8 brain-building foods for your picky eater


Nutrition is essential for a developing brain. But what should you do if your child refuses to eat healthy foods? Any mom of a picky eater knows that it can feel like a juggling act of preparing a meal your child will want to eat that also has the nutrients they need.

The first years of life are fundamental to the development of a baby’s brain as it grows and creates neural connections. The trick is to learn which foods make your child squirm. Is it the texture or a certain color? Or maybe you notice that they are ready to eat anything crunchy, but reject mushy foods. Using these tidbits of information, you can find ways to work with their preferences rather than against them.

The pressure to give your child the right foods can feel overwhelming at times, but don’t panic if your child has a less than adventurous palate (raise your hand). There are plenty of healthy foods to support brain development that even the pickiest eaters will love (it may take some trial and error). Here are some of our favorite picks.

Blueberries

Blueberries are packed with antioxidants and polyphenols that promote healthy brain development. Studies even suggest that the flavonoids in blueberries may help children improve memory and learning.

Most kids will enjoy blueberries, but if your toddler has trouble eating them whole because of the texture, you can try adding them to a smoothie. Or try cooking frozen blueberries in the microwave and serving them over Greek yogurt for a sweet treat.

Related: 10 Key Foods to Boost Your Baby’s Brain Development

Yogurt

Yogurt is a good source of protein, calcium, and vitamin D. It also contains probiotics to keep your gut healthy (important since the gut and brain are closely linked).

There are so many ways to enjoy yogurt. You can eat it plain, add fruit or granola, or use it as the base for a smoothie. If your child doesn’t like plain yogurt, try serving it with their favorite fruit or cereal. You can also make yogurt popsicles or use it as a creamy substitute for mayonnaise in sandwiches.

Salmon

Salmon is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for brain development and cognitive health in children and babies. Eating more fish is even linked to better school results.

But fish can be a tough sell for picky kids, especially if they’re sensitive to texture or smell. If your child falls into this category, you can try canned salmon and toss it with mayonnaise, diced celery and a squeeze of lemon juice for a twist on tuna served with their favorite crackers. You can also make breaded salmon nuggets using whole wheat breadcrumbs, eggs and seasonings.

Related: The best brain-boosting food for kids and how to get it to eat

Sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of beta-carotene, a nutrient that the body converts into vitamin A to support your little one’s brain and vision.

Most kids love sweet potatoes, especially roasted and served with a little butter or cinnamon. But if your child resists eating them, try pureeing them and adding them to soups, muffins or pancake batter. You can also make sweet potato fries as a fun and healthy alternative to regular fries.

Related: How I Learned to Cope With My Child Being a Picky Eater

Eggs

Eggs are an excellent source of protein and choline, an essential nutrient for brain development. Choline helps memory and learning.

Eggs are so versatile that you can cook them a million ways to please even the pickiest of eaters. Scrambled eggs, omelettes, and hard-boiled eggs are good options. You can also get creative and make fun egg dishes like mini quiches or egg muffins for breakfast.

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Spinach

Spinach is packed with brain-boosting nutrients, including iron, folate, and vitamin A. Still, most kids aren’t exactly thrilled to see this green vegetable on their plate.

One way to add more spinach to your child’s diet is to make a smoothie. Simply mix it with almond milk (or a liquid of your choice), banana, peanut butter and cocoa powder. Pro Tip: Freeze bananas for a thicker, creamier consistency. You can also try adding it to pasta dishes or meatballs.

Related: Does Your Child Need a Multivitamin? Here’s what the experts say

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Avocados are delicious and contain healthy fats essential for brain development. They’re also high in fiber and vitamins C and E, making them a superfood for the brain.

Mashed or sliced ​​avocado is the easiest way to serve them, but if your child doesn’t like the taste or texture, you can try adding avocado to smoothies for a creamier texture. Just freeze them in cubes beforehand (this is also a great way to preserve avocados that all ripen at once).

Nuts and seeds

Nuts and seeds are a good source of healthy fats, protein, vitamins and minerals. Walnuts, flax and chia seeds are also plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids.

Nuts and seeds can be a choking hazard for toddlers, so nut butter or ground seeds added to smoothies or yogurt are your best bet until they get older. For children over 4 years old, you can try making your own trail mix with your child’s favorite nuts, seeds and dried fruits.

Feeding your kids healthy foods is so important, but don’t worry if they don’t immediately eat all of the above. It takes time for picky eaters to feel safe trying new foods. Try to find one or two that work and expand from there.

Sources

Barfoot KL, May G, Lamport DJ, Ricketts J, Riddell PM, Williams CM. The effects of acute wild blueberry supplementation on cognition in 7- to 10-year-old schoolchildren. European journal of nutrition. 2019 Oct;58(7):2911-20.

Laue HE, Coker MO, Madan JC. The developing microbiome from birth to 3 years: the gut-brain axis and neurodevelopmental outcomes. Frontiers in pediatrics. 2022;10. doi:10.3389/fped.2022.815885

Lehner A, Staub K, Aldakak L, Eppenberger P, Rühli F, Martin RD, Bender N. Fish consumption is associated with children’s school performance in a nonlinear way: results from the German KiGGS cohort study. Evolution, medicine and public health. 2020;2020(1):2-11. doi:10.1093%2Femph%2Feoz038

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