8 Brain-Boosting Food and Health Tips for Kids
It’s almost mind boggling just how a few simple changes can effect kids’ success in school! Here are some scary numbers: Just 15 minutes more of sleep can make the difference between an A student and a C student. Eating fast food regularly can drop a kid’s test scores by 17 points (also the difference between an A student and C student).
We all want kids to live a SuperLife and be successful in school, but research shows that kids’ ability to focus, retain information, remain behaved, and thrive academically all heavily depend on drinking water, eating nutritious food (aka “brain-boosting food”), and getting consistent sleep each night. So simple, but they have massive effects.
Use these eight important brain-boosting food and health tips below to support kids’ success this school year!
1. Have kids drink water once they wake up!
Let me say this loudly! Our kids need to drink lots of water, especially before school in the morning! The latest research has found that their test scores and academic abilities actually depend on whether or not they’ve been drinking enough water. Yes, really, just water! Dehydration (even a very mild case) makes kids listless, lethargic, and irritable — not exactly the best frame of mind for memorizing multiplication tables. Researchers are also finding links between insufficient water and attention deficit disorder (ADD) and hyperactivity.
Our neurological receptors malfunction when our cells go thirsty. A recent study determined that two-thirds of children show up for school every day slightly dehydrated. Let that sink in. Children are showing up to school at a losing point even before they open a book!
Even worse, they either don’t drink anything when they wake-up or they drink juice or some other liquid that contains sodium or amino acids (such as dairy milk!) or sugars that make their cells more dehydrated.
Once the children in the study had a single glass of water, they were retested, and their academic performance instantly improved. Imagine the long-term effect of cell dehydration on young brains and their intellectual ability. Kids who were under-hydrated also showed an impaired aptitude for remembering numbers. Don’t you think that a piece of the “epidemic” of ADHD might have something to do with a child’s inability to focus caused by something as simple as not enough water?
Ace The Test: Other fluids in the morning do NOT count as hydrating fluid! A glass of water is upon waking is a MUST but make sure it is clean, pure water. Want something fun for a picky eater? Add a few drops of chlorophyll (yes, kids can have it) to the water — it creates a fun green hue and slightly minty flavor that kids will love. Mint-flavored ChlorOxygen is a brand I like that has the slight minty flavor.
2. Eat a brain-boosting breakfast!
Breakfast is critical for children, especially the younger ones. Research has shown that breakfast-eaters do better academically and have fewer behavior problems than breakfast-skippers. According to the Children’s Nutrition Research Center at Baylor University, as many as 37% of American children habitually skip this meal.
However, traditionally the children who ARE eating breakfast are consuming high-sugar cereals, bars, or “breakfast” foods (Toaster Strudel, Pop Tarts, etc). These unhealthy choices set kids up for a mid-morning energy crash—right when they’re likely to be in the middle of the more demanding classes, such as math or reading. They go from a major blood sugar surge, to a blood sugar crash. Besides causing irritability, headaches, and poor focus, when blood sugar is low, it has been shown that it leads to decreased brain function.
Why It Matters: Ideal breakfasts offer protein and complex carbs, which are digested more slowly. Some studies have found that such breakfasts not only keep kids’ energy levels stable all morning, but also improve motor coordination.
Try This: Here a fun, simple breakfast smoothie recipe that is full of brain-boosting omega-3 fats and antioxidants. You can rename this smoothie after your child’s favorite superhero!
Blue Brain-Boosting Superhero Smoothie
Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, Soy-Free, Vegan, Vegetarian
Makes 1 Serving
(Note: Use all organic, fresh ingredients if possible)
1 cup fresh spinach (or 1/2 cup if using frozen)
1 cup unsweetened organic almond milk (or non-dairy milk of choice)
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
1/2 medium frozen banana (can freeze 1/2 portion in slices ahead of time)
1 Tbsp ground flaxseed
2 tbsp almond butter or nut/seed butter of choice
1 tbsp finely ground coconut flakes (optional)
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
STEPS TO SOMETHING DELICIOUS
Pour milk into the blender first (this keeps things from sticking), then add in spinach, blueberries, banana, nut butter, and flaxseed. Can add 2-3 ice cubes for a colder “smoothie.” Blend until smooth. Pour into your kids favorite mug, glass, or to-go cup!
3. Get enough sleep! Sleep deprivation makes kids not as smart.
Don’t underestimate the power of sleep! Research shows that losing one hour of sleep has a detrimental effect equal to losing two years of cognitive maturation and development. That turns your eighth grader’s brain into a sixth grader’s brain. Seriously? Two years of cognitive gain lost due to a lack of sleep!
