Those commercials with kids dancing around in new jeans and sneakers have started playing again, and somehow we all know that back to school is right around the corner. For parents, this means helping out with increasingly difficult math homework, throwing together crafty projects the day before they’re due, and trying to get creative with those brown bag lunches. But did you know that you can get creative in a way that also helps your kids do better in school? In fact, the lunches you pack may help tackle obstacles like concentration and stress control.
Here are 12 brain foods you should consider packing in your child’s lunch box. They’re delicious, healthy, and they won’t even know you’re making them better students!
It’s a well-known fact that berries—blueberries especially—are as nutritious as they are tasty. A recent study shows that antioxidant-packed blueberries may actually help improve brain function, short-term memory, hand-eye coordination, and reverse nerve damage. So not only will studying be easier for your kids, but they’ll be better athletes, too! Pack a handful of blueberries in your kids’ lunches, or follow this recipe for quick and easy blueberry muffins that your kids—and their teachers—will love. Get our Very Blueberry Muffins recipe.
Nuts and seeds in general are great for your brain function—and your heart—and although walnuts are at the top of the list, they’re a common severe allergen prohibited from many schools. (If your kid’s not affected but won’t go for plain walnuts, try mixing them with some sweeter ingredients, as in banana bread granola, or a dried apricot and kamut granola blend, for a strictly after-school snack.) Omega-3 rich seeds are a safe alternative allowed in schools, so send some seasoned pumpkin seeds along with your next sandwich instead of chips. Get our Nacho Cheese Pumpkin Seeds recipe.
Hard-boiled eggs are a classic self-contained snack most kids can be coaxed into eating, although they can also be turned into deviled eggs, or egg salad (mayo-free if need be). In any form, eggs are full of choline, folate, and vitamins that are beneficial to brain health. Get our Perfect Hard-Boiled Eggs recipe.
4. Dark Chocolate
It’s okay to give your kids a little treat with their lunch, as long as it’s in moderation. A Harvard study (it’s Harvard, so you know it’s legit) showed that eating dark chocolate actually boosts brain power by increasing blood flow to the brain, therefore making students more alert and able to retain information. Participants in the study who were given dark chocolate also showed better memory and thinking abilities. Throw a couple of these oatmeal chocolate chip cookies in the brown paper bag—just make sure to use dark chocolate chips. Get our Oatmeal-Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe.
It sounds cliché, but drinking water is actually linked to a spike in test scores. According to a study conducted in London, higher-scoring students had a higher tendency to bring water into an exam. Low-scoring students who started drinking water before and during exams also saw a boost in test scores. While scientists are still trying to figure out why this could be, the assumption is that water combats stress and anxiety—two things that hinder a child’s ability to perform their best on that big test. Because berries are also great for brain health, try sending your kids to school with this tasty berry-infused water. Get the recipe.
According to WebMD, peanut butter is chock full of antioxidants that protect the nervous membranes and help the brain use sugar for energy. An energetic brain is an attentive and focused brain. Try our take on the classic PB&J, and watch your child’s study skills flourish. Or just watch them enjoy the best sandwich of all time. If you’re packing it in their lunch, you may need to replace the PB with sunflower or other seed butter. Get our Grilled Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich recipe.
In addition to being trendy and delicious, the vitamins and minerals in avocados are actually useful in preventing stress and anxiety. This quick and easy-to-make guacamole would be a great after-school snack if your child is especially stressed out or suffering from test anxiety. If only someone had told me to eat more avocados when I was in school, I may have been valedictorian. Get our Guacamole recipe.
Similarly to avocados, yogurt is actually a great natural way to relieve stress and anxiety. According to a study performed on fish, the probiotics present in yogurt reduced the fish’s reaction to environmental stressors. Scientists think the same would ring true for students. Simply packing a Greek yogurt in your kids’ lunches would suffice, but remember everything that was said about blueberries’ ability to improve memory? Why not try this yogurt parfait? Simple, delicious, and beautiful, it’s a great study break snack! Get the recipe.
Chickpeas are super high in magnesium, which is not only great for stress, but it also helps to speed up messages the brain sends and receives. This makes for better information retention and recollection. The protein in chickpeas also boosts energy and thinking ability throughout the day. If a child eats chickpeas around lunchtime, the natural energy they get from their snack will keep them awake, attentive, and focused. Try these delicious and spicy roasted chickpeas. If your child is a picky eater, you can cut out the spice and season with salt instead. Get our Spicy Oven-Roasted Chickpeas recipe.
10. Whole Grains
A Columbia University study shows that a diet consisting of whole grains actually reduces the risk of impairment that leads to Alzheimer’s. Although your children don’t have to worry about Alzheimer’s, this study is actually great news for students, like me, who have trouble with memorization (one time it took me two weeks to learn 14 lines of a play. If I had known I could solve that problem with a piece of bread, I probably would have saved a lot of time). Start replacing white bread with whole grain, or try this whole grain Greek yogurt banana bread. It’s delicious, and the yogurt is an added brain bonus! Get the recipe.
If you keep finding out that your child is having trouble concentrating in class, try starting their day with a bowl of oatmeal. The natural glucose in oatmeal is great for the brain because it gives children the energy they need to concentrate and learn. Plus, it’s been proven time and time again that children who eat breakfast every day find much more success at school. When it comes to oatmeal, I always think sweeter is better, so sprinkle some brown sugar and cinnamon on top of this steel-cut oatmeal. And—I think you know where I’m going with this—throw some berries on there! Throw some berries on everything. Get our Slow Cooker Steel-Cut Oatmeal recipe.
From reducing anxiety to keeping the brain active and attentive, apples are a student’s superfood. Why students have been putting apples on their teachers’ desks when they could have been eating them themselves, I’ll never know. Studies have even shown that students who eat apples right before a test actually perform better. While apples and peanut butter is a simple brain booster, get a little more creative with these fun apple slice cookies! Get the recipe.
Related Video: Revolutionizing School Lunches
Header image courtesy of arselectronica/flickr.