The Best Breakfasts for Kid's Brain
Breakfast is critical for school-age kids. Research has shown that breakfast-eaters do better academically and have fewer behavior problems than breakfast-skippers. (As many as 37% of American kids routinely blow off this meal, reports the Children's Nutrition Research Center at Baylor University.)
But high-sugar foods set kids up for a midmorning energy crash--right when they're likely to be in the middle of the more demanding classes, like math or reading. 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, says Steven Zeisel, MD, a researcher at Duke University.
Choline (a vitamin-like substance that is plentiful in eggs, but also found in nuts) is vital for the creation of memory stem cells, formed deep within our brains. The more cells we have, the better our memories. It's a nutrient experts have long recognized as vital for pregnant and lactating women, because so much brain development occurs in infants.
But the big news, according to research from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke University, is that extra choline also seems to help adolescent rodents remember better, too, says Zeisel, indicating that a choline-rich diet may aid new memory cell production throughout childhood. (Because humans and rodents are so similar biologically, researchers reason, comparable results may occur in humans.)
Turn up the appeal
Even kids who hate eggs will go for French toast; use whole wheat bread, and top with sliced fruit. (Warning: Because eggs can cause allergic reactions in infants, babies should not be given egg yolks until 8 months, and egg whites until 1 year, according to the USDA.)
Tufts University and Quaker Oats gave kids between ages 9 and 11 a choice of oatmeal, cold cereal, or no breakfast at all, and then tested their memory at school over several weeks. The oatmeal-eaters performed significantly better on spatial-memory tasks (children were tested on map skills). Researchers believe it is because oatmeal--a whole grain that is high in fiber--digests slowly, providing kids with a steady stream of energy, as well as giving them protein.
Turn up the appeal
If you're serving old-fashioned slow-cook oatmeal, sprinkle in raisins, dried apricots, or cranberries to add a little zip; walnuts add crunch. Allow kids to sweeten it themselves with a little brown sugar or maple syrup. When serving packaged varieties, don't let them add sugar (it's got enough already) and pick a product that contains 130 calories or less. Varieties such as "maple and brown sugar" can contain up to 190 calories largely due to added sugar.
Strawberries and Blueberries
These two juicy favorites are ultrahigh in antioxidants. A diet rich in such foods (spinach is also in this group, but who are we kidding?) has been shown to boost the cognitive functioning of rats, according to research from Tufts University, and researchers speculate that similar results occur in humans. While the studies are preliminary, researchers are hopeful that fruits and vegetables may play an important role in preventing the long-term effects of oxidative stress on brain function. (In fact, in older people, a diet rich in antioxidants even seems to ward off Alzheimer's disease.)
Turn up the appeal
No tricks required--kids love these plain. Buy bags of the frozen berries for snacking, or help kids make their own smoothies.
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