brain food

Brain food for kids

Good nutrition plays a big role in your child’s mental development. Follow these tips and stock up on the following brain foods for kids.

Your child’s brain is actively developing all of the time and what she eats has a big effect on focus and cognitive skills. Foods that contain antioxidants, choline, omega-3 fatty acids, and complex carbohydrates are all particularly helpful in boosting brain health. Keep your child mentally sharp by serving up the following brain-boosting foods every day, and using the healthy recipe ideas and tips.

Never skip breakfast

A healthy breakfast is paramount in keeping children’s energy levels up during a school morning. Research shows that breakfast eaters have better concentration capabilities and memory recall. Studies also show that children perform better in mathematics classes, have a wider use of vocabulary and score higher on cognitive tests. Avoid high-sugar cereals as they will cause an energy crash. Instead make porridge with honey and berries, which is digested slowly and has been linked to improved spatial memory tasks. If your child doesn’t like cereal, serve eggs at breakfast – they’re high in choline, a substance that helps create memory cells.


Berries are low in calories, high in fibre, and they contain vitamins and minerals your body needs to function normally. Blueberries are mini nutritional powerhouses. They rank the highest of any fruit for antioxidants and one cup delivers 14% of the recommended daily dose of fibre and nearly a quarter of the recommended daily intake of vitamin C. All berries are packed with health properties so try topping some plain yoghurt with raspberries, strawberries or blackberries. You can buy frozen berries which are easily defrosted or try throwing them into a morning smoothie.

Oil-rich fish

Oil-rich fish such as salmon, fresh tuna and sardines, are a powerful source of omega-3 fatty acids. Strongly believed to increase learning ability and concentration, omega-3 actually helps brain cells communicate. According to studies, fish oils have even been shown to raise IQ and help children with behavioural problems, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Avocado, walnuts, almonds and flaxseed are other good sources of omega-3.

Whole grains

Whole grains are filled with B vitamins and folate, which are linked to increased memory function. Always go for whole-grain bread over white bread because it releases energy slowly and steadily. This helps children and adults alike regulate blood sugar and stay energised for longer periods, improving their concentration and alertness.

Iron-rich foods

Foods high in iron, such as lean red meats, dried fruits, whole grains, poultry and legumes, have been shown to increase energy levels and mental alertness. Iron is a nutrient that’s essential to your child’s growth and development. Iron deficiency in children can occur at many levels, from depleted iron stores to anaemia. Untreated iron deficiency in children can cause physical and mental delays. Vitamin C helps promote the absorption of dietary iron. You can help your child absorb iron by offering foods rich in vitamin C – such as melon, strawberries, kiwi, broccoli, tomatoes and potatoes.

brain food

Here’s what should go in a healthy lunchbox:

Bread and cereals: Two portions from the bread and cereals group, which would be:

  • 2 slices of bread
  • 1 medium bread roll
  • 1 tortilla wrap
  • 1 pitta bread
  • 4–6 crackers or breadsticks
  • 4 tablespoons or 6 dessertspoons of cooked rice, pasta or couscous
  • 1 small bagel

Meat and meat alternatives: One portion from the meat and meat alternatives food group:

  • 2 slices (50–75g or 2–3oz) of cooked meat
  • 1–2 eggs (hard-boiled, sliced or mashed)
  • A small can (100g or 4oz) of tuna, salmon, mackerel or sardines
  • 4 tablespoons of chickpea spread, for example, hummus – try out as a dip with carrots or celery

Note: Fish such as tinned tuna or salmon should be included in the lunchbox at least once a week – remove any bones.