Another research study found that teenagers who got A’s were sleeping 15 minutes more than the students who were getting B’s. While the students who were getting B’s, were sleeping on average 15 more minutes than the students who were getting C’s, and so on down the line. EVERY FIFTEEN MINUTES COUNTS.
Research studies have found that across all ages, signs of sleepiness turn up as behavioral and learning difficulties. Excessively sleepy children in school seem more likely to have problems with learning, attention, hyperactivity, and conduct compared to children who are alert. Sleepiness creates concentration and mood issues that make it hard to stay awake and focus. That, in turn, makes it hard to get good grades. In a study that measured kids’ sleep and school performance, poor sleepers (kids who had trouble falling asleep and woke up at least once a night) experienced school achievement difficulties. Other studies — including those done on high school-ers and college students —found that students with higher grades had significantly more sleep time and earlier bedtimes on school nights compared to students with lower grades.
The bottom line? Childhood sleep deprivation has proven consequences on the ability to learn and grades. To help improve sleep habits, help preschoolers get 11-12 hours of sleep a night and make sure teems get 9 to 10 hours of sleep. Do NOT schedule activities around bedtime and keep computers, phones, tablets and TVs out of your child’s bedroom. Period.
4. Have an ANYTIME foods drawer in the refrigerator or have a bowl on your counter.
Make sure the rainbow of fruits and vegetables are available to grab at any time. The phytonutrients in colorful foods, such as flavonoids, carotenoids and chlorophyll, protect and nourish young bodies. Some great options are brightly colored fruits and vegetables such as apples, bananas, oranges, mangoes, carrots, apricots, plums, blueberries, eggplant, grapes, watermelon, raspberries, beets, salad greens, green and yellow beans, dark leafy greens, and more.
The Key Point: Children’s bodies need variety just as much as yours does!
5. Have water throughout the day.
Too little water creates false hunger in children, so they make poor food choices. Offer clean, pure water (distilled or reverse osmosis if possible – here’s why) at every meal, especially after an active day.
The Important Part: Actually give your kids clean, pure water. Skip the sugary soda! Stop offering brightly colored, bubbly alternatives in fancy packaging! Can we blame kids for refusing boring water if this is all they have known? There is ZERO health benefits to drinking sugar laden, fake chemical, fake vitamin, artificially colored and flavored drinks! (SuperLife, pg. 178).
Extra Tip: Bring a little ‘zing’ to your kids’ water with a slice or two of lemon, lime, or orange or other infused water recipes.
6. Want A’s? Skip the fast food!
Do you want your kids eating burgers with a side of bad test scores? A national longitudinal survey by the Department of Education found that children who ate fast food three or more times per week performed lower on standardized tests in reading and math.
How much lower? Children who ate fast food averaged about 17 points lower on a 1-to-100 scale than the kids who did not eat fast food or only had it occasionally. That is the difference between a 90 and a 73, or simply an A or C!
7. Avoid foods that impair mood.
Certain foods and drinks can make kids and teens more vulnerable to mood disorders such as depression and anxiety.
- A recent study found that people who drank four or more cups of soda or sweetened fruit drinks a day—including diet versions—had a much higher risk for depression.
- Higher soft drink consumption has been associated with a range of undesirable behaviors: getting into physical fights, feeling sad or hopeless, and having suicidal thoughts and actions among teenagers.
- Excessive amounts of caffeine from soda, energy drinks, or coffee drinks can trigger anxiety in kids and teens and may also aggravate feelings of depression when the caffeine wears off.
- A diet high in processed foods, such as fried food, sweet desserts, refined flour and cereals, and processed meats, can increase a child or teen’s risk for anxiety and depression.
8. Skip foods that drain the brain.
Now that you’ve got your brain-boosting list down pat, steer clear of certain items that can quickly drain energy and kids’ attention levels. Sugar and artificial ingredients create short spikes in activity followed by a crashing low. In the past 30 years, many studies have looked at the effects of additives in food on behavior. According to one meta study published in 2004, many of the studies done have documented that colorings, preservatives, and other additives carry adverse behavioral effects and problems.
Check This List: Take the time to look at labels and read the ingredients. Skip the following items on your next trip to the grocery store to help your kids thrive in school — and life!
- Artificial sweeteners
- Artificial food colorings
- High-fructose corn syrup
- Sugar-filled fruit drinks, colas and juices
- Refined white sugars and breads
- Trans fats and partially-hydrogenated oils
- Processed snack foods
- Processed luncheon meats
Children are developing lifelong habits and tastes now. It’s a mistake to think that because they’re young they have some special immunity from lousy nutrition and disease.
“We’re sending kids the message that their youth somehow protects them from the ill effects of poor nutrition — as though being young is a form of immunity. But it isn’t. Real damage is done to kid’s bodies when they eat and drink the wrong things.” (SuperLife, pg. 175)