Wellness Matters

Back to School: Food for Brain Power and Energy

August 24, 2016

Margaret “Maggie” May, RD, RN
Diabetes Coordinator
Cone Health Nutrition and Diabetes Management Center

Many studies have shown that healthy, balanced diets can help improve focus and concentration throughout the day. In fact, children who suffer from poor nutrition during the brain's most formative years tend to score much lower on tests of vocabulary, reading, comprehension, arithmetic, and general knowledge. Foods that are high in trans-fat, saturated fat and/or sugar actually slow brain function and tend to make you more sluggish, therefore it is important to read labels and avoid these types of foods.

It is also extremely important to make sure your child stays hydrated throughout the day because it’s good for circulation. Try to get them in the habit of drinking water at an early age.
Making sure your child receives a balanced breakfast and lunch, paired with healthy snacks, is especially important to keep them focused throughout the school day. Carbohydrates provide the energy children need to stay sharp throughout the school day, while monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats help keep the connections in the brain flexible and prepared to learn.

Micronutrients and antioxidants are also important for brain function, and can be found in fruit, vegetables, whole grain bread and dairy products. Breakfast should include some form of carbohydrate, such as whole grain cereal or toast, along with a form of lean protein, such as eggs or chicken, and a serving of fruit and/or vegetables. Lunch should also include carbohydrates and lean protein, such as a turkey sandwich on whole grain bread, along with another serving of fruit and/or vegetables. Snacks are also important to keep your child energized and focused. Fruits and vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products, like yogurt, serve as great, healthy snack options.

Avoid simple carbs, as they temporarily spike your blood sugar, followed by a quick drop. This drop in blood sugar makes you feel drowsy and makes it hard to concentrate. Complex carbs release blood sugar slowly, over a longer period of time which helps you feel full for longer.

While federal regulations require that school meal programs provide nutritional food options, it may be difficult for children to make the healthiest choices in the lunch line. In general, healthy food options at school could include: salad with grilled chicken, a chicken or turkey wrap, a plain hamburger, low-fat yogurt, bean burritos or tacos, chili, fruit cups, a small roast beef sandwich and fat-free or low-fat milk. Healthy eating habits start at home, and it’s important to be an example of healthy eating habits for your children.

Sample Recipes:

English Muffin Pizza
whole wheat muffin
hard-boiled egg
tomato slice
mozzarella cheese
olive oil
Trail Mix
Raisins (or other dried fruit)
Yogurt Parfait
plain yogurt
honey/maple syrup


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