21+ back to school snacks to improve focus and memory written on cartoon chalkboard

21+ Back to School Snacks to Improve Focus and Memory

I can’t believe it’s back to school time already. Summer always seems to fly. 

I don’t know about you, but snack time was my favorite part of school. So, I guess it’s pretty fitting that I grew up to study nutrition and become a Registered Dietitian. 

Nutrition school taught me that foods we eat can actually help our focus and memory. On the flip side, some foods can make us tired and lose interest in learning. And man, I wish I knew that in high school. 

Proper nutrition is like a cheat code in school. 

Let’s review some recipes and a few recommended ready to eat back to school snacks to improve concentration and get ready for a great school year! 

Snacking

Snacking gets a bad reputation, but as a nutrition expert, I encourage snacking. Snacks keeps our stomachs full, our energy up, and our minds running.

Now, what matters is what those snacks are composed of. 

The ideal healthy snack would have at least two of the main food groups: fruit/vegetable, whole grain, protein, dairy, and/or healthy fat. 

Whether you’re preparing for The BAR or the first test of the second grade, snacking is important and can be used to your advantage. 

Focus, Memory, & Nutrition

You may have noticed that sometimes after eating, you’re ready for a nap. It can be really difficult to get through the rest of the day with energy depleted. Not only that, trying to focus on a task becomes virtually impossible.

So, let’s begin with a few foods to avoid that may get in the way of concentrating in school.

Food to Limit

Saturated Fat

All around, saturated fat is something worth avoiding. It’s linked to numerous health conditions like heart disease. Plus, in animal studies, diets high in saturated fat have been shown to impair learning and memory.

It’s worth noting that there is some evidence that connects saturated fat intake and Alzheimer’s disease. So, saturated fat may be overall detrimental to the brain.

Examples: bacon, sausage, fried food, butter, fast food

Simple Sugar

Diets rich in simple sugar are associated with difficulty concentrating and paying attention. Simple sugars are simple carbohydrate foods. Common simple sugars are glucose and fructose.

While it’s not necessary to avoid sugar altogether, be mindful of the amount consumed daily. Not everything with sugar is sweet. There is hidden sugar in foods like ketchup, dips, or beverages.  

Examples: doughnuts, potato chips, soda, sugary cereals, ice cream, candy

Ultra Processed Foods

There is some evidence that ultra processed foods can promote cognitive decline.

But what are ultra processed foods? This term refers to foods that go through many stages of processing and likely have many added ingredients. Sugar and oil are often main ingredients in these products. Plus, things like hydrogenated oil or preservatives are often added.

It’s not necessary to completely avoid ultra processed foods. It’s recommended to read the nutrition label to make the best choice. Additionally, add whole foods throughout the day to balance the snacks.

Examples: soda, processed meats like cold cuts, frozen meals, store bought baked goods

Food to Include

Equally important as avoiding certain foods is including specific foods with key nutrients in back to school snacks. Some foods can boost brain power, improving overall brain health and memory.

Flavonoids

First up, flavonoids. Flavo-what? Flavonoids are plant compounds that provide antioxidants. They have numerous health benefits and are overall good for the body. One of those benefits can be helping with memory and concentration. 

Flavonoids are found in fruits, vegetables, legumes, herbs, and a few other foods.

Berries

Berries have flavonoids and antioxidant properties. Some studies focused on the intake of just berries and brain health. 

Interestingly, berries have been shown to improve cognitive function in students. In one study, a berry smoothie helped participants maintain adequate cognitive performance for six hours. On the other hand, participants who did not drink the smoothie had decreased performance and energy throughout the day.

Soy

Soy has been linked to improved short-term and long-term memory. Research has also revealed an improvement in mental flexibility in participants consuming soy. Additionally, those eating or drinking soy were less tense after the memory tests in a particular study.

This legume is in soy dairy products such as yogurt and milk. Soybeans and soy-based meat alternatives like tofu also contain soy.

Healthy Fat

While saturated fat can deteriorate brain health, healthy fat can improve it. Healthy fat, such as omega three fatty acids, can improve brain function. This fat can also keep bellies full and aid in heart health!

You can get omega 3-s from fish, nuts, seeds, and plant oils.

Fish

Adequate intake of healthy fat can promote brain health. Furthermore, some studies specifically looked at fish intake.

The research concluded that fish consumption can result in improved cognitive status in children.

Many relate this to the DHA provided by fish. DHA is an omega-three fatty acid that our brains need.

Fish with high DHA: salmon, tuna, anchovies, sardines.

Overall Healthy Diet

Some studies show adequate intake of B vitamins, vitamin D, choline, iodine, and iron can promote a sharper mind. Additionally, research shows a connection between antioxidants and brain health.

Luckily, it’s easy to meet the needs of all of the recommended vitamins and minerals through diet.

Rich Sources:

  • B vitamins: meat, seafood, poultry, leafy greens, eggs
  • Vitamin D: fatty fish, eggs, dairy products, mushrooms
  • Choline: eggs, fish, soybeans, shiitake mushrooms
  • Iodine: salt, fish, milk, nuts, seeds, beans
  • Iron: meat, poultry, spinach, sardines, oysters
  • Antioxidants: berries, kale, walnuts, pomegranate juice 

So, there is no single magic food that can boost our brains. An overall healthy diet has improved brain health in numerous studies.

But what is an overall healthy diet? It can be confusing as many food labels are tricky to understand. The main thing to keep in mind is to balance food groups. In other words, eat an adequate amount of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein, and healthy fat throughout the day. Moreover, aim for variety throughout the week. 

