In my house, I’m the lunch lady. One of the tasks that fall on my side of our family’s “chore chart” is to pack lunch for our son. This may not seems like a big deal, but I take my job very seriously.
While we’re apart for the day, I want him to have food that’s healthy, tasty and will feed his developing mind. But which foods will deliver the nutrients he needs for healthy cognitive function and memory?
I asked my friend, Brierley Wright, M.S. R.D., EatingWell’s associate editor of nutrition, for advice about foods for fueling young brains. For optimal brain development she suggested two key nutrients: eating slower-burning carbohydrates for breakfast and getting enough iron.
Related Link: Delicious Recipes to Help You Get More Iron
Here are two foods she suggested to help kids get their fill and start the school year off on the right foot.
1. Oats: Studies show that fueling the brain with breakfast is important for thinking, acting and learning. Children who are undernourished perform poorly on cognitive tasks. Be choosy about breakfast: research shows that fueling your kids with slower-burning carbohydrates (also called low-glycemic-index foods) like oatmeal, instead of faster-burning, or high-glycemic-index, breakfast foods (like sugary cereals) helps them maintain their concentration and attention throughout the morning.
Make it: Send your kid off to school with grab-and-go Almond-Honey Power Bars for breakfast. Or pack an Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookie for a post-lunch treat.
More food sources of slower-burning carbohydrates: Bran cereals or whole-wheat bagels.
2. Beans: Beans are a good source of iron and are a convenient item to keep on hand in your kitchen. Research shows that being even mildly iron-deficient affects learning, memory and attention. (About 10 percent of young women are anemic because of their monthly loss of iron-rich blood.) Luckily, restoring iron levels to normal also restores cognitive function.
Make it: Pair beans with tomato-based salsa, as in Zesty Bean Dip, for a tasty snack served with corn tortilla chips (the tomatoes provide a good amount of Vitamin C, which will help you to absorb the type of iron that’s found in plant-based foods).
More foods to help you get more iron: Dark leafy greens, meat, poultry, fish or soy.
What do you pack in your child's lunch? Tell us what you think below.