Whether you are returning for your own semester or planning meals for little ones, nutrition plays a big role in focus and energy levels during school days. Follow these guidelines to maximize your brain power during the school day!
Keep Half Your Lunchbox Fruits and Vegetables
This doesn’t have to mean a boring salad, try fun combinations like arugula with cantaloupe and a drizzle of balsamic dressing, or my favorite fall salad below.
Recipe: Maple Squash Side Salad
- ½ c butternut squash, cubed and steamed
- 1 c baby kale or green of choice
- ¼ c pomegranate seeds (may sub 1 tbsp dried cranberries here)
- 2-3 mozzarella balls, halved
- 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 1 tsp maple syrup
- 1 tbsp olive oil
Toss all ingredients to combine and enjoy!
Download Maple Squash Salad Recipe
Add Lean Protein, Grains, Dairy (if desired!)
Fill in the rest of your meal with lean protein, stick with grilled or baked options, many cafeterias have sauce-drenched meats that pack on extra calories, salt, and sugar! Protein helps to keep you full during class, which stops the oh-so-distracting hunger pangs during lectures.
Aim for 1/3 c of whole grains or equivalent. For example, having a sandwich on whole grain bread would tick this box. Our brains run on carbs, so if you’re dragging try having a meal with complex carbohydrates!
Snack For A Mental Boost
Nuts, Seeds, and Berries
This trio is packed with antioxidants, vitamins, and fatty acids that are linked to better memory and alertness. Walnuts are high in omega-3 fatty acids and are known for their brain-boosting power, berries add antioxidants to reduce the effects of cellular stress in the body. This snack is portable and totally customizable, which makes it perfect for on-the-go and in between classes. Walnuts and blackberries, almonds and raspberries, and cashews and blueberries are some delicious combinations.
While I don’t consider green tea a snack in itself, you can pair this low-calorie beverage with other items for a gentle caffeine boost. Most varieties of green tea have less caffeine than coffee but provide similar benefits by boosting alertness and performance. Rich in antioxidants and L-theanine, green tea helps control cellular stress levels and may aid in preventing mental decline as we age.
That’s right, a dietitian is telling you to eat chocolate! A small serving of 1-3 squares of dark chocolate can help boost blood flow to your brain and lower stress hormone (cortisol) levels. Eating dark chocolate can also release endorphins that make us happy! With its benefits combined, dark chocolate can be a perfect snack to calm and restore focus.
Editor’s Note: Don’t forget the importance of incorporating regular exercise! It’s no secret that exercise has been linked to better sleep, less stress, and increased focus. All of these things are important at back to school time — for both students and parents. In case you need inspiration, here are some of our favorite short workouts to get your blood pumping and your brain working.
More Healthy Nutrition Ideas
- Snacks! On the Go Nutrition
- How to Build a Buddha Bowl
- Veggie Meal Prep: Snacks & Simple Roasting Ideas
Caroline is a Clinical Registered Dietitian for MedStar Health and Hospital Systems in Baltimore, Maryland. She completed her Masters Degree in Dietetics from San Jose State University and moved back to Charm City to be with her fiancee. When she’s not providing medical nutrition therapy to her patients, Caroline enjoys cooking, waterfront walks and crab-anything (crab pizza is the best!).