Smart Food Nutrient-rich Food Can Improve Your Child’s Scholastic Performance

By Christine Bannister Moore

We have all heard that eating a good breakfast should be the start of everyone’s day.  But what exactly is a good breakfast and would you make sure your child was getting one if you knew it would help him do better in school? 

Granted, there is no secret ingredient to feed your child to turn him into Einstein, but there are several foods and strategies you can use to ensure your child performs at optimal levels on test days, concentrates during study sessions and has enough energy at the end of the day to get the last piece of homework done. 

Tammi Impelliterri, Dietician for the Marine Corps Base Quantico, agrees that starting off with a good breakfast is the best way to ensure your child is getting the most out of the school day.  If they’re hungry, they are concentrating on lunchtime and not on classroom activities. 

Power breakfasts.  A peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole wheat bread is one of the best kid-friendly foods around.  The peanut butter is full of protein and healthy fat to sustain your child until lunch, and the fiber in the bread allows for good digestion and blood flow.  In addition to wholesome, PB&Js are quick and easy to send off for the bus ride or walk to school. 

Other choices to help sustain your child ‘til lunch: 

  • High fiber cereal with skim milk and fruit, such as blueberries or raspberries
  • Homemade raisin bran (1cup of plan corn or bran flakes, 1-2 tbsp unsweetened raisins)
  • Yogurt smoothies made the night before and into the blender in the morning
  • Oatmeal

Avoid sweet cereals, toaster items and pastries, which offer little to no nutritional value for your child.  They contain sugar, preservatives and hydrogenated oils that may cause headaches, stomachaches or hyperactivity in some children. 

Smart Foods.  Nutritious mid-day meals and snacks are essential to a child’s positive learning environment.  Lunches packed with these vitamins and minerals will keep your child in tip-top shape during the school day. 

Vitamins A and C help maintain your child’s immune system to keep him out of the nurse’s office or home sick.  Vitamin A is most popular in carrot form, which is well known for promoting good eyes to see the blackboard.   

Vitamin A is found in eggs and dairy products, which are full of hunger-satisfying proteins.  Also try sweet potatoes, dried apricots and cantaloupe.   

Vitamin C-rich foods include oranges, orange juice, green leafy veggies, strawberries, pineapple and broccoli.  

Iron is essential for healthy brain development.  Iron deficiencies can lead to fatigue, irritability and headaches in some children.   Iron-rich eats include beef and chicken, legumes, papaya, grapefruit, cantaloupe, tomatoes, raisins and mangoes. 

Having a source of vitamin C with iron helps increase the absorption of the iron.  Also, getting these nutrients from raw vegetables is especially good brain food because they are full of antioxidants and phytochemicals, which help keep young minds sharp. 

Midday Snacks:

  • Whole or sliced fruit
  • Cottage cheese
  • Peanut butter on celery with raisins
  • A handful of nuts
  • Hardboiled eggs
  • Homemade cheese and crackers
  • Toast with peanut butter

Dinner Time.  Follow the similar snacking rules for after school and bedtime snacks.  The key to healthy snacking is choice, says Impelliterri. Your presentation of snacks should be similar to: “Would you like peanut butter on toast or a banana?”   

Impelliterri suggests a child will be more likely to eat healthy foods if he feels he has some control over the foods chosen.   

The same consequences of unhealthy snacking at school may also affect your child’s bedtime routine and sleeping pattern, in turn, creating a less than optimal performance at school. 

“Avoiding empty calorie snacks and meals, especially during the school week, is the best strategy to make sure your child is getting the nutrients he needs to get through the day,” Impelliterri says.  That means crossing off any food that is low in fiber, vitamins and minerals and items which list sugar as the first ingredient.  These include snack cakes, candy bars, cookies and processed foods that may contribute to hyperactivity, stomachaches, irritability, fatigue and an inability to pay attention.  Also, avoid snacks with hydrogenated oils, such as yogurt covered nuts and berries and some trail mixes, which could also upset little tummies. 

Good choices for later in the day:

  • Multi-grain cereal bars 
  • Yogurts
  • Low fat puddings
  • Homemade trail mix
  • Homemade peanut butter crackers
  • Light popcorn
  • Graham crackers

A well balanced diet and healthy choices throughout the day is the best strategy to satisfy your child’s appetite and nutritional needs.  Be sure to feed him a variety of healthy foods to ensure your child is receiving the nutrients his mind and body need to make it through school, even those dreaded test days. 

Perfect homemade trail mix recipe:

¼ cup peanuts, almonds or soy nuts

¼ cup raisins or other dried berry

¼ cup mini pretzels

1 tablespoon chocolate chips (optional)

¼ cup granola or high fiber, dry cereal 

Instead of:   Try:
Soda  100% fruit juice boxes or a water bottle with a dash of lemon juice
Potato Chips Baked crackers
Candy Bar Whole grain cereal bar
Processed cheese and crackers   Homemade cheese and cracker sandwiches
Cookies Dried fruit slices or graham crackers
Snack Cakes  Fat free pudding cups

Articles in the Healthy Kids Series are presented by the Marine Corps Marathon’s Healthy Kids Fun Run.

The Marine Corps Marathon’s Healthy Kids Fun Run will be held on October 30, 2004 in Arlington, VA and is an exciting and safe way for kids to participate in an organized running event and be exposed to the joy and satisfaction of being a physically fit individual.  Visit them on the web at  Christine Bannister Moore served as the Public Relations Coordinator for the Marine Corps Marathon.

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