We’re all aware of the importance of packing in the fruit and veg, but what else can we offer our children to optimise their chances of having a good day at school?


Top foods to include in your child’s weekly diet (from 12 months of age):

  • Oats and wholegrains – may improve concentration and focus
  • Eggs – may help recall and memory
  • Oily fish – may promote healthy brain function
  • Blackcurrants – may reduce anxiety and stress
  • Pumpkin seeds – may enhance memory and boost mood
  • Broccoli – may improve brainpower
  • Milk, yogurt and cheese – may lead to better brain function
  • Nuts and nut butters – may help improve accuracy and reaction time
  • Beans – may help concentration
  • Lean meat – may maintain focus

Discover more about healthy eating, including 10 foods to boost your brain power, five ways food affects your brain and our top mood-boosting recipes.

1. Oats and wholegrain bread

May improve concentration and focus

Packed with carbohydrates, wholegrains provide essential glucose and energy to fuel the brain. They are also a useful source of B vitamins, which help nourish the nervous system, as well as being high in fibre, which regulates the glucose supply to the body. Numerous studies have shown that a breakfast rich in wholegrains improves short-term memory and attention span, when compared with white, refined versions of carbohydrates or no breakfast at all.

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Foods to try include oats, wholemeal or rye bread, as well as quinoa and buckwheat.

Start your child’s day with filling porridge, wholegrain crackers with mashed avocado or banana are another great choice; hummus with wholegrain pitta is an easy one for lunchboxes; or swap white rice for the brown variety at dinner time.

Apple & sultana porridge
Fruit & nut granola
Cinnamon porridge with banana & berries
Porridge with apple & cranberry compote & toasted hazelnuts
Apple & blueberry bircher

Find out all you need to know about carbohydrates.

2. Eggs

May help with recall and memory

Children’s brains are developing at a significant rate, especially during the first year of their life. Choline is a very important vitamin that plays an integral role in this, as it is vital for memory and recall. Rich in choline, the yolk of an egg almost meets the daily needs of children up to eight years. Eggs are also a complete protein and contain iron, folate and vitamin A – all of which are important for growth, repair and development. Unless there is an allergy encourage your kids to eat eggs regularly.

Hard boiled eggs mixed with a small amount of mayonnaise are perfect in a sandwich, or try French toast as a weekend treat.

Easy cheesy frittata
Just-egg sandwiches
Healthy egg & chips
Baked dippy eggs
Dippy eggs with Marmite soldiers

Read up on the health benefits of eggs.

3. Oily fish

May promote healthy brain function

High in omega-3 fatty acids which are vital for brain development, oily fish offer plenty of benefits. Some types of omega-3 are the most abundant fat found in the brain. Interestingly, studies showed they may help behavioural problems due to their role in neurotransmitter function. Other studies have linked poor reading ability with low levels of omega-3, and supplementation with improved memory function.

Salmon, mackerel, fresh tuna, trout and sardines are great sources of omega-3 fats so should be eaten once a week. Try substituting one of your children’s meat dishes to include one of these healthy fish meals.

Fish cake fingers
Feel-good fishcakes
Tangy tuna burgers
Fish pie bites
Super healthy salmon burgers

Discover more food sources of omega-3.

4. Blackcurrants

May reduce anxiety and stress

Optimal vitamin C levels are thought to increase mental vitality while other studies demonstrate that vitamin C may be useful for managing anxiety and stress.

Blackcurrants are one of the best sources of vitamin C along with red peppers and broccoli as well as oranges and other citrus fruits.

Blackcurrant compote
Very-berry oat crumble
Blackcurrant & mint sorbet

Discover more about why we need vitamins.

A blackcurrant bush

5. Pumpkin seeds

May enhance memory and boost mood

Rich in zinc, a mineral needed for memory and thinking skills, pumpkin seeds are also a useful source of stress-busting magnesium, B vitamins and tryptophan, the precursor to the good mood chemical serotonin.

