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Boost your child’s brain power

The right combination of foods can boost the brain as well as the body. Iron and essential fatty acids are particularly important in children’s diets.

Oil rich fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines are especially good brain boosters. This is down to their high levels of omega-3 essential fats, which optimise messaging between nerve cells in the brain. High intakes are crucial for good brain function and can be of particular benefit to dyslexic and hyperactive children. Canned tuna does not contain omega-3 fats as they are destroyed in the canning process. Ideally, children should have a couple of portions of oil rich fish per week. If your child doesn’t like fish, turn to oils like hemp, linseed or walnut oil. Sunflower and pumpkin seeds are another good source of omega-3 fats.

A fish pie is a great way to get your children to eat more oily fish. This is my favourite recipe for fish pie. You can leave the prawns out if you prefer. You could also make this dish with half salmon and half cod. It makes a delicious and highly nutritious meal for the whole family.

Makes 5 portions
time to prepare 15 minutes
time to cook 35 to 40 minutes
suitable for home freezing

750g potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
30g butter
2tbsp of milk
Salt and pepper


40g butter
1 medium onion chopped (approx 100g)
40g flour
225ml of milk
200ml of fish stock
Salt and black pepper
2 large plum tomatoes, skinned, de-seeded and chopped (approx 215g)
250g fresh spinach
400g salmon fillets, skinned
100g small prawns

Cook the potatoes in boiling lightly salted water for about 20 minutes. Drain and mash together with the butter and milk and season with salt and pepper to taste. Preheat the oven to 3500F/1800C/Gas Mark 5. To make the sauce, melt the butter and sauté the onion for 8 to 10 minutes. Add the flour and cook for one minute. Gradually add the milk to make a smooth paste, then add the stock and cook stirring over a low heat. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 2 minutes. Season with the salt and pepper. (At this stage it may taste a little salty but the salmon has no seasoning so it will balance out.) Stir the chopped tomatoes into the sauce.

Carefully wash the spinach and cook with a little water still clinging to the leaves for 2 minutes until wilted. Drain and gently squeeze out excess moisture and roughly chop.

Cut the salmon into chunks and arrange in an ovenproof dish. I use a fairly deep rectangular dish 27cm x 16cm. Scatter over the prawns. Arrange the spinach on top. Pour over the sauce and cover with the mashed potato. Mark the top of the fish pie using a fork. Bake in the oven for about 35 to 40 minutes.

Annabel’s power packed flapjacks
These delicious flapjack bars are packed full of nutritious ingredients. They are great for lunchboxes or as a tasty snack any time of the day. These are also fun for children to make themselves. Oats provide long lasting energy and dried apricots are a good source of iron. Pumpkin and sunflower seeds are a powerhouse of nutrients. They contain healthy omega-3 fats which are crucial for brain development and a healthy heart.

Makes 10 bars
Time to prepare 10 minutes
Time to cook 20 minutes

80g butter
80g brown sugar
2tbsp golden syrup or corn syrup
1/2tsp of salt
130g porridge oats
35g chopped dried apple
35g chopped dried apricots
25g dried cranberries
25g pumpkin seeds
2tbsp sunflower seeds
25g desiccated coconut

In a large saucepan, melt together the butter, sugar, golden syrup or corn syrup and salt. Mix all the dry ingredients together in a bowl and stir in the butter and syrup mixture.

Line and grease a 20cm square baking tin. Spoon the mixture into the tin and press down to level the surface using a potato masher. Bake in an oven preheated to 3500F/1800C/Gas Mark 5 for 18 to 20 minutes. Store in the fridge and cut into bars before serving.

For a delicious snack try these Honey and Soy Toasted Seeds
Heat 1tbsp sunflower oil in a non-stick frying pan.
Add 75g each of pumpkin and sunflower seeds and cook continuously stirring, for about
2 minutes or until the seeds are just lightly browned.
Remove from the heat, stir in 1tbsp honey and 1tbsp soy sauce, return to the heat for one minute and then leave to cool. Delicious!

Great brain boosting snacks
These are a few food ideas you can give your child to start the day, or to snack on to maintain their concentration:

Dried fruit eg: raisins or apricots
Bowl of blueberries or a banana
Bowl of wholegrain cereal with milk and mixed fruit
Toasted raisin bread spread with peanut butter
Pasta salad with poached chicken breast, sweetcorn, cherry tomatoes and spring onion
Vegetable crudites with hummus
Creamy scrambled eggs on wholemeal toasted bread


Carbohydrates provide the body and the brain’s main source of energy. Make sure your child has complex (unrefined) carbohydrates at breakfast such as wholemeal bread, wholegrain cereals – otherwise concentration and memory is likely to be poorer later in the day.
Make sure your child eats iron-rich food such as lean red meat to improve memory and powers of concentration.
If your child doesn’t eat red meat, foods such as fortified breakfast cereals, spinach and dried apricots are also useful sources of iron. However it is difficult for our bodies to absorb iron unless you eat some vitamin C rich foods at the same meal so provide a glass of orange juice or some vitamin C rich fruit like strawberries or kiwi.
To keep your child alert make sure she is drinking water regularly throughout the day.
Get children into the habit of taking a bottle of water with them to school.
Avoid sugar, chocolates, sweet biscuits and other foods that are high in sugar. You might think they will give your child an energy boost, but it’s short-lived and can leave you feeling more tired than before.

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