Healthy Brains At A Young Age: 5 Psychiatrist-Approved Foods Your Kids Will Love

mbg Editorial Assistant By Jamie Schneider
mbg Editorial Assistant
Jamie Schneider is the Editorial Assistant at mindbodygreen with a B.A. in Organizational Studies and English from the University of Michigan. She's previously written for Coveteur, The Chill Times, and Wyld Skincare.
Careful young father sitting at dining table and feeding son with spoon while mother eating yogurt
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Here's the key to stellar brain health: early intervention. And since food is one of the most influential variables you can control, eating brain-supporting foods as early as you can is always a good idea—like, say, during childhood.

But, alas, it can be difficult to convince kids—especially picky eaters—to eat for their brains. The solution? Introduce kids to healthy foods from the get-go so they'll develop a taste for those brain-supporting players. As clinical neuroscientist psychiatrist Daniel Amen, M.D., says on the mindbodygreen podcast, "You're shaping their palate."

Here, Amen offers a few star foods (plus some sneaky tricks for fussy eaters).

5 foods to give kids when they're young. 

Spoiler alert: All of these brain-healthy foods belong on your plate as well. Nonetheless, here are Amen's favorite brain foods fit for kids: 

  1. Dark chocolate: "A little bit of cocoa is good," says Amen, "as long as there's not a whole bunch of sugar and dairy." Think raw, organic cacao—it's technically fermented, so it's got simultaneous gut health benefits, to boot. 
  2. Avocados: Amen is a huge fan of avocados for brain health. In fact, he touts his wife's avocado gelato recipe (found in her book, The Brain Warrior's Way Cookbook) as one of his favorites. Kids love it, too: "[My grandson] was a super-picky eater, and when he came over, the avocado gelato was just all over his face. It was so cool." 
  3. Fatty fish: Omega-3 fatty acids are stellar for brain health: Research has shown that these fats can decrease stress, as well as promote a healthy emotional balance and positive mood. The problem is, not too many picky eaters are big fans of fatty fish. That's why Amen suggests starting them young, sneaking salmon or even some fish oil into their meals: "If you can give it to them when they're young and help them develop a taste for it, that's really good," he says. 
  4. Carrots or cucumbers: Amen recommends giving your children raw carrots and cucumbers to munch on—especially while teething. "That begins to train their brain to like [those vegetables] and not need a lollipop that has artificial dyes and sugar," he says. If you prime them early with those veggies, chances are they'll reach for 'em themselves when they grow older. Feel free to choose any crunchy vegetable here, but carrots and cucumbers seem to be Amen's favorites.  
  5. Nuts: Assuming they don't have any allergies, Amen believes nuts are a great brain-healthy snack for kids. Not only are they full of fat and lend a satisfying crunch, but they're also a pretty simple snack to cobble together. "Often, parents do what's easy—the processed and packaged foods," he notes. But what's easier than a handful of nuts? In terms of his favorite nuts to snack on, he's partial walnuts—these have been associated with improved cognitive function, plus fiber, and more omega-3s!
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The takeaway. 

The key to helping kids grow a healthy brain at a young age? Introducing them to brain-healthy foods early-on. While this list only scratches the surface in terms of brain-supporting snacks, perhaps these are the easiest to incorporate into your child's routine—according to Amen, you'll have even the pickiest of eaters happily on board. 

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