Now that the school year is in full swing, kids are getting settled into their routines of full days in the classroom, plus homework and extracurricular activities. With these busy schedules, it is important that their minds and bodies are well nourished and rested. This will improve their ability to learn, and potentially even their behaviour in the classroom.
Smart strategies to consider to optimize brain power for kids
- Provide a brainy breakfast: Dozens of research studies have proven that children who eat a high-protein breakfast perform better in school. Good breakfast examples include a fruit and veggie smoothie, Greek yogurt with blueberries, oatmeal with chia seed and cinnamon or poached eggs. Blueberries are particularly good to include because they contain flavonoids: antioxidants that support brain health. (Sprinkle Sunfiber in their smoothies, yogurt or oatmeal to support their digestive health without changing the taste or consistency of their breakfast.)
- Raise a grazer: Grazing, or eating small frequent meals and snacks, is good for the brain because it helps to steady blood sugar and energy levels. When children run out of fuel, their blood sugar dips. This can cause fatigue, poor concentration and even behavioural problems. Pack high-energy, school-safe snacks such as dried apricots, raisins, sunflower seeds, nut-free granola, and vegetable sticks and hummus.
- Feed fish: Research suggests that children who get omega-3 fats plus protein have better school performance. Recent studies have also shown that omega-3 fish oil supplements can improve learning and concentration in kids. Since it is almost impossible to get kids to eat enough fish to meet the requirements, it’s smart to supplement their fish oil intake. Look for a quality fish oil supplement designed for kids. There are liquid and gummy supplements that offer the benefits of omega-3 fats without the fishy taste.
- Cut the sugar: Discourage your child from eating these ‘dumb foods’ such as candy, soft drinks and convenience foods. These are often loaded with sugar, flooding the body with empty calories and some contain MSG, aspartame and dyes, that can cause mood swings, headaches, behaviour problems and compromise overall health.
- Make sleep a priority: Sleep is absolutely essential for mental and physical health. The amount of sleep required varies by age. Children aged five to 12 need 10-11 hours of sleep; and those 12 to 18 years old require 8 to 9 hours per day. Not getting enough sleep can affect a child’s behaviour, concentration, memory and ability to do well in school. Poor sleep quality is a common problem among children diagnosed with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). To improve sleep quality, try to get your child into a good sleep routine by doing relaxing activities in the evening such as reading (no video games), going to bed and waking at approximately the same time, avoiding sugar/caffeine and making your child’s room quiet and dark. For children who struggle with sleep, talk with your healthcare provider about supplemental support. One option to consider is Suntheanine. This clinically studied amino acid helps to improve sleep quality, while also improving daytime focus and concentration. One study of boys with ADHD ages 8 to 12 found that supplementing with Suntheanine improved sleep efficiency scores with no significant adverse effects.
- Ensure adequate hydration: Water is critical for brain health. The Institute of Medicine, which sets guidelines for water and nutrient intakes for North Americans, recommends 1.7 litres for children age 4 to 8, 2.4 litres for boys 9 to 13 years and 2.1 litres for girls 9 to 13 years. Dehydration can cause fatigue, and impair memory and concentration. Ensure your kids get adequate water by encouraging them to drink water before/after school, with meals and when exercising. Pack a reusable water bottle in their backpacks.
- Run, play and have fun: Exercise improves blood flow to the brain. This is like watering and fertilizing a garden. More blood means more nutrients. When you move your muscles during vigorous exercise, especially the large muscles in your arms and legs, your heart works harder to pump blood through your veins and arteries. A study of 20,000 Danish kids between the ages of 5 and 19 found that kids who cycled or walked to school, rather than traveling by car or bus, performed measurably better on tasks demanding concentration, such as solving puzzles. The effects lasted for up to four hours after they got to school.
As always, parents should lead by example. All of the suggestions above are good for adult brains too!