping your child to think quickly and clearly. The more omega-3s we can get to the brain, the better it will function and the better children will be able to focus. Make up a fish pie with a selection of fish and seafood and top with antioxidant rich sweet potato. Serve with plenty of vegetables which contains the vital vitamins and minerals the brain needs to function optimally. See Christine’s recipe below from The Brain Boost Diet.
Bananas and Wholegrain Crackers or Oat Cakes
If your child struggles to wind down at night, then try giving them a healthy snack an hour before their bedtime. Bananas contain the amino acid tryptophan as well as vitamins A, B6 and C, fibre, potassium, phosphorous, iron and carbohydrate. These nutrients help the body convert the tryptophan into serotonin and melatonin – our sleep inducing hormone.
Sweet Potato Gratin Fish Pie
Fish pie is traditionally a stodgy comfort dish, but this lighter version is packed with omega-boosting fish and shellfish plus veggies for an antioxidant boost. Swapping potato for a combination of sweet potato and cauliflower is the perfect way to reduce the overall carbohydrate in the dish as well as including lots of antioxidants. For a dairy-free version, use coconut milk and omit the cheese.
- 100g/3½oz raw king prawns/jumbo shrimp
- 2 medium leeks, shredded
- 150g/5½oz smoked haddock fillet, boned and skinned
- 150g/5½oz cod fillet, boned and skinned
- 150g/5½oz salmon fillet, boned and skinned
- 500ml/17fl oz/2 cups semi-skimmed milk or canned full-fat coconut milk
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- 1 tbsp cornflour
- zest of 1 lemon
- 1 tbsp chopped parsley leaves
- 1 tbsp chopped dill fronds
- 1 sweet potato, peeled and left whole
- 150g/5½oz cauliflower, cut into florets
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
- sea salt and ground black pepper
- green salad and lemon wedges, to serve
- Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas 6. Make a shallow cut down the centre of the curved back of each prawn/shrimp. Pull out the black vein with a cocktail stick/toothpick or your fingers, then rinse the prawn thoroughly.
- Put the leeks in a large frying pan with a lid and add 1 tablespoon water. Cover and steam-fry over a medium heat for 5 minutes or until the leeks are soft.
- Add the fish, prawns, milk and mustard to the pan, return to the boil, then reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 5 minutes or until the fish is opaque and starting to flake and the prawns are pink. Drain and reserve the liquid, then remove the fish, prawns and leeks and put them into an ovenproof dish.
- Mix the cornflour with a little water to form a smooth paste. Stir into the hot milk liquid. Heat it gently, stirring well for 2 minutes or until the milk thickens. Season with salt and pepper and add the lemon zest. Stir in the herbs, then pour the sauce over the fish and leeks.
- Meanwhile, put the whole peeled sweet potato into a large saucepan of boiling salted water and add the cauliflower florets. Blanch for 2 minutes. Remove from the pan, cool slightly, then grate the potato and cauliflower into a large, clean dish towel. Squeeze gently to remove the excess liquid. Tip the mixture into a bowl. Add the olive oil and Parmesan cheese, toss and season with salt and pepper. Scatter the mixture over the fish.
- Bake for 25–30 minutes until the topping is golden brown and the filling is bubbling hot. Serve with salad and lemon wedges. To freeze: assemble the fish pie in a freezerproof container and freeze for up to 3 months.
Salmon contains high levels of omega-3 fats. More than two-thirds of the brain’s fatty acids are docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and salmon is an excellent source of these essential brain fats needed to support cognitive function.
Christine Bailey is an award-winning, degree-qualified nutritional therapist, chef, author and broadcaster with over 18 years of experience. Known for her engaging style and enthusiasm, Christine’s writing on nutrition has been featured in the national press and she appears regularly on TV. She’s a nutrition expert on Sky News and has appeared on BBC’s The Truth About Stress & The Truth About Sugar. Recently she was the nutritional expert behind CBBC’s Operation Ouch Mental Health Special Programme, released in November. With additional training with the Institute of Functional Medicine, Christine has the unique ability to translate nutritional research into everyday practical recipes and diet programmes.