We all want our children to be healthy and happy, intelligent and resourceful. We know that healthy eating and nutrition forms an important part of that. We talk to Stamford Nutritionist Louisa Gregory about the specific foods we can give our pre-school and school-aged kids to help their brain function, memory and concentration.
The brain is a very hungry organ and is the first organ in the body to receive nutrients from the foods we eat. It runs predominantly on glucose from the carbohydrates in our diet. Carbohydrates often get a bad press however they are a very important food group and help us to stay alert and focussed, as well as providing vital fibre.
Choosing high-fibre carbohydrates over white, heavily processed carbs will help keep our kids on an even keel, keep focussed on their learning and help keep the snack monster at bay. Think providing a taster of wholemeal breads, pastas, rice and starchy root vegetables such as carrots, sweet potatoes and butternut squash.
Choose a variety of the below brain foods to give your kids a boost.
Salmon. Fatty fish like salmon are an excellent source of the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA, both essential for brain growth and function. Whilst tuna is an excellent source of protein, swap your usual can of tuna for tinned salmon which is much higher in omega-3. Look out for budget-friendly frozen salmon fillets and try the zingy salmon ball recipe below!
Eggs. As well as being a great source of protein, egg yolks contain the mineral choline which aids memory development. Try hard-boiling a batch of eggs and storing in the fridge for up to 5 days. A great snack or speedy breakfast.
Whole grains. Your brain needs a constant supply of glucose and the fibre in wholegrains ensures this is released in a steady fashion. Look out for whole wheat cereals, rice, and breads and make your own movie night popcorn.
Oats. Porridge makes a comforting start to the day as well as providing a good source of energy. Oats are also good sources of B vitamins, vitamin E, potassium and zinc which help our bodies and brains function at full capacity. If you’re feeling organised, try your hand at overnight oats in recycled jam jars or blitz a scoopful into smoothies.
Berries of all varieties contain powerful antioxidants such as vitamin C which studies have shown improve concentration and memory. The seeds are also a good source of omega-3 fats. Buy frozen and warm through in your morning porridge.
Colourful veggies – more reason to eat the rainbow every day! Tomatoes, sweet potato and spinach are all powerful antioxidants that keep our brains cells strong and healthy.
Milk, yogurt and cheese– packed with protein and B vitamins for the growth of brain tissue and neurotransmitters. Make a fun dessert by layering plain full fat yogurt with colourful berries and seeds.
Lean Beef ( or meat alternative) contains a rich source of iron that is essential for children to stay energised and concentrate. It also contains zinc which aids memory. For vegetarians black bean burgers are a good iron-rich alternative. Eat plenty of vitamin C such as tomatoes, strawberries and oranges to ensure absorption.
Zingy Salmon Balls
This recipe is quick to prepare and kids love mixing, rolling and coating the salmon balls. Can be made with tinned, fresh or frozen salmon. Experiment with adding different herbs and veggies.
Time to prepare: 20 mins. Makes approx. 16 golf ball-sized balls
4 small frozen salmon fillets (approx. 360g)
500g cubes sweet potato
Juice & zest of 1 unwaxed lemon
1 handful of fresh chives, diced
1 garlic bulb, crushed
3 spring onions, very finely sliced
1tbsp plain yogurt
Salt & pepper to season
2 handfuls of home-made wholemeal breadcrumbs (blitz 2 slices in food processor or leave to go stale and grate)
2 tbsp sesame seeds
Drizzle of olive oil
Preheat the oven to 200C
Simmer sweet potato on hob for 10/15 mins until soft. Drain and mash.
Meanwhile Grill salmon fillets on a medium heat for 5 mins (skin side down) then turn and grill for a further 5/10 mins until cooked. Leave to cool. Remove skin and flake into large bowl.
Add lemon zest & juice, yogurt, garlic, chives, spring onions and mashed sweet potato. Season with salt & pepper.
Mix together well with wooden spoon and cool slightly. Using a dessert spoon measure mixture onto palm and form into golf ball size ball.
Place breadcrumbs and sesame seeds on plate and mix. Roll salmon balls onto breadcrumb mixture and place onto lined baking tray. Drizzle or spray with olive oil.
Bake in oven for 20-25 mins, turning half-way, until browned and crispy on outside. Serve with broccoli or salad and enjoy.
Louisa Greggory is a registered Nutritionist and founder of Stamford-based Jigsaw Nutrition. She works with nurseries, schools and businesses to create educational workshops and cookery programmes. Nutritional Therapy provides individuals with personalised nutrition intervention through food, targeted supplements and functional testing for a wide range of family health concerns. See www.jigsawnutrition for more information, articles and supportive resources.