Boosting child's brain, as easy as 1-2-3
Getting back to school takes some adjustment as schedules are being formed and activities pick up.
Finding success in getting back in the swing of things can be determined by what a child puts in his or her mouth and when, according to health experts.
"Studies have shown that children who eat breakfast perform so much better than those who don't," said Marsha Parker, registered dietician for Essentia Health St. Mary's.
But Parker says not just any breakfast will do.
"If they have a bowl of Frosted Flakes and a glass of apple juice, sure they'll be energized for the first couple of hours of school, but their blood sugar will peak and then drop down," said Parker, "That's when they'll feel tired and have more difficulty concentrating."
Parker says wise brain-boosting choices include whole grain toast, oatmeal, whole grain pancakes, a low-sugar, low-fat granola bar and proteins.
"And it doesn't always have to be an egg," said Parker, "it can be a cheese stick, a slice of lunchmeat, or low-fat yogurt."
Parker says fresh fruits are also excellent for providing anti-oxidants, which then help keep the blood healthy, including the stuff that flows to the brain.
"And even if you can't get it fresh, even just having canned or frozen is good, too," said Parker.
Getting kids to eat well at school can pose a challenge, though, as children are a little freer to be picky.
"Sit down with the child and talk about what should a lunch include -- a protein source, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and then list the foods they do like in those categories so that they have some choices and variety," said Parker, who suggests having the child help pack the lunch.
She says there are ways to make healthy (and let's face it, sometimes unappealing) food seem fun to kids.
"You can wrap the meat around the whole grain bread and call it an inside out sandwich, or make a healthy cracker sandwich," said Parker.
Blueberries and fattier fish, like salmon, are also brain-boosters, according to Parker.
"Blueberries have actually been proven to increase memory," said Parker, who also suggests making sure the child gets plenty of physical activity throughout the day as well.
According to Charles Hillman, an associate professor with the University of Illinois, 20-minute spurts of moderate physical activity can increase a brain's capacity "at the molecular, cellular, systems and behavioral levels," essentially increasing a child's ability to learn by 5 to 10 percent.
Parker says keeping hydrated throughout the day is also important for children, keeping energy levels up and improving concentration.
Sean Brotherson, a family science specialist with the NDSU Extension Service, suggests holding, snuggling and touching children in order to stimulate their growing brains.
"If you deprive an infant of touch, the body and brain will stop growing in a healthy manner -- Touch also is important for growing young children," Brotherson wrote, while also warning parents to not "over-stimulate" a child with too many activities.
"Too many new experiences or too much stimulation can cause stress and hinder a child's development. Children need freedom to explore on their own terms and not be exposed constantly to high levels of stimulation, such as watching television," he writes.
So what activities will give a child the most bang for their buck?
According to Brotherson, music, art, and physical activity -- all of which, he says, is critical to overall brain development.
"It can be tough when school starts and all these activities leave families with less time," said Parker, "but just planning ahead a little bit can go a long way in getting them into a good routine and not slipping back into less healthy conveniences."