The first few years of life lay the groundwork for brain health, according to Dr. Uma Naidoo, a nutritional psychiatrist, brain expert and faculty member at Harvard Medical School. Studies show that the foods young kids eat can affect their cognition, temperament, motor skills and language. Naidoo explains that foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, folate, iron, iodine, zinc, choline and vitamins A, B12 and D all support brain health, behavior and learning. And she notes that avoiding processed foods with added sugars is also important.
But this expert in brain health knows that kids can be picky eaters, so she recommends parents get creative with these six brain foods to keep their little ones sharp and focused.
- Superfood smoothies - It’s a tasty way to add a lot of nutrients to your kid’s diet and even hide foods they tend to refuse. Start with leafy greens that are high in folate and fiber, like spinach and kale, along with chia seeds or walnuts for plant-based omega-3 fatty acids and protein. Add avocado for healthy fats and antioxidant-rich blueberries. For protein and gut-healthy probiotics that boost mood, mix in some plain, unsweetened yogurt, too.
- Homemade veggie fries - Kids may not be eager to eat the colorful variety of vegetables they need for fiber and phytonutrients, but if you turn zucchini, carrots and green beans into “fries” in the air fryer, they might just eat them.
- Homemade hummus - Legumes like chickpeas are healthy, plant-based sources of iron, zinc, protein and fiber, all of which are good for brain development. Whip up a batch and the kiddos can dip carrots, celery, sugar snap peas and even apple slices.
- Salmon - Introducing your little one to fish at a young age can increase the chance they’ll enjoy and eat it, Naidoo says. Salmon is loaded with B12 and omega-3s, which promote healthy brain development and happier moods.
- Eggs - They’re a good source of brain-boosting vitamins A, D and B12, as well as choline, which has been shown to improve brain development and long-term memory.
- Meatballs - Naidoo recommends sneaking some plant-based fiber and veggies into your child’s diet using meatballs. Start with beans, lentils or ground turkey as a base, add shredded spinach or zucchini, then add flax to bind together and add omega-3s and finish by tossing in your spices.
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