Leafy greens boost kids’ brainpower

She might not have known the science behind why greens are important, but chances are, your mother knew intuitively that you needed them.

The problem, of course, is that as a kid you probably didn’t want to eat your greens, no matter what your mom said. And kids today are no different — especially now that so many unhealthy options are at their fingertips.

But according to a new study, getting kids to eat their greens is well worth the effort. Not only are greens chock full of nutrients that are essential to overall health, they may also be able to boost kids’ brain function.

The credit for this brain-boosting potential goes to the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin that dark, leafy greens provide. A recent study linked these carotenoids to better academic achievement and attention control. And that allowed kids to perform cognitive tasks more efficiently.

And the effects held up even after researchers controlled for other factors like fitness and IQ.

So leafy greens really are as good for you as your mom said. But for best results, as with anything, intake needs to be consistent.

Which brings me to today, and a challenge I see with a lot of the kids I know…

Naturally, we want to give children every opportunity they can get to grow into healthy, smart, strong adults. That’s why I’m always surprised when I see how many people cater to their kids’ nutritional whims. Maybe you can relate.

Have you given up on feeding your kids or grandkids vegetables because it’s not worth the fight? Do you have to bribe them with sweets to get them to eat their small serving of greens? Do you essentially allow the child to dictate the menu?

If so, you’re not alone. But here’s the good news: You can change the eating dynamic so your kids learn to love the foods that are good for them — like leafy greens.

Getting children to eat healthy has been a lifelong priority of mine. My first book, Feed Your Kids Well, was ahead of its time. It tackled these issues long before people started taking their kids’ nutrition seriously.

And after all the research and many years of experience, I can reassure you that it’s fine to give your children treats every once in a while.

But the thing is, “once in a while” does NOT mean every day. It doesn’t even mean once a week. Sugar or junk food should be a truly rare occurrence — not part of the daily routine.

The daily diet should consist entirely of foods that actually feed kids the nutrients they need. It should be filled with fresh, organic, whole foods. Vegetables should be a mainstay.

Sugar and junk do not have a place in a child’s daily diet. Period.

It’s just common sense. But the amount of flak I get about this stance is incredible. People protest, “But they’re kids! Let them be kids!”

As if poor nutrition is a birthright. As if there’s something cruel about feeding kids well.

All I can say is this: What better gift can you give your child than the gift of health? If they learn to eat well early on, they will grow into adults with healthy habits.

I see this working every day with my nurse’s children. He takes them to their pediatrician, but I’m the one whose advice he follows when it comes to feeding them. And it has paid off. Today, his 3-year-old would rather eat salmon than chicken fingers.

Why? Because since they were infants, my nurse has worked on instilling good habits in his children. But even if your kids didn’t start early, habits can still be changed. Will there be some friction at first? Sure. But with your care, guidance, and unwavering leadership — you can help your children learn to love the food that not only feeds, but nourishes, them.

So next time you tell your child that it’s okay to skip those greens, think about the damage you are doing to their developing brains. Kids need to be taught what to do and being — and eating — healthy is no exception.