School is back in session for millions of rambunctious whiz-kids across the country, and that means loads of lunches and tons of snacks are in order. Giving your kids the right nutrition is essential to helping them succeed in all the challenges the school year brings. All that mental and physical activity will burn a lot of calories, which they’ll need to replenish to avoid a midday crash. (Which usually presents as tired crankiness, so keeping Junior full is good for your own well-being too!)
It’s not just about having plenty of snacks on hand, it’s about having the right kind of nums to nosh upon. Forgo the greasy, salty, or sugar-packed junk foods for healthy snackables with these important features:
As adults, we’re always looking for the heart-healthy benefits of antioxidants. Kids can get a healthful boost from these power foods, which have been shown to improve physical coordination and memory. They can even help with stress, which makes them the go-to snack for test days! Give your kids antioxidant-rich foods, especially berries such as blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries.
Another type of antioxidant, Vitamin E can protect brain cells from inflammation and other types of damage. It’s a great supplement for kids that regularly participate in physical sports, but all kids can benefit from a boost of E.
Nuts such as almonds and peanuts are an excellent source of the stuff, but if your child has a nut allergy they can still squeeze some Vitamin E out of leafy greens such as spinach or kale. Vegetable oils such as sunflower, grape seed, and safflower are also a great choice as a vitamin-packed flavor additive, and they’re much healthier than butter to boot!
Foods that are rich in choline boost brain cell production in children and maintain healthy nerve impulses and memory. It’s a complex compound that’s already produced naturally in the brain, but you can enhance it with snacks of soy and peanut butter. Egg yolks are also a source of choline, meaning there’s even more reason to start the day with a good breakfast!
There’s an excellent reason why most “health foods” brag about their Omega-3 fatty acid content! DHA acids, in particular, are essential to keep growing brains functioning productively, especially across important cells responsible for communication and memory.
Fish is the most Omega-3 rich food, particularly salmon and trout. (An added bonus: High Omega-3 oily fish are low in mercury.) If your kid is squeamish about fish, try DHA-fortified dairy such as milk, cheese, and yogurt. Some juices are enhanced with DHA too!
Iron deficiency is one of the leading causes of memory and concentration impairment in kids from preschool right through their teen years. It’s also an essential element in the formation of other important neurotransmitters, such as a form of choline called acetylcholine. Low iron can lead to behavioral problems, fatigue, and lowers the immune system’s ability to fight off infections.
In the snack department, you can boost iron naturally with whole grains, beans and nuts. Look for fortified or iron-enriched varieties for an extra leg up. Red meats for dinner and enriched cereals for breakfast are another excellent choice. Vegetarian families can seek similar benefits from some varieties of tofu!