When I worked my office job, the worst feeling was not having time to eat breakfast and then feeling sluggish and unfocused the entire morning until I ate lunch. And depending on what I would eat for lunch, I could still feel crummy the rest of the day. I’d imagine this is the same thing for kids at school. We all know breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but are there certain foods to pack in your kid's lunch that could help them learn or focus? What can we give our kids for lunch (and even breakfast) that will set them up for success for the rest of their school day and, hopefully, instill healthy eating habits that will last them through adulthood?
Dr. S. Daniel Ganjian, a pediatric obesity specialist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, tells Romper that healthy brain-food lunches include those with some sort of fish, blueberries, and nuts (though not necessarily all at once if that sounds a little weird to you). Fish have Omega-3 fatty acids, which “have been reported to help kids with ADHD focus better,” Ganjian says. “Nuts contain antioxidants that help stop free radicals from damaging the brain... and blueberries are so good for brain health that it helps delay dementia and Alzheimer's in the elderly.” Obviously you probably can’t pack salmon in your kid's lunch — unless you have one of those fancy lunch boxes or they love smoked salmon — but tuna will work here, too. If your kid doesn’t like fish, walnuts, chia seeds, Brussels sprouts, and flaxseed are full of Omega-3s, according to Health Line.
Most importantly, it’s crucial your kid stays hydrated and drinks plenty of water at school. “Drink so much fluid throughout the day until the urine is clear-ish, and not yellow. Dehydration is a big problem in kids, causing them to have decreased energy, headaches, and inability to function at their best,” Ganjian adds.
Dr. Gina Posner, pediatrician at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, also says high-protein foods for lunch are the way to go. “Any high protein foods can help with energy and mental energy as well — nuts, hummus, lean meats, and cheese,” she tells Romper. Other high-protein choices include a nut butter sandwich (doesn’t have to be peanut butter since a lot of schools don’t allow peanut butter because of allergies), yogurt, or even tofu, according to Verywell Family. Beans are also a great source of protein if your kid isn’t digging meat.
Posner also suggests fruits, which can help with giving them some natural sugar to get through the day. However, Posner says the most important thing is making sure kids get adequate sleep at night.
Want to start your kid’s day off right? Ganjian says for breakfast, whole grain cereals and eggs are the way to go. “Foods that are high in added sugars prevent highs and lows in glucose level, which affect the ability to focus. Whole grain foods take time for the body to process and do not cause artificial spikes and nadirs in glucose level." As for eggs, he says that breakfasts high in protein help with brain function and decrease the opportunity for headaches to arise.
Whole grains, lots of protein, some fruit, and a ton of water are important things to pack in your kid's lunch to make sure they are set for success while at school. Eating a healthy, high-protein breakfast will help them get an awesome jumpstart to their day, too.