Additionally, it’s important to remember that all foods can be a part of a healthy diet. 

Food Allergens & Food Safety

Before diving into the recommended snacks, let’s touch on allergens and food safety.

Every school policy is different, so check with the teacher or school website to determine snack ingredient restrictions. 

The most common food allergens include tree nuts, shellfish, fish, soy, eggs, wheat, milk, sesame, and peanuts. 

It is crucial to follow recommended protocols the school has in place. 

Next, food safety. We can’t overlook this. Some of these snacks may be tucked away in a lunch box or brown paper bag and still be safe. It’s necessary to store other food options in a refrigerator.

Food Safety 101: 

  • Throw out any food that smells or looks suspicious
  • Check storage directions on labels
  • Foods that should be refrigerated can be left at room temperature for a maximum of 2 hours
    • Foods that require refrigeration: milk and dairy products, meat/poultry/fish, eggs, pre-cooked food
  • Cold food should remain at 41 degrees Fahrenheit or lower
  • Hot food should reach a minimum temperature of 140 degrees Fahrenheit prior to consumption
    • Fish, meat, poultry, stuffed pasta, and eggs require higher temperatures

The snacks below can be sent to school or left at home for an after school snack to boost those brains and get ready for homework. Keep food safety and the safety of other students in mind!

Back to School Snacks

These back to school snack options aren’t only healthy but delicious and brain boosting! No one will be making any trades at the lunch table. 

As stated above, some of these snacks require refrigeration and some should be saved as after school snacks.

  1. Carrots and Greek Yogurt Dip
    • Good ol’ fashioned baby carrots mixed with any dip is a tasty treat. Yogurt dip can provide probiotics and may have less fat compared to cream based dips. 
  2. Whole Grain Pita, Cucumbers, and Hummus
    • A simple, balanced snack that promotes brain health.
  3. Zucchini Bread
  4. Whole Grain Strawberry Muffins
  5. Oat Cookies
    • Mix 2 cups of quick oats, 2 mashed bananas, and dark chocolate chips. Roll into balls and place on a baking sheet and cook at 350°F for 15 minutes.
  6. Ants of a log
    • Slices of celery topped with peanut butter and raisins. 
  7. Fruit Salad w/ Shredded Coconut, Walnuts, and Honey
    • Any fruit of preference is a good choice. Coconut and walnuts make this a more balanced snack. I love a strawberry kiwi salad!
  8. Berry Smoothie 
    • Any fruit is a good choice. Consider soy milk or yogurt to promote memory. This one likely will have to wait until after school.
  9. Yogurt Parfait with Chia Seeds 
    • Soy yogurt, blueberries, and whole grain granola is a nutrient dense snack with brain boosting ingredients. 
  10. Edamame with Extra Virgin Olive Oil
    • Providing soy plus healthy fat.
  11. Veggie Egg Bites
  12. Whole Wheat Pasta Salad w/ Vegetables
    • Any veggies on hand are a perfect addition. I recommend adding herbs and topping with EVOO!
  13. Whole Wheat Pasta Salad w/ Vegetables
    • Any veggies on hand are a perfect addition. I recommend adding herbs and topping with EVOO!
  14. Whole Grain Crackers with Tuna Salad
    • Tuna salad is an easy way to get fish intake during the week.
  15. Red Peppers, Wheat Crackers, and Avocado dip
    • Vitamins, fiber, AND healthy fat.
  16. Trail Mix 
    • Whole grain cereal or pretzels, nuts of preference, and mini M&Ms
  17. Whole Grain Cereal with Soy Milk  
    • Examples: Kashi Go Lean Original, Cheerios, Fiber One Original
  18. Popcorn Trail Mix 
    • Air popped popcorn, peanuts, almonds, dark chocolate chips 
  19. Homemade Ice Pops 
  20. Avocado Tuna Salad in a Whole Wheat Pita
    • A two for one of healthy fat options.
  21. PB Banana “Sushi”
    • Whole wheat tortilla with a layer of peanut butter topped with a full banana. Roll the tortilla and cut into slices. Great snack that includes fiber and protein.
  22. Nut Butter Protein Balls
    • Mix together 1.5 cups rolled oats, 1 cup of nut butter, honey, and a handful of dark chocolate chips. Roll into balls and refrigerate.
  23. Mushroom Egg Salad
  24. Homemade Raspberry Jam with Whole Grain Crackers
    • A sweet treat with antioxidants and fiber.
  25. Honey Baked Avocado
mason jar layers with yogurt, granola, kiwi, strawberries, blueberries, spoon above drizzling honey
Photo by Alondra Lucia

Ready to Eat Snacks

Prepackaged snacks are a lifesaver during busy weeks. Here’s a few that can improve mind and memory!

  1. Cheese, Nut, Fruit Snack Packs such as Kirkland 
  2. Hummus Snack Pack with Simple Mills Crackers
  3. Trail Mix such as Nature’s Garden
  4. Bada Bean
  5. Catalina Crunch Snack Mix
  6. Sabra Breakfast Avocado Toast
  7. Chocolate Soy Milk and Whole Grain Graham Crackers

Conclusion

There are countless simple and delicious ways to boost students’ brains! Eating proper meals and snacks throughout the day can make all the difference in energy and focus.

An additional important factor to improve memory and focus is adequate sleep. Don’t forget to snag your free copy of my Better Sleep Grocery List!

Have a happy and healthy school year!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.