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Explore nutrition tips, kids’ meal plans, kids’ activities, recipes and more from pediatric nutritionist, Melissa Halas, MA, RDN, CDE.

Are Breakfast and Lunch Really Brain Food?

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Real Nutrition:

Solid research has proven a significant relationship between what a child eats and his or her concentration, sleep, test result, memory, math, and verbal skills. For sustained energy, try a combination of complex carbohydrates, lean proteins, healthy fats, vegetables, and fruits. These foods take longer to break down, thus providing a more steady flow of energy to  the brain.

Real Life:

The only thing worse than a midmorning energy crash is a full-blown hunger pain. Our kids are counting on us to provide a breakfast and lunch that will sustain them throughout the day. Certain foods really do help the brain perform better, while others (or the lack of) can drag down performance. Use these smart ideas to move your child to the head of the class:

  • Never ever skip breakfast. An ideal start for the day should be a combination of carbohydrate, protein and healthy fats. For example: whole-grain cereal or toast with a protein like low-fat milk, yogurt or an egg.
  • Try spreading peanut butter on warm, whole-wheat toast; making a turkey sausage sandwich on a whole-wheat roll; topping vanilla, low-fat yogurt with your favorite crunchy granola; or serving whole oatmeal with low-fat milk and fresh berries.
  • Some excellent lunch foods include leftover grilled chicken, tuna, turkey, hard-boiled eggs, peanut butter, cheese, salads, avocados, oranges, bananas, and cantaloupe. Make sure to use an ice pack to keep cold foods cold. Use a variety of whole wheat wraps and breads and in-season fresh fruits.
  • Look for 100% fruit juices fortified with vitamin C, with no added sugars. Limit juice intake to two, 6 ounce servings per day. Since juice tastes good it can be easily over consumed and may lead to unneeded weight gain.
  • Save sugary treats for special occasions. Too much sugar for breakfast or lunch could cause a dip in energy and/or mood swings that may interfere with learning. Sugary foods don’t contain the nutrients your child needs to stay healthy, prevent disease, and create healthy food habits for life.

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About the Author

Picture of Linda McDonald, MS, RD, LD

Linda McDonald, MS, RD, LD

Linda has been a practicing dietitian for over 25 years. Her experience has led her from private counseling and nutrition program development to restaurant and food company consulting. In 1998, she became owner, president, and editor of Supermarket Savvy. uses Internet technology to help consumers make healthy food choices that will positively impact their well-being by helping to make healthy grocery shopping easier and more enjoyable for you or the clients you counsel, if you are a health professional.

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