(BPT) - Parents arm their kids with a plethora of school supplies, new attire and the latest technology to prepare them for a successful school year. But one of the most important components of academic success is often overlooked: nutrition.
"Having adequate nutrition provides children with the energy they need to learn, and increases their ability to stay on task, to concentrate, focus and solve problems," says speech pathologist Lauren Zimet, an expert on oral motor/feeding and picky eating, and founder of The Healthy Foundations Program. "When nutrition is inadequate, there's an increase in moodiness and irritability and a decrease in perseverance and patience."
Zimet notes recent studies have shown that brain development in young children is negatively impacted by inadequate nutrition. This affects learning in school as well as overall function throughout the child's lifetime. She reports that many of her clients find that incorporating a few powerful fruits, vegetables and supplements into a child's diet improves brain growth and fosters success at school.
1. Avocados for comprehension-Avocados are rich in a fatty acid known as oleic acid, which builds myelin, an important part of the white matter of the brain. Myelin helps information travel through the brain and can assist kids' comprehension of complex topics in school.
2. Berries for memory-Berries are full of antioxidants that are great for boosting brain power. Berries are sometimes referred to as "super fruits" because most of them contain fisetin and flavenoids, which are great for improving memory. Blueberries are particularly great snacks for supporting brain health.
3. Omega-3 for focus and energy-The brain is made up of 60-70 percent good fat. Healthy fats, such as omega-3s, support the brain in the area of focus, attention and memory, and they provide long-term energy too. The body needs these fats to build healthy brain cells and hormones, as well as to absorb certain vitamins (A, D, E, K). Experts agree that the safest, most reliable source of omega-3 fats (EPA and DHA) is a high-quality fish oil supplement. Nordic Naturals offers several options in flavors that are appealing to children.
Have a selective eater? Picky eaters may not be getting the nutrients essential for optimal brain health and academic success. Zimet suggests several techniques to help parents get nutrients into their kids' meals:
• Camouflage. Hide healthy new foods in small quantities within foods kids already love. For example, it's not hard to slip some butternut squash, pumpkin, or sweet potato puree into the orange color of mac-n-cheese.
• Bridge new foods. Take a food that your child already likes and create something healthy, bridging off the color, texture, taste, or look. For a child who loves French fries, try creating healthier versions like organic baked potato fries, sweet potato fries, or zucchini or squash fries.
• Lead by example. Parents who want children to eat healthier must make nutrition a priority in their own life as well. Eat and snack on fresh foods and take an omega-3 supplement daily. When a parent models healthy eating in front of a child, it normalizes it for the child. Keep in mind that coercing, bribing, or forcing the child to eat new foods can also result in power struggles and be counterproductive. It also gives the child the message that healthy eating is difficult. Patience and normalizing is key.
• Get creative with smoothies. Smoothies are fun, healthy snacks that are like treats to kids. It's easy to make tasty, nutritious smoothies. Frozen ripe bananas make a great smoothie base - then mix in a little unsweetened almond milk, rice milk, or water. Add some of your favorite fruits. Strawberries make the smoothie red, raspberries make the smoothie deep pink or brighter red, and blueberries turn the concoction purple! Sneak in some avocado, which has no discernable taste when ripe, and the creamy texture is ideal for smoothies.