Did you know the brain needs sugar to function? Glucose travels into the bloodstream to fuel the mitochondrial furnaces responsible for brainpower. Before you get too excited, I’m not giving your family a license to go on a sugar feast. Neurons depend on the bloodstream to deliver a steady supply of glucose. While simple sugars (like donuts, toaster pastries, etc.) may get your kids up and revving, it won’t give them the brain fuel they need for the entire school day. They’ll fall into a mid-morning slump and probably not perform as well for the afternoon classes. Some suggestions for fueling your kid’s brains for the entire day:
Grains for brains
After sleeping for 10-12 hours, their body needs fuel that will give them a productive start. Complex carbs metabolize more gradually and provide a steadier release of glucose. If your kids don’t want to eat when they first get up, try having them eat after they get dressed and ready for school.
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Whole grain, low-sugar cereals, waffles, English muffins, and plain instant oatmeal with a fruit are good choices. Trail mixes are quick and easy, especially if you make your trail mix on Sunday and place it into portion-controlled bags. Use low-sugar cereal and dried (no-added-sugar) fruits and nuts for the mix.
Fill your kids’ lunches with “time-release” foods that are low in the glycemic index. That way your kids will get a steady stream of glucose into the bloodstream and will have the brain power they need for the whole day. Let them choose a cool BPA-free lunch box, then involve them in packing their own lunch. They’ll less likely trade or throw away a meal if they choose what goes into it.
Protein: lean deli meats, tuna, eggs or peanut butter will produce norepinephrine and dopamine, which will give them alertness and stable memory. Add variety with whole-wheat pitas, English muffins or sandwich thins. Try quinoa, or whole wheat pasta with some veggies and vinaigrette for a tasty lunch in a bowl.
Fruit and Veggies: Presentation is everything. A Dutch study revealed kids ate almost twice as much fruit when it was presented in a visually appealing way. Skewer their favorite fruit and veggies on toothpicks. Add a little low-fat dressing for the picky veggie eaters. Wash it all down with low-fat chocolate or white milk, water or occasionally a 100% juice drink.
Don’t forget to include some Omega-3 rich foods. Studies have shown that diets rich in Omega-3 can aid in learning ability, problem-solving skills, focus, positive mood, emotional balance and memory.
Plus, promote communications between cells. Tuna, enriched omega-3 eggs, pumpkin seeds, kale chips,walnuts, raspberries, soy nuts and avocados are a few sources rich in Omega-3.
Remember the days when you got home from school and ran outside to play until your mom called you for dinner? Now our kids get together to play video games or sit in the same room on their individual laptops and text ‘what’s for dinner?’
Exercise improves circulation throughout the body, including the brain. It stimulates the growth of neurons, especially in the hippocampus (learning and memory center) giving your kids more brainpower.
The brain works even better after physical activity. Studies show that the brain produces a chemical that makes the brain more receptive to learning for a period of time after physical activity.
If your child has a choice, choose a first hour gym class. Research showed kids who exercised first thing in the morning could think better, had longer attention spans and improved grades.
Let the kids play a game of hoops or soccer if they hit a bump in their homework. Again, the brain will release chemicals that aid in problem solving and that bump in the homework will be easier to smooth out after working up a sweat.
Goodnight moon, goodnight brain
The Mayo Clinic recommends 10-12 hours of shut-eye for school-age kids. The brain is just as active while they snooze so it’s important you give them the right fuel during the day. It will use that time to repair and rebuild their structural components. Growth hormones and chemicals important to the immune system are secreted during your child’s sleep. If your child doesn’t get enough sleep on a consistent basis it could stunt their growth and make them prone to illness.