Brain Fuel Meal Tips to Set Up Your Student for Success
Functional chef Gerard Viverito says ditch the to-go bags and teach kids how to prepare these simple, mind-sharpening meals
Did last night’s dinner help your kids learn in the classroom today?
“It’s time to understand the importance of brain nutrition to our kids’ success in school and in life,” said functional chef and father Gerard Viverito. “Stop filling your cart with processed foods because you think you don’t have enough time. Those foods are impeding kids’ performance, not helping it. Instead, teach your kids how to feed themselves with brain-nourishing meals. It’s not that hard.”
Sometimes meals in a bag may seem like the only option. Between busy schedules and picky eaters, you may just be happy when your kids get anything into their growling stomachs.
“But the brain is an organ and it’s hungry, too,” Viverito said. “Instead of swinging into another drive-through, teach your kids how to choose and prepare foods on their own that will sharpen their minds.”
There’s a growing body of evidence suggesting that the quality of your diet can affect your physical and mental health. Here are several ideas for getting kids into the kitchen and encouraging their love for preparing foods that supply the brain with energy while helping in other areas such as improved memory and cognition.
- Keep plenty of brain-friendly ingredients on hand. “The best brain foods are the same ones that protect your heart,” Viverito said. “Blueberries, avocados, nuts, eggs and beans all support brain health. Also stock up on products made with Malaysian palm oil, such as Smart Balance peanut butter which contains brain-friendly omega 3s. Palm oil has a unique fatty acid balance that helps protect brain cells in addition to the cardiovascular system.”
- Grow your own ingredients. “Plant a garden with kid-approved brain foods such as strawberries, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, spinach and broccoli,” Viverito said. “Concepts learned by gardening, such as plants’ need for water and sunlight, may help kids develop responsibility and respect for our planet.”
- Make meal preparation a family event. “There are tasks even smaller children can do in the kitchen, such as mixing dry ingredients for this almond flour chocolate chip cookie recipe (below), which is a hit with youngsters,” Viverito said. “Let your kids choose a brain-healthy entrée or side dish each week.”
- Buy extra kitchen utensils. “Have enough measuring spoons and measuring cups so that each child can use their own,” Viverito said. “That speeds up meal prep time. Kitchen shears are safer for kids to use than knives. Use them to chop everything from cilantro to chicken.”
- Teach children where their food comes from. “Visit nearby farms and orchards to show your kids which foods are produced locally,” Viverito said. “Encourage them to sample new things. Have your kids use their phones and tablets to research traditional foods and meals in different parts of the world. Then ask them to share what they’ve learned around the dinner table. It’s a wonderful way to take your family on a culinary adventure without having to pack a bag. For instance, my kids know that I only cook with palm oil produced in Malaysia because it is certified sustainable; it’s made without harming wildlife or rain forests.”
- Plan one-pot meals to get kids to practice on time. “Whether it is a slow cooker or skillet, combining all of your fresh ingredients such a protein, vegetable and grain in one, makes for a healthy, easy meal,” Viverito said. “It also hides the vegetables, helping with those picky eaters who would otherwise section food off on their plate and not eat it.”
If you want your kids to do better in school this year, pay closer attention to what they’re eating.
“Feed them junk food, and their brains will pay the price,” Viverito said. “But you don’t have to be a slave to your stove. Simple meals that are prepared quickly often maintain the most nutrients. And by teaching your kids how to make all or part of these meals, you’ll have more free time and they will learn valuable skills that will serve them well throughout their lives.”
Danielle’s Grain-Free and Dairy-Free Almond Flour Chocolate Chip Cookies
Yield: 24 cookies
These little treats get me fueled up for a race just as much as they provide comfort for someone with a lifelong addiction to desserts. My wife developed these when we embarked on our ketogenic lifestyle and after having literally hundreds of people try them to great fanfare, I am confident you will like them too!
- 1/3 cup Malaysian red palm oil
- 1/4 cup coconut oil
- 1/2 coconut sugar or monk fruit sugar substitute
- 2 scoops Sunfiber (optional but a great way to add extra fiber)
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 large eggs
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3 cups blanched almond flour
- 1 1/4 cups cacao nibs
- 2/3 cup toasted walnuts (optional)
- In a large bowl whisk palm oil, coconut oil, sugar and Sunfiber together. Add the vanilla and eggs, mixing until incorporated.
- Mix in the baking soda and salt. Add the almond flour, 1 cup at a time, stirring well with a wooden spoon after each addition. Fold in the cacao nibs and walnuts. Refrigerate the dough prior to baking for 30 minutes to prevent the cookies from spreading too much.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Form the dough into 2 tablespoon rounds and place on the lined baking sheet about 3 inches apart. Bake for 11-13 minutes, or until golden brown around edges. Cool and enjoy! These cookies are best enjoyed the day they are baked but can be refrigerated for up to a week.
Chef Gerard Viverito is a culinary instructor as the Director of Culinary Education for Passionfish, a NGO non-profit organization dedicated to educating people around the globe on the issue of sustainability in the seas. He is also the operator of Saveur Fine Catering, a company whose beliefs and products center on local, sustainable and organic foods.
Viverito is passionate about creating meals with nutritional value, which he calls “functional cooking.” He is well known for his ability to lower the glycemic index value of food, add omega fatty acids, and whole proteins to dishes without compromising the texture or taste.