Brainy diet tips

Time Out helps turn your bad apples into smart cookies with dietary tips for nourishing young minds

The Knowledge
The Knowledge
The Knowledge

If your child is struggling to concentrate in class and doesn’t have much energy on the playing field, you need to take a look at their diet. A quarter of the food energy we consume is used to keep the brain functioning, so it’s important to know what foods sustain your child’s brain and which can rob their body of vitamins. Try to involve the whole family in decoding food labels, spotting high sugar content and additives. If your child’s brain is getting what it needs, you’ll find they perform better – from playing guitar and sitting exams to playing rugby, football or netball. So, how do you tell a brain goodie from a brain baddie? Here’s what to look out for:

Naturally bright-coloured foods are good for you. Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, prunes and so on, are great because they contain antioxidants that have been linked to improving memory.

Omega 3
Omega 3 is great for struggling students. A study was carried out on children who were falling behind in class. They were given a supplement of omega 3 fish oil each day and, soon, they started to improve. Omega 3 also supplies fatty acids that are associated with increasing visual clarity and brain alertness in young children. Breast milk is rich in these fatty acids, and foods such as flax seeds, canola, soybeans, walnuts, butternuts and red and black currents are also valuable sources. Oily fish is a great way to get your dose of omega 3, and you should join your children on this one, as it has been found to reduce the damage of dementia. One study showed that eating at least one fish meal per week may significantly lower the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Vitamin B
Foods that include B vitamins are great to help with stress. Vitamin B can be found lurking in whole grains like wheat and oats (porridge for breakfast is a good idea), fish, chicken, meat, eggs, milk, yoghurt, cheese, green veggies and oranges.

Six to eight glasses per day help your brain and whole body. Water speeds up your metabolism and flushes toxins out of your body. Much better than giving fizzy pop to your thirsty nippers.

Lunch bunch
Carole Holditch of Good Habits says the importance of eating healthily during school hours can’t be underestimated. Try to save time by preparing the lunch box the night before. ‘Prepare pasta salads, sandwich fillings, fruit compotes or include something from last night’s dinner, such as soup in a flask, chicken skewers or a Spanish omelette, says Carole. Remember, kids are busy people, and anything that takes a lot of effort to eat will probably be discarded.

For the lunchbox, with love

Carole Holditch of Good Habits shares her top lunchbox tips with Time Out.


Make eating fruit fun
Most children will leave food that takes a lot of effort to eat, as they simply want a quick refuel leaving as much time as possible to tear around the playground. Peel tangerines and cover with plastic wrap, halve kiwi fruit or make colourful skewers with bite-sized pieces of fruit.

Cut down on salt
Children tend to consume too much salt in their diet. Many manufactured foods made especially for lunchboxes – such as Cheese Strings, processed ham and cheese lunch packs and crisps – are very high in salt. Eating foods that contain potassium (such as bananas and dried apricots) helps balance the effect of salt in the body.

Ensure salads remain crisp
When making salads it’s a good idea to keep the salad dressing separate and let your child pour it over the salad himself to prevent it from going soggy.

Build on your child’s tastes
Communicate with your child and ask him what he enjoyed in his lunchbox. Look at what comes back untouched and ask (without being defensive) why it wasn’t eaten. Ask if there are any foods that other children bring to school that he would like
to try.

Save time
Lunches can be prepared the night before to save time in the morning. Prepare pasta salads, sandwich fillings, fruit compotes or include something from last night’s dinner, such as soup in a flask, chicken skewers or a Spanish omelette.


Cereal bars
Many cereal bars contain more than 40 per cent sugar and 30 per cent fat. While sugar eaten in a bowl of cereal tends to get washed away by the milk, in sticky cereal bars, sugar sticks
to the teeth causing maximum damage.

Flavoured yoghurt
The once-healthy yoghurt now often comes attached to a pack of confectionery to stir in. Some of these contain more than five teaspoons of sugar in each pot.

Savoury snacks
Cheese Strings and similar foods tend to be highly processed and may contain high levels of saturated fat and salt. One single snack can contain almost as much salt as a young child should have in an entire day.

‘Real’ fruit snacks

Saying a product is made with ‘real fruit’ gives it a healthy spin, but take a closer look at the label and you may find that as much as a whopping 63 per cent sugar in many snacks. Manufacturers might claim that they are ‘a great fun way to enjoy a healthy and nutritious diet’ but a dentist might disagree.

‘Fruit’ juice drinks
Pure fruit juice contains 100 per cent fruit juice, as you would expect. However a ‘fruit juice drink’ can contain as little as six per cent juice. Many so-called ‘juice drinks’ are really only juice-flavoured sugary water and contain more water and sugar than actual fruit juice. Many also include artificial flavourings, sweeteners and colourings.
Carole also hosts educational cooking classes for youngsters. For more info, call 040 344 9692, e-mail, or see

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