Health & Science

Nutritionist Offers Affordable Food Hacks To Help Kids Study

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Parents are always concerned with their children’s nutrition, but did you know there are certain foods that can help our kids do better in school? Studies have shown that “nutrition affects students’ thinking skills, behavior, and health, all factors that impact academic performance.” Kids with poor nutrition tend to perform worse on standardized tests, have more attendance issues, and suffer reduced cognition, memory, and concentration levels.

This can become an issue particularly for older kids, who have final exams each semester and typically have more homework overall—the stress and intense study sessions can mean students don’t look after their health as well as they should. Cramming for exams leaves them skipping meals or reaching for unhealthy food options, which are usually high in sugar and lacking in nutrients. Not only is this not great for their health, it’s probably not great for their grades either.

Adequate nutrition is a great way to help our little learners toward academic success, both in meals and after-school snacks to enjoy during those study sessions. But what are the best foods to have on hand? James Collier, a Registered Nutritionist, has over 27 years working in nutrition and dietetics and is the Head of Nutrition at Huel, the fastest growing nutrition brand in the world. Here are his suggestions:

Eat “low GI” foods

GI in this instance refers to the glycemic index; “low GI” foods score 55 or less on the scale. High GI foods like sweets are digested quickly and cause a rapid rise and fall in blood glucose—and when your blood glucose falls, so do your energy and concentration levels, causing you to crash an hour or so after eating them. “On the other hand, low GI foods such as oats, brown rice and wholegrain pasta contain a high amount of complex carbs. These are digested slowly and raise blood glucose in a controlled way,” Collier explains. “This helps regulate energy levels over a longer period helping to maintain concentration and improve cognitive thinking.”

Snacks to try: Apple slices with almond or peanut butter, cauliflower and cheese, a handful of unsalted nuts, a piece of fruit, Greek yogurt or oats with berries.

Stay hydrated

You need to drink plenty of fluids for a variety of reasons—many of which help kids study and remember what they’ve learned. “Specifically for concentration,” says Collier, “water helps to deliver nutrients to the brain which will sustain cognitive performance, aid memory retention, improve focus and even affects mood.”

Ensure you’re getting enough choline in your diet

A lack of nutrients can have a negative impact on brain function. “Choline is an essential nutrient and although the body does produce some, it doesn’t produce all the choline required. So you still need to incorporate choline-rich foods into your diet such as quinoa and tofu,” Collier shares. “Choline is important for nerve transmission, muscle movement and the structure of cells. Choline’s role in nerve transmission makes it key for brain function.”

Snacks to try: Carrots with peanut butter, a hardboiled egg, broccoli (with dip if they won’t eat it raw), almonds, a glass of 2% milk.

Eat your (B) vitamins

From vitamin B1 to B12, the B-vitamins help to utilize the energy from food. A deficiency in one of the B-vitamins can make you feel tired and cause difficulties concentrating. B vitamins are found in a wide variety of foods including whole grains, legumes, nuts and fruit and vegetables.

Include Essential Fats

“Oily fish, chia seeds and flaxseed are rich in essential omega-3s that have been linked to concentration and memory” according to Collier. Include these foods at least 2-3 times per week.

Snacks to try: Walnuts, a tuna sandwich, store-bought foods fortified with omega-3s including yogurt and juices.

Prepare yourself

The key to eating healthy is being prepared. Lack of preparation can result in unhealthy and nutrient deficient food choices—food prep, however, can be difficult for busy parents to manage, and normally isn’t even on a student’s radar. 

Collier suggests powders and ready-to-drink bottles with complete nutrients like those from his company, Huel (which offers a student discount on its products) as simple last-minute solutions for snacking. Beyond that, setting aside some time on the weekend to chop vegetables or prep multiple single-serving snacks can make healthy weekday snacking easier. Using fun, inexpensive containers, like mason jars or upcycled plastic jewelry containers with small individual compartments can also encourage kids to partake of even the healthiest snacks.

Robyn is Editor-in-Chief at ParentsTogether and is co-author of several NYTimes bestselling anthologies. She lives in southern Michigan with her husband and five children.