How Healthy, Well-Balanced Meals Boost Brain Development in Children

As parents, we all want our children to succeed in school and excel in academics, but did you know what they eat throughout the day can impact their performance? In fact, students who eat meals that are aligned with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (established by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion) are better learners, receive higher test scores, earn higher academic grades, and have reduced instances of being absent from school, says Kim Doyle, senior director of nutrition and compliance at Revolution Foods, citing a 2018 study from the University of California, Berkeley. Revolution Foods aims to transform citywide wellness by designing, producing and delivering 2 million healthy, freshly prepared meals per week to schools and community sites nationwide, including 200 schools and community sites throughout greater New York and New Jersey.

“Three well-rounded meals can completely change the trajectory of a student’s day,” agrees Dominick Hayman, M.S., NDTR, product development chef for the New York/New Jersey region at Revolution Foods. “A lack thereof would mean the student isn’t focusing on their schoolwork. They’re hungry, they’re distracted, and it makes it a lot harder for them to retain information throughout the day.”

With the aforementioned study proving the quality of students’ meals have an impact on their academic success, parents may be left wondering how they can ensure their children are getting brain-boosting nutrients every day. Doyle, who oversees the menu development process while ensuring all meals are compliant with various regulatory agencies, and Hayman, who works closely with students in the area to create culturally and regionally relevant menus that broaden their palates, share what you need to know to ensure your child eats brain-healthy foods that can help boost their academic success.

Best Foods for Brain Development

Proper nutrition starts well before a child is born, so it is imperative mothers ensure they’re getting proper nutrients during pregnancy, according to Doyle. “It not only impacts early childhood education, but also that person's brain ability for the rest of their life,” she adds.

Nutrients that are important in the formation and the development of the brain—and help support and maintain the brain throughout a person’s life—are protein (which is most important in terms of overall growth of the brain), long-chain fatty acids (omega 3 and omega 6, for example), minerals like iron and zinc, B vitamins, and choline.

Naturally, most (if not all) parents will want to ensure their children are getting those nutrients every day. But many parents may be left wondering exactly what foods contain those important nutrients. Feeding your child three well-balanced meals per day that each contain some (or all) of the following foods will give your child a boost in school, according to Doyle:

  • Berries, including strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries, are a great source of flavonoid (antioxidants), which help reduce inflammation and oxidative stress.
  • Eggs are a good source of choline and help in the production of neurotransmitters, which help the brain talk to other parts of the body.
  • Nuts and seeds are a good source of long-chain fatty acids, which help to improve brain function, as well as protein.
  • Whole grains, such as oats, barley, and quinoa, are rich in B vitamins that can reduce inflammation.
  • Avocados contain monounsaturated fats that promote healthy blood flow in the brain, B vitamins, and more.
  • Beans are high in protein and B vitamins.

To ensure their students are getting these nutrients in the meals and snacks, many schools are partnering with meal providers, such as Revolution Foods, which uniquely works with a chef team that engages with students throughout the development process to craft well-balanced menus—containing all of the above foods in meals that kids love— that exceed nutrition guidelines set forth by the National School Lunch Programs and in alignment with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.