5 Cheap & Easy Brain-Boosting Snacks to Power Your Cram Session
Welcome to Thrifty. A weekly column where assistant nutrition editor and registered dietitian, Jessica Ball, keeps it real on how to grocery shop on a budget, make healthy meals for one or two, and make earth-friendly choices without overhauling your entire life.
For those of you in college, it's creeping up on midterm time. Or maybe you have to give a big presentation for work and need to be on your game. I know that when I'm stressed, the last thing I feel like doing is stopping the progress I'm making to go to the kitchen and make a snack. Whether it's during a work day from home or a long study session, having to get up every few hours to cook can make it hard to get done what you need to do. Enter: these brain-boosting snacks, which will help you stay focused and perform your best for the task at hand. Try these brain food snacks before your next big final, or just to get you through a busy week.
1. Fruit Smoothies
Smoothies are a great way to pack in a bunch of nutrition into a flavorful snack. Focus on berries, one of the best brain foods around, with recipes like our refreshing Citrus Berry Smoothie and creamy Coconut Blueberry Smoothie. I always add leafy greens into my smoothies for some added nutrition and the nice part is you can't even taste them. Try it yourself and make our Pineapple-Green Smoothie recipe.
Enjoy them in the morning or to beat an afternoon slump, and be sure to add some protein like milk, yogurt or nut butter to help tide you over until your next meal. Plus, they can be made in bulk and prepped ahead—try our Make-Ahead Smoothie Freezer Packs. You can even freeze leftovers for later.
2. Whole Grain Muffins
This one may sound more intimidating than it actually is. There are several super easy ways to make muffins that are quick, delicious and only have a few steps. Plus, when you use ingredients like oats, peanut butter and eggs, you really can't get any cheaper or healthier. We even have recipes that are flourless (for you gluten-free folks) and can be made in the blender. A delicious fresh-baked muffin has never been simpler.
Whole grains, like oats and whole grain flour, are packed with nutrients that our brains need and prefer, like carbs. Yes, you read that right: your brain prefers to run on healthy complex carbs, like the ones found in whole grains. Try making mini muffins, like our Pumpkin-Oat Mini Muffin recipe, which are great for kids and adults alike. Enjoy with coffee in the morning, as an afternoon pick-me-up or even a post-dinner treat. Whole grain muffins are simple, delicious and adaptable, while being super affordable and nutritious.
3. Trail Mix
Nuts are high in nutrients like vitamin E and antioxidants that protect cells, including brain cells, from oxidative damage. Some nuts, like walnuts, even contain anti-inflammatory properties that can reduce things like headaches that keep you from feeling one hundred percent.
They are super versatile and shelf stable, so you can take them on-the-go if needed. Make a big batch and keep it right on the counter for easy, healthy snacking. Plus, you can mix and match flavors for everything from tropical to sweet and spicy. If you don't have your own kitchen, packaged trail mix can be found at most any convenience store or gas station in a pinch.
4. Vegetables & Hummus
Vegetables and chickpeas (the main ingredient in hummus) are both foods that are highly recommended in the MIND Diet, which is an eating pattern similar to the Mediterranean diet that's focused on keeping your brain sharp as you age.
Though you can easily find prepared hummus and chopped vegetables at the store, making them yourself can help you save money and allows you to customize the flavors. Plus, hummus requires no cooking and can be made in a food processor in minutes. Try our Classic Hummus or something more unique like Spicy Avocado Hummus for a savory, filling snack to help you focus up on the task at hand, while leaving hunger in the dust. For more, check out our guide on how to make hummus from scratch.
5. Avocado Toast
I know, I know. This is the most notorious millennial snack there is. It may even be a little ironic that it made its way on to this list. But hear me out, it has merit as a cheap, delicious and easy brain-boosting snack for your next cram session. Avocado toast is, at its core, whole grains paired with healthy fats, both of which keep your brain healthy and working at its best.
Beyond the several vitamins and nutrients it boasts, this snack has serious staying power. The healthy fats, proteins and complex carbs will keep you full and satisfied, so you can power through your to-do list. Feel free to add additional proteins like eggs or beans, or top with spices (our favorite is Everything But the Bagel seasoning) to get the flavors you are in the mood for with ease.
Some foods can boost your productivity, while other foods, like refined carbs and processed foods, can make it plummet. Plan ahead for a focused day of studying and prepping with these cheap and easy brain-boosting snacks. Some can be made in bulk for a grab-and-go option, or simply whipped together in minutes (or with no cooking at all). Ingredients like oats, beans, leafy greens and berries are sure you keep your mind sharp so you can focus on what's important and keep hunger at bay.