Adults often reach for snacks during the day to help them stay alert, and the same can be said for children -- but these snacks only help if smart food choices are made. Healthy snacks are beneficial -- they wake up the brain and provide bursts of energy -- which is why snack breaks are often built into the school-day schedule. Junk food, on the other hand, will only bring a child down -- physically, emotionally and mentally.
Feed the Brain
From the time they are young, we tell our children that it's important to eat healthy food to build strong muscles and grow up big and tall. But what we might neglect to mention are the effects that healthy foods have on the brain. Children who eat a nutritious diet are more alert in school and make better grades than those who eat poorly, according to clinical dietitian Debby Boutwell, RD, CSP. Healthy foods shouldn't be confined to mealtimes. Pack your child a snack instead of relying on the often-unhealthy choices available in vending machines. Granola mixtures, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and other foods that don't need to be refrigerated are good choices. And don't forget the water -- one of the main signs of dehydration is fatigue.
Alert and Awake
Certain foods help you feel more alert and awake, which in turn increases concentration. Healthy foods that contain natural sugars -- such as peaches, strawberries, pineapple and oranges -- give your energy a boost, which increases alertness. And speaking of oranges, citrus fruits help wake you up with their sharp scents. But even non-citrus fruits can play a part in alertness -- maintaining even blood-sugar levels is helped by the potassium in bananas, so your child's energy level won't spike with her snack and then crash when she's at her desk. Also excellent are foods that contain energy-boosting nutrients: B-complex vitamins are found in the choline that fills hard-boiled eggs; and protein, fiