14 Best Brain Foods for Kids
Brain-Boosting Foods for Growth & Development
The early years of your child’s life are critical for brain development, and food plays an important role. With the right fuel, kids from toddlers to teenagers can be happier, smarter, and have better behavior both inside the classroom and at home. The best brain foods will help your child maintain focus and attention, while increasing higher-level thinking skills and working memory.
Where can you find these superfood brain nutrients, and how can you get your child to eat more of them? Learn why the right nutrients are everything when it comes to a better brain.
The Most Important Nutrients for Focus, Memory, and Learning
Quality foods supply nutrients necessary for healthy brain and mental function. Better behavior, academic performance, and overall happiness depend on mental wellness and a healthy brain.
A well-rounded diet provides all the foods required for a busy and growing brain. Quality protein, fiber-rich carbohydrates, and foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon, walnuts, and olive oil, are essential to brain function.
Vitamins and minerals, and other nutrients all work together to build neurotransmitters, fight free radicals, and promote healthy brain cell function so your child’s brain can function its best.
Here are 14 of the best brain foods for your child’s developing mind.
Blueberries are a brain-healthy superfood. They are packed with antioxidants, including anthocyanins which fight free radicals in the brain. Numerous studies show blueberries protect memory and cognitive function.
Blueberries also have the ability to upregulate a specialized protein in the brain, called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF promotes the growth, development, and function of neurons in your child’s brain (1). This can help your child maintain their mood and improve behavior.
Easy recipe: Drizzle or dip blueberries in vanilla-flavored Greek yogurt, and then place in the freezer on a cookie sheet. Enjoy frozen blueberry yogurt bites the next time your kids want a sweet snack!
2. Pumpkin seeds
Pumpkin seeds are one of the highest dietary sources of zinc, which is critical to normal brain function. Basically, zinc supports a normal synaptic response in your child’s brain, which is the ability of a signal to travel from one neuron to another.
Reduced zinc status in the brain can lead to developmental issues, anxiety, depression, and even neurodegenerative conditions like dementia (2).
Pumpkin seeds are also a steady source of balanced energy with 5 grams of fiber, and about 16 grams of fat in a quarter of a cup! This keeps your child’s appetite satisfied, and their brain energized.
Salmon is a great source of omega 3 fats which reduce inflammation and provide the raw materials for healthy brain cells production. These omega 3 fats–DHA and EPA–are crucial for early brain development, and studies show that most kids don’t get enough (3).
If your kids don’t love the fishy taste of seafood just yet, consider an omega-3 gummy or liquid until their tastes expand a little.
Avocados are one of the best foods for your child’s brain. They’re a great source of two nutrients crucial for brain health: magnesium and vitamin B6. Magnesium is necessary to activate energy in the brain, and can also help calm an overactive nervous system (4). B6 helps the brain build neurotransmitters that support communication.
In just one medium avocado, there’s about 10 percent of the RDA for magnesium, and 20 percent of B6.
5. Olive oil
Cold-pressed olive oil is high in polyphenols which act as antioxidants to protect your child’s brain cells from oxidative damage. It’s also a rich source of healthy fats for brain energy.
6. Grass-fed red meat
Grass-fed red meat is a brain-healthy food. Research indicates that cows raised on grass have higher levels of CoQ10, omega 3s, and important amino acids such as L-carnitine that support mitochondrial function in the body and brain (5).
7. Mackerel, mussels, and other small fish
Small fish and seafood are a great brain food for kids (and adults, too) because they’re packed full of nutrients the human brain needs to thrive, and they contain less mercury and contaminants than their larger sea-dwelling counterparts.
Small fish and mussels are great sources of zinc, iodine, protein, and omega-3s, all of which your brain needs to make healthy cells, and support immune function.
Eggs are a super source of protein for kids, and the yolks are rich in lutein, choline, and vitamin D. Most kids love eggs, and that’s convenient for parents, since they’re a versatile and quick way to boost the nutrient content of almost any meal or snack.
