Brain food for children

Brain food – how to feed your child’s brain

The evidence is clear that if our children have well fuelled brains, they are more likely to have better mood, behaviour and learning or cognitive ability. These are all things us parents would love to improve in our children, of whatever age, so here are some simple evidence based steps you can take to nourish your children’s brain.

Let’s start with breakfast. Despite evidence that eating a balanced healthy breakfast leads to better concentration, mood and mental performance, however over a third of children and teenagers don’t eat breakfast. Often children say they can’t stomach breakfast, or there isn’t time, but a bit of time management and planning can often solve those issues. Even if It’s just a smoothie, or joining a breakfast club, it will make all the difference. Try and include wholegrain carbohydrates such as wholegrain cereals or toast, dairy or protein and some fruit and/or vegetables.

The ability to concentrate and focus comes from an adequate and constant supply of energy – from blood glucose – to the brain – which uses 20% of all our energy! Eating regularly through the day, and choosing foods that give a steady supply of energy to the brain is key. Choose wholegrain carbohydrates (brown rice and pasta, whole grain breads); pulses (peas, beans and lentils); and a variety of fruits and vegetables, as well as dairy (contains the natural sugar lactose). The fibre in these foods helps the slow release of energy.

It’s also important to stay hydrated, as with any part of the body the mind works best when its well hydrated, as it is 78% water. Just a simple dairy based smoothie may make a huge difference to their morning concentration levels. Water and milk are the best sources of hydration, and be aware of caffeine in energy drinks and tea and coffee, teenagers revising for exams may think they are a good idea but often the caffeine (not to mention the sugar!) affects the quality of their sleep, and then their cognitive ability the next day. Regular breaks and exercise are more effective ways to re-energise the brain.

There are also specific nutrients that have proven effects on learning. Low iron levels (particularly for menstruating girls) are associated with poor mood and concentration. Low magnesium levels may be associated with anxiety, low zinc levels with poor attention, and iodine is key for mental development. All fish and shellfish are good ‘brain food’, providing first class protein, iodine and omega 3 oils, but oily fish (e.g. mackerel, salmon, trout, pilchards, tuna, herring, whitebait and sardines) have the highest levels of omega 3, which has a proven effect on concentration levels, so aim to eat it at least twice a week. Antioxidants, which protect the brain from free radical damage are also essential, and are found in nuts, oils, fruits, vegetables and wholegrains.


Good sources


Lean red meat, pulses, poultry, nuts, green veg, dried apricots, fortified cereals


Seeds, beans, oats, soya products, quinoa


Egg yolk, white fish, all dairy, seaweed


Lean red meat, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, wild rice

Omega 3

Oily fish, chia seeds, flaxseeds, nuts and oils, soya

Food is the best and most absorbable source of all these nutrients, however, if you are concerned that your child is not eating a balanced diet, perhaps they really struggle with vegetables, nuts or oily fish then choose an age-appropriate supplement (children need less than adults) is advisable, and look for omega 3-oil rather than fish liver oil. However, we should all be taking vitamin D this time of year!

This is a huge topic, but these simple tips, should help you provide good brain food for your child, whatever age.

Here are a few simple recipes to get you started

Breakfast chocolate smoothie

Breakfast fruit smoothie

.smoked mackerel pate

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