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8 Lunchbox Foods That Keep Kids Focused

By Dana Leigh Smith

With so many distractions these days, ranging from tablets to television, kids seem to have more trouble staying focused than ever before. At home, your child’s inability to concentrate is likely more or less just a source of annoyance. However, this trait can have major implications at school where concentration is needed to comprehend what’s being taught in the classroom.

Odds are you aren’t attending school with your child, so it may seem as though there's not much you can do to help your little one keep distractions at bay. If you’re making your child a brown-bag lunch, however, all hope is not lost! While you may have heard that researchers recently discovered that packed lunches are actually less nutritious than school-bought lunches, we assure you, with a bit of guidance, homemade meals are still the best route to go. In general, you want to look for fare that is attractive to children (so they won't trade it away), portable, non-perishable (at least for the few hours between homeroom and the lunch bell), low in sugar and calories, and are, of course, packed with nutrients that aid focus. Scroll down to learn which lunchbox friendly foods fit the bill.

Applegate Roast Beef

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Applegate Organic Roast Beef
2 oz

Calories

80

Fat

3 g

Sodium

320 mg

Sugar

0 g

Protein

12 g

Applegate Roast Beef

As noted in a 2014 Annals of Medical and Health Sciences Research study, there is a well-established relationship between iron deficiency and poor cognitive development, restlessness and behavioral problems in children. Make sure your child is getting enough of the nutrient (which will help her stay focused and ready to learn) with a roast beef sandwich. Throw Applegate Organic’s iron-rich variety between two slices of bread also rich in the nutrient, such as Vermont Bread Company Organic Whole Wheat. If you can get your kid to stomach spinach, throw that on there, too. Leafy greens are a great additional source of the mineral, and sandwiches are ideal for slipping a little something green into kids’ diets.

Chobani Greek Yogurt

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Chobani Greek Yogurt Tubes for Kids, 2 oz tube

Calories

60

Fat

1.5 g

Sodium

25 mg

Sugar

6 g

Protein

5 g

Chobani Greek Yogurt

“Protein-rich foods like yogurt provide essential amino acids that help the brain create dopamine and serotonin, neurotransmitters that stabilize mood and keep kids alert,” explains Lisa Moskovitz, R.D., founder of The NY Nutrition Group. “Most yogurts contain over 20 grams of sugar which cause energy levels to spike and then crash quickly. However, with 5 grams of protein and only 6 grams of sugar, Chobani Greek Yogurt Tubes are a great way to keep your kid’s energy stable and concentration levels high.”

Horizon Organic Chocolate Milk Box

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Horizon Organic Lowfat Chocolate Milk Box

Calories

150

Fat

2.5 G

Saturated Fat

1.5 G

Sugar

22 G

Protein

8 G

Horizon Organic Chocolate Milk Box

Milk really does do a body good, especially when it’s of the low-fat chocolate variety, even more so when enjoyed after an intense workout. A series of related studies in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research suggest that low-fat chocolate milk, with its optimal ratio of carbohydrates and high-quality protein, may be the most effective post-workout drink for muscle recovery and exercise adaptation. Trained cyclists who took part in the study shaved about six minutes from their ride when they recovered with chocolate milk than with sports drinks or water alone. Enjoying a little bit of milk fat (this one has 2.5 grams per 8 fl oz serving) helps your body absorb the fat-soluble vitamins.

Go Raw Bars

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Go Raw Live Pumpkin Bars, small, 13 g bar

Calories

60

Fat

4 g

Sodium

40 mg

Sugar

3 g

Protein

2 g

Go Raw Bars

“A study published in the journal Neuron found that zinc (which is in pumpkin seeds) aids communication between neurons in the hippocampus, the brain's learning and memory center,” explains Moskovitz. “The mineral also helps regulate several brain neurotransmitters that are essential for focus.” This means that noshing on zinc-rich foods can help your mini-me keep his head in the game and absorb information more effectively. Moskovitz estimates that each Go Raw Live Pumpkin Bar has about one ounce of pumpkin seeds, which contributes anywhere from 37 to 60 percent of your child’s daily zinc requirement, depending on their age.

Berries

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Berries, per half cup

Calories

63

Fat

1 g

Sodium

1 mg

Sugar

3.5-7 g

Protein

1g

Berries

Although most research has focused on older populations, numerous studies have found that antioxidant-rich foods like berries can improve cognitive function and positively impact learning and memory. While nothing has been proven in children yet, it couldn’t hurt to add more vitamin-packed berries to your little one’s diet. Plus, these fruits are a good source of fiber (up to 4 grams per half cup), which helps keep energy levels stable throughout the day, making it easier to focus. Serve the berries plain or whip up a twist on a traditional fruit salad by combining blueberries, blackberries, lemon juice, maple syrup and cinnamon. Throw the sweet treat in some Tupperware and you’re good to go.

Multi-Grain Cheerios

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General Mills Multi-Grain Cheerios, 1 cup

Calories

110

Fat

1 g

Sodium

120 mg

Sugar

6 g

Protein

2 g

Multi-Grain Cheerios

Cereal is a good source of carbohydrates which, after entering the body, converts to glucose, the brain’s primary focus-boosting fuel, explains Lisa DeFazio, MS, RD, a celebrity nutritionist based in Los Angeles. What makes the Multi-Grain Cheerios the winning variety? They’re low in sugar, high in belly-filling fiber and just one serving offers 25% of the day’s B12. “Without enough vitamin B12 the brain cells responsible for learning and understanding new things don’t function properly.” Deficiencies can also lead to memory loss, which isn’t too helpful when your little one needs to memorize all 44 presidents. Make cereal lunchbox friendly by using it as a base for homemade trail mix. DeFazio suggests adding in raisins for sweetness and nuts for protein.

Emerald Almonds

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Emerald Cocoa Roast Almonds, 0.62 oz package

Calories

100

Fat

8 g

Sodium

15 mg

Sugar

1 g

Emerald Almonds

You know that belly-rumbling, shaky, hard-to-focus feeling you get when you’re super hungry? That’s a sign your blood sugar levels have dipped. A research review by NASA confirms that low blood sugar can negatively affect memory, cognitive capabilities, and psychomotor performance. Translation: When your little guy has burned through all his brain-fuel and gets hungry it’s increasingly difficult for him to concentrate and learn. Almonds, however, contain healthy fats which slow the body's absorption of sugar and carbs, keeping blood sugar levels stable and focus laser-sharp, long after lunch is over. But beware: Nuts are high in calories and fat. Emerald’s 100 calorie packs help keep portions in check.

Justin's Peanut Butter

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Justin's Honey Peanut Butter, 1/2 oz squeeze pack

Calories

80

Fat

7 g

Sodium

30 mg

Sugar

1 g

Justin's Peanut Butter

“Magnesium enables brain activity but it also has a calming effect on the central nervous system, making it an important nutrient for children suffering from hyperactivity and lack of focus,” explains DeFazio. Send big kids to school with a pack of Justin's Honey Peanut Butter, a medium magnesium-rich banana and a plastic knife for smearing. For tiny tots, place the butter between two banana slices to make mini sandwiches. The tasty duo serves up 130 mg of magnesium, which is 62 percent of the daily recommended amount of the mineral for 4 to 8 year olds and 54 percent for 9 to 13 year olds.

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