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Add These 9 Lunch Box Foods to Boost Your Kid’s Brainpower

Putting these brain foods in your child's lunch box can boost academic performance, improve memory, and increase attention spans.

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Blueberries

Even half a cup of blueberries per day can improve memory, coordination, and balance, research shows. You can also try strawberries, blackberries, or raspberries. These all have anthocyanins, antioxidants that may improve brain function and prevent a damaging imbalance of chemicals in the brain called oxidative stress. When they’re in season (usually around the time summer break ends), spend a day berry-picking at a local farm. Your kids will enjoy them more knowing that they helped put them in their lunch boxes.

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Chocolate milk

Just like white milk, fat-free chocolate milk is rich in vitamin D, calcium, and potassium, which most kids aren’t getting enough of, according to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Despite concerns that chocolate milk is too sugary, it has only six more grams of sugar than non-flavored milk—definitely a healthier option than soda and fruit drinks. Feel free to ignore these myths about eating dairy.

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Cheese and whole-grain crackers

Calcium is an essential part of every growing kid’s diet; it helps build strong bones and helps muscles and nerves function properly. Throw in some low-fat cheese slices with whole-grain crackers to help meet the recommended dairy servings (two cups for kids aged one to eight and three cups for kids nine and older). Since cheese and whole-grain crackers are also a low-glycemic snack, it can help keep kids energized, too.

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Bean salsa

Scientists agree that getting enough iron can improve and strengthen children’s memory, attention span, and overall ability to learn. Adding black or fat-free refried beans to your family’s favorite salsa is a quick and easy way to boost your child’s iron intake.

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Peanut butter and banana sandwich on whole-wheat bread

Your kids will think this sandwich is a treat without realizing how healthy it actually is. Peanut butter has protein to fill them up and keep them awake during class, plus a healthy amount of choline, a compound that scientists believe can boost brain-cell production in young kids. Substitute your go-to jelly for slices of nutrient-packed bananas. And while we all know whole-wheat bread is rich in fiber, it also contains folate that helps produce memory cells, so consider making the switch from white to wheat for all of your sandwiches. (Always check your child’s school’s policies on allowing nuts and nut butters in the classroom.)

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Hard-boiled eggs

Eggs are one of the best breakfast foods because of their protein and choline, so why not serve them for lunch, too? Dye and decorate the eggs to make them a colorful snack that’s easy to eat. If Easter egg kits aren’t in stores yet, use ½ cup of boiling water, 1 teaspoon of vinegar, and 10 drops of food coloring to make your own dye, or try one of these homemade egg dyes. Add drops or mix food coloring for more fun colors.

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Trail mix

Go nuts for vitamin E. This important nutrient protects brain cells from inflammation and damage and is found in sunflower seeds, almonds, peanuts, and hazelnuts. Mix them together and add dried fruit for a homemade brain power trail mix. Check out these ways to eat more vitamin-E-rich foods.

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Watermelon

A Harvard study found that more than half of kids in the U.S. are not adequately hydrated, which can lead to poor physical, mental, and emotional health. A watermelon is 92 percent water, making it a tasty way to keep kids hydrated. Cucumbers are another option for the same benefits.

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Veggies and dip

Kids who eat a balanced diet of fruit, vegetables, protein, and fiber perform better in school than those who don’t, according to a study from the University of Alberta in Canada. The problem is, veggies are notoriously hard for kids to eat. Make sticks of carrots or celery more appealing by serving them with a small cup of reduced-fat ranch dip or hummus.

American Heart Association; The Chicago Tribune; Eating Well; The Globe amd Mail; hsph.harvard.edu; Prevention; Western Dairy Association

Originally Published in Reader's Digest