Provide 2-5 servings of edible antioxidants daily.
Not only are fruits and vegetables highly nutritious, they're the primary sources of antioxidant vitamins C, E and beta-carotene. Getting adequate antioxidants in early childhood reduces risk of cancer and other diseases later in life.
It's unclear whether antioxidant supplements provide the same benefits, so it's best to get them from food. Best food sources include most berries, broccoli, cabbage, grapefruit, green beans, green tea, yellow fruits and vegetables (apricots, carrots, squash, sweet potatoes, yams), kale, red onions, soy and tomatoes.
Make breakfasts to learn by.
Calcium-rich foods can improve behavior and learning; learning and performance may be enhanced with balanced breakfasts featuring complex carbohydrates and proteins in equal calorie amounts.
Breakfasts high in carbohydrates and low in protein can sedate rather than stimulate the brain.
Monitor calcium intake.
1-3: 500 mg/day
4-8: 800 mg/day
9-18: 1,300 mg/day
Kids need calcium for strong bones and teeth, and for healthy heart muscles and blood. Preteen and teen years are the time to prevent osteoporosis—95 percent of peak bone mass and calcium content is reached in those years.
Vegans and lactose-intolerant children may not get enough calcium. Teens are also at risk. Best food sources include broccoli, dairy products, kale, canned salmon and sardines, sesame seeds, spinach, soy and turnip greens.
Offer complex carbohydrates.
Some complex carbohydrates appear to have a calming effect, thus decreasing stress and hyperactivity. They're also the body's top fuel and a source of vitamin B complex.
Best food sources include apples, cherries, chickpeas, grapefruit, grapes, kidney beans, lentils, oatmeal, oranges, soybeans, spaghetti and sweet potatoes.
Feed them fiber.
Fiber steadies blood sugar levels, which can affect mood; slows fat absorption; reduces cholesterol; helps promote regularity; and may reduce cancer risk.
Add 5 to your child's age to figure daily dose (e.g., a 6-year-old needs 11 g/day). Best food sources include beans, berries, bran, green peas, whole fruits and vegetables, nuts and whole grains.
Avoid hydrogenated oils.
Some experts link these unhealthy oils to increased incidence of ADHD, bipolar disease and heart disease.
Hydrogenated oils are solid at room temperature (shortening and margarine, for example), while healthier oils are liquid.
Sources: Food and Nutrition Board, National Academy of Sciences, www.nationalacademics.org; PDR Family Guide to Nutrition and Health (Medical Economics Co., 1995); Fit Kids! by Kenneth H. Cooper, MD (Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1999).