Fruit and vegetables: At least one portion from the fruit and vegetables food group:

  • 1 medium apple, orange, banana, pear or similar sized fruit
  • 2 small fruits – plums, kiwis or similar size fruit
  • A small glass (100ml) of unsweetened fruit juice
  • Half a tin (3 tablespoons or 4 dessertspoons) of fruit in its own juice
  • 1 heaped dessertspoon of dried fruit (for example, raisins or sultanas)
  • 1 small bunch of grapes (10–12 grapes)
  • 1 small salad (for example, dessert bowl sized salad of lettuce, tomato, cucumber and celery sticks)
  • 3 tablespoons or 4 dessertspoons of vegetables (for example, chopped or grated carrots)
  • A bowl of homemade vegetable soup Dairy products: One portion from the dairy products food group…
  • 1 glass or mini-carton of milk (200ml)
  • A pot of natural or low-fat yoghurt (125ml) or similar quantity of custard
  • 2 triangles of spreadable cheese
  • 2 processed cheese slices
  • A matchbox-sized piece of cheese such as Cheddar, Edam or Gouda varieties

Note: Low-fat dairy products are suitable for children over two years of age.

Healthy snack ideas

  • Fruit (for example, an apple, banana, or a handful of grapes)
  • Washed, raw vegetable pieces (for example, sticks of carrot, celery, pepper and cucumber)
  • Washed, whole raw vegetables (for example, cherry tomatoes)
  • Half a tin of fruit (in its own juice)
  • Plain popcorn (unsalted)
  • Plain breadsticks, unsalted plain or wholewheat crackers, crisp breads or water biscuits served with fruit or cheese
  • Plain rice cakes
  • Natural or low-fat yoghurt with chopped fruit (fresh, frozen or tinned in its own juice)
  • Wholemeal or plain scones
  • Plain biscuits (e.g., digestive biscuits, rich tea)*
  • Fruit loaf or mini fruit muffin*
  • A plain bun or slice of cake*
  • A slice of carrot cake or banana bread*
  • Sugar-free jelly pots or fruit jelly
  • Pot of custard or rice pudding

* These are best taken with meals (when they are less damaging to teeth) and should not be taken too frequently between meals. These snacks and drinks are nutritious, but still contain some sugar, fat or salt.

The above information and Healthy Snacks tips are taken from where you can download a PDF Healthy Lunchboxes

More like this:

Building strong girls
Vitamin and mineral supplements
Portion control

Ask Tracey

Midwife Tracey Donegan answers your questions about pregnancy and birth

Q When should I have my first pregnancy scan? And how many scans should I get throughout my pregnancy?

Your first scan is known as your dating scan and is routine in all hospitals. Most mums will have this scan at their booking visit, which can be anywhere between 12-18 weeks. The earlier the scan the more accurate it will be. If you have experienced recurrent miscarriages some hospitals will scan you earlier. Contact your antenatal clinic for more information. In Ireland, most women will have two scans in a healthy pregnancy – a dating scan and an anomaly scan at around 20 weeks. However, some units provide a dating scan only. Private scans are also available in most cities and many parents use these services for additional reassurance and to find out the sex of their baby.


Portion control

From the moment a baby is born parents worry if they are getting enough food. Are they drinking the right number of bottles? Are they at the breast long enough? And how on earth can you tell how much milk a breastfed baby took?



Q. I’m would like to start an exercise programme that will benefit my emotional health as much as my physical health, but I don’t know which type of class would be best. Should I consider choosing from yoga, pilates, tai chi, or could you recommend a class, please?

A It’s great that you have decided to get into exercise. The benefits to you are going to be great. You’ll sleep better, have more energy, better skin, reduced stressed, not to mention all the amazing physical benefits of your clothes fitting better, and looking healthy, trim and toned! My advice to you would be to try them all. Even if some don’t offer pay-as-you-go sessions, if you get in touch directly with the instructor, they will almost always let you try it out first to see if it’s for you. All of the above things that you mentioned are great for mental health, so it really will be a personal preference as to which you go for. On top of the classes you mention, all forms of exercise will give you great mental rewards so consider the not so obvious interval training sessions, bootcamp, and circuits too, as you will also feel on top of the world after a class like that.