As a busy mom myself, I know we need to stay practical when it comes to feeding our kids. It's one thing to know what nutrients the brain needs to function, but it's another thing entirely to know how to incorporate foods that contain those nutrients into your child's diet in yummy ways they'll actually eat.
So on that note, here are some foods that are particularly great for your child's brain.
Pumpkin seed butter.
This is a great source of zinc which is critical for hormones, appetite, digestion, sleep & more.
Zinc is required for the production more than 300 different enzymes in the body including digestive enzymes and enzymes that contribute to the creation of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, as well as sex hormones like testosterone and estrogen. Zinc is also involved in the function of the hippocampus which means it's needed for good memory and spatial processing. Zinc is a critical micronutrient for brain health. You'll not get enough from pumpkin seeds alone but it still makes a great addition.
Aside from zinc, pumpkin seeds also contain sterols, healthy fatty acids, magnesium, calcium, antioxidants, and fibre - all of which support brain health.
I put pumpkin seeds into pancake batter, smoothies, and blend it with almond butter for spreading or dipping.
This is a type of saturated fat that is unique because it is a liquid oil (most saturated fats are solid at room temperature. This one is water soluble).
It's derived from coconut oil but is easier to digest as it doesn’t require bile and pancreatic enzymes for digestion and it can get into cells easily where it can be transformed into energy.
MCT is a great source of saturated fat for kids who are constipated or have digestive pain, and kids who have low energy or insulin sensitivity.
I drizzle MCT oil onto foods, use it in dressings, put it in smoothies and coffee (for me!). It's not great for cooking as it has a lower smoke point.
This is a tasty, versatile source of fibre. It also contains beta-carotene - an antioxidant the body will convert into vitamin A.
Fibre helps the brain in two ways: by nourishing gut bacteria (more on the gut-brain connection here) and by helping keep blood sugar stable (ever felt hangry before? Then you've felt the impact of erratic blood sugar on the brain).
One cup of canned pureed pumpkin contains about 7g of fibre. I advise parents to aim for 25g of fibre in a day so with some pureed pumpkin you're well on your way.
I use pureed pumpkin in baking and mix it into smoothies and sauces.
This is a lovely source of magnesium - one of the most abundant minerals in the body (plus cocoa masks the taste of just about everything which makes it handy if you have a chocolate-lover!).
We need sufficient magnesium for nervous and immune system function, it also helps regulate blood sugar and like zinc is involved in the creation of many hormones and neurotransmitters.
1 tbsp of pure cocoa contains about 30 mg magnesium.
Plantain looks like a large banana but is more like a vegetable than a fruit, especially if you buy the green sort. You'll be able to find them in many grocery stores once you know what to look for.
Plantain contain quite a few vitamins and minerals, but why I love them most is because when still slightly green, they are a lovely source of fibre to nourish gut bacteria and help provide sustained energy.
I like to add green plantain into pancake batter and smoothies.
Aside from all the great vitamins and minerals in apples, they also contains a fibre called pectin which is particularly helpful for digestive health and blood sugar stability - two key components of resilient health. Read more on why I love apples here.
Also called "clarified butter", ghee contains a healthy dose of butyrate, which is a fatty acid known to nourish the lining of the digestive tract and help cells regenerate (can you tell I'm a bit of a digestive junky? Here's more on why).
Use ghee for any sort of cooking or spreading.
Eggs are rich in choline and sulphur which are both essential nutrients for brain and nerve function, detoxification and hormonal signalling.
Choline in particular doesn't get enough attention. Choline is involved in the digestion, transport and metabolism of fats (including the all-important brain fat, DHA); it's an important player in the synthesis of the brain neurotransmitter acetylcholine which contributes to memory, mood, muscle control; it supports a very important biological process called methylation (often found to be dis-regulated in ADHD and mood disorders); it’s critical to the structural integrity of cell membranes including those in the brain and the tight junctions of the gut.
Insufficient choline can contribute to poor memory, slower mental processing and IQ, poor digestion of fatty foods, nausea, chronic constipation, brain fog, muscle twitching, trouble focusing.
Aside from choline, eggs are also a good source of protein and cholesterol which are both important for your child's brain function.
Flax seed and oil.
When eaten as a seed, flax is a source of fibre which support digestive health and blood sugar stability.
When used as an oil, it is a good source of the polyunsaturated fat, alpha linolenic acid, which is critical for cell structure, normal growth, vision, and brain development.
In our Raising Resilience Community we focus on nourishment first and foremost when it comes to helping kids feel and function better.
Whether they have a diagnosis or not, the first order of business when they're struggling with mood instability, anxiety, poor focus, memory problems, is making sure the nutritional building blocks for the brain are present in their diet.
There's often more to the story than that, of course (which you can read about here), but nourishment is your starting point.
Since I don't want you stuck in the pattern of gathering information and then feeling stuck when it comes to what to do, here's your action task: start getting more brain boosting foods like these into your child on a regular basis.
Moving parents from information to implementation is what I do best. Let's get you unstuck and help your child thrive.
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Jess is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist™ and Family Health Educator, specializing in brain health & resilience for kids. She is the author of Raising Resilience: Take the stress out of feeding your family & love your life, a mother and an advocate for children’s health. Her book and online resources have helped families all over the world improve the lives of their children with learning differences, anxiety, ADHD, autism and mood disorders by fitting the food and feeding piece into their health puzzles. She is the 2019 recipient of the CSNNAA award for Clinical Excellence for her work helping families get healthier, and she continues to work at bringing an understanding of the power of good nutrition to the mainstream conversation about children’s mental health, learning, and overall resilience through her blog, courses and as a contributor to print and online magazines. You can reach Jess at www.jesssherman.com
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