Whether your children have started back at school or are going back after Ramadan, they'll be preparing for the academic year by stocking up on essentials such as books, binders and calculators. Just as important, yet often overlooked, is the food that will provide fuel for their minds and bodies as class commences. Studies consistently show that healthy dietary habits and certain foods are directly linked to academic performance, boosting concentration and improving memory.
The saying that breakfast is the most important meal of the day is especially true for young students. It provides a source of energy for daily activities and is a prime opportunity to stock up on important nutrients, including vitamins and minerals needed for proper growth and development. Studies consistently show that breakfast consumption is linked to better school performance. One of the largest studies to date, published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association in 2005, found that students who ate breakfast had better memory, test scores and school attendance than students who skipped the morning meal. Another study published last year found that those youngsters who ate breakfast reported improved alertness and feeling more positive.
What's more, children who eat breakfast every day tend to have a healthier body weight. With global rates of childhood obesity on the rise, including here in the UAE, it has never been more important. Consuming breakfast before a big day at school kick-starts the metabolism and allows the body to use calories more efficiently, since they are spread more evenly throughout the day. Studies have shown that students who eat breakfast may consume more calories in a day, yet they consistently weigh less than those who skip the morning meal. A balanced breakfast doesn't have to be expensive or time-consuming. Foods that are high in protein and fibre, such as eggs, labneh, whole grains, lentils, fruits and vegetables, get top marks when it comes to providing a range of nutrients and sustainable energy for the day ahead.
If snacking means chocolate bars and bags of crisps for your child, it's time to go back to the drawing board. Snacks, when planned properly, can be a great chance to stock up on important nutrients and eat a variety of healthy foods throughout the day. Snacking is especially beneficial to young children, who have small stomachs and need to spread their food intake over small, frequent meals. For students, snacks are vital for keeping energy levels up and staying alert. Healthy snack ideas include a handful of nuts, fresh fruit and vegetables, hummus and yogurt.
Research continues to show that some foods are better than others for boosting brain performance and preserving cognitive function.
Fish leads the pack. One study found that children whose mothers ate low-mercury fish at least once per week during pregnancy had higher social activity and language development. Other study findings released this year by Swedish researchers found that teenagers who ate fish at least once per week when they were 15 years old consistently scored higher on intelligence tests three years later. In fact, the teenagers who consumed fish once a week scored six per cent higher on visual and verbal tests, while those who ate fish more than once per week increased their scores by 11 per cent.
When it comes to eating fish, opt for varieties that are low in mercury and high in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acid such as salmon, herring, sardines and mackerel. Dark green, leafy vegetables are another no-fail brain food that students should be stocking up on because of their high folate content. Folate, a B vitamin, plays an important role in brain development and appears to protect it against age-related decline. Increase your children's intake by choosing spinach, kale, chard and collard greens.
Other good brain foods include mollusks, such as clams and oysters; berries such as blueberries and strawberries; and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage. * Michelle Gelok