Walnuts are good sources of healthy fats, protein, magnesium, and vitamin B6, which help build neurotransmitters in your child’s brain. Neurotransmitters are messengers that help carry signals within the body’s nervous system. B6 deficiency may be linked to dementia or cognitive difficulties.
Asparagus is a brain-boosting vegetable. It’s a great source of folate, which works together with B12 to support focus and learning, and prevent cognitive decline (6). It’s also a good source of lutein, which may help support problem-solving ability by protecting neurons in the brain (7)
For those who have MTHFR, it’s important to prioritize dietary folate–instead of synthetic folic acid.
Broccoli might be one of the ultimate brain foods. Broccoli, along with other cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower and kale, are rich in a compound called sulforaphane, which helps rebuild damaged brain cells and improve cognition (8).
Broccoli also contains vitamin C, lutein, and fiber, all of which are great for your kids’ brain health.
Beets are also a superfood for your child’s brain. They have been shown to improve blood flow to the frontal lobe–the area responsible for higher-level thinking (9). Beets are also a good source of fiber and folate.
If your child has a big test or project coming up, try fueling up with some beet juice beforehand!
13. Chia seeds
Once the famed food of the Aztecs, chia seeds have gotten a modern makeover but they still have all the same nutrient-dense benefits that made them revered in ancient cultures.
Chia seeds are rich in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a type of omega-3 fatty acid, fiber, and magnesium. Traditionally, they’re used to make a drink called chia fresca, because chia seeds gel when added to liquid.
14. Greek yogurt
Much of healthy brain development depends on adequate protein, and that’s just what Greek yogurt provides (in addition to healthy probiotics to strengthen the gut).
Greek yogurt gets a gold star from us for being a quick and easy, kid-friendly option that you can customize with fruits, nuts, or a drizzle of honey to suit even the pickiest eater’s desires.
What about supplements for my child’s brain health?
It’s always important to focus on food first when it comes to supporting optimal nutrition and brain development in your child, but there may be a few extra nutrients you can leverage to increase potential for focus and learning.
- Phosphatidylserine – Essential for healthy nerve cell function, and myelin formation (10). Found in small amounts in the diet.
- Omega 3 – If your kids don’t love seafood just yet, or you don’t eat it more than once per week, an omega 3 supplement is a great way to make sure they’re getting enough DHA and EPA for their growing brain and eyes.
- Lutein – This carotenoid is essential for healthy brain and eye development.
- Greens – Got a super picky eater when it comes to vegetables? Adding a high-quality greens supplement might be a good solution for a developing palate. Your child might be missing out on important B vitamins and other brain-healthy nutrients.
- Magnesium – Anything tight, tense, or anxious is a job for magnesium. Since soil levels are less than a third of what they used to be, many adults and children aren’t consuming enough magnesium.
How to Increase Brain Power for Your Child
While these aren’t foods or nutrients, there’s still a few behaviors we urge you to prioritize with your kids to promote healthy brain growth and development.
Get enough sleep – Kids need A LOT of sleep–probably more than you realize. Kids aged 3-5 need anywhere from 10-13 hours of sleep, school-aged children 9-11 hours, while teens and preteens may need as much as 10 hours of sleep for their brain to function optimally.
Develop (and stick to) a healthy bedtime routine, turn off devices, and keep bedrooms cool and dark to facilitate quality sleep all night long.
Stay hydrated – Your child’s brain is made up of about 75% water, so the first rule is to give it enough hydration to do its job. Dehydration can raise stress hormones which damage the brain.
Eat a protein-packed breakfast – A growing brain requires adequate protein for development. Unfortunately, many kids start their day with processed sugars and simple carbohydrates that hardly provide fuel for the brain. Priorite protein like eggs, Greek yogurt, or nuts and seeds for your child’s first meal of the day for healthy learning and focus all day.
Better Brains Start with Integrative Medicine
There are lots of ways to improve learning, behavior, and overall happiness in your child, but providing the right foods is incredibly important. Thanks to lots of research, we know exactly which foods have the nutrients to help your child be happy, and support their developing brains.
These are the best foods for your child’s brain health that you can quickly and easily begin to incorporate more often at home.