Other useful food sources include beef, chickpeas and nuts, including cashews and almonds.

Roasted pumpkin seeds
Pumpkin seed butter
Carrot, cranberry & pumpkin seed flapjacks

Read more about the health benefits of pumpkin seeds.

6. Broccoli

May improve brainpower

Broccoli is a useful source of vitamin K, which is known to enhance cognitive function and improve brainpower. Researchers have also reported that because broccoli is high in compounds called glucosinolates, it helps slow the breakdown of the brain chemical, acetylcholine, which we need to keep our memories sharp.

Other cruciferous vegetables rich in these compounds include cauliflower, kale, cabbage and Brussels sprouts, whilst you can obtain vitamin K from fermented foods, hard cheese and prunes.

Herby broccoli & pea soup
Broccoli pesto & pancetta pasta
Cheesy broccoli pasta bake
Sesame salmon, purple sprouting broccoli & sweet potato mash

Discover more about the health benefits of broccoli.

7. Milk, yogurt and cheese

May lead to better brain function

Milk, yogurt and cheese are nutrient dense as they’re packed with protein and fat-soluble vitamins A, D and B – all of which are essential for the growth of brain tissue and the communication of brain chemicals and enzymes. Studies suggest those who consume dairy three times a day have higher levels of a protective compound called glutathione which appears to protect the brain as we age.

If your child isn’t a lover of milk, don’t worry, as there are other ways you can add dairy to their diet: use milk instead of water when making porridge, serve yogurt as a dip for fruit or sprinkle grated cheese into pasta.

Nutty cinnamon & yogurt dipper
Fruit & nut yogurt
Cheesy broccoli pasta bake
Rarebit toasts
Macaroni cheese

Discover the health benefits of Greek yogurt.

8. Nuts and nut butter

May help improve accuracy and reaction time

Nuts are nutrient dense and contain a number of components which are good for brain health, especially walnuts. Nuts include mono- and poly-unsaturated fats, B vitamins, minerals and protective plant compounds.

Cinnamon crêpes with nut butter, sliced banana & raspberries
Nuts & seeds granola
Homemade almond butter
Chickpea & nut burgers with sweet potato chips

Learn more about the health benefits of nuts.

Nuts and nut butters

9. Beans

May help concentration

High in protein and fibre as well as vitamins and minerals, beans are an excellent food choice for kids. Not only do they release their energy slowly, but they help maintain concentration in the classroom.

Sprinkle mixed beans over salad, try them mashed and spread on a pitta or combine with shredded lettuce and cheese to make the perfect sandwich filler. Swapping them for meat occasionally also makes a great dinner choice.

Mexican bean burgers
Grilled courgette, bean & cheese quesadilla
Cheesy veg burgers
Jacket potatoes with home-baked beans
Smashed bean dip

Find out more about the best vegan protein sources.

10. Lean meat

May help to maintain focus

As well as key fats, like omega-3 fats, our brain needs certain micronutrients including iron, zinc and vitamin B12, these are found in plentiful amounts in animal-sourced foods like lean meats. Low levels of iron in particular may be linked to hyperactivity in children.

For vegetarians, plant sources of iron should be combined with vitamin C-rich foods to promote iron absorption. Useful combinations include spinach and orange, kale and peppers, lentils and tomatoes.

Best spaghetti bolognese
Lentil ragu
Spicy beef taco bowl
Chickpea, spinach & almond butter bowl

Learn more about iron-rich foods for vegetarians.

You may also be interested in...

School packed lunch inspiration
Behaviour in children: how diet can help
Healthy eating: What older children need
Eating for exams

This article was last reviewed on 9 May 2024 by Kerry Torrens.

Emer Delaney BSc (Hons), RD has an honours degree in Human Nutrition and Dietetics from the University of Ulster. She has worked as a dietitian in some of London's top teaching hospitals and is currently based in Chelsea.

All health content on goodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local health care provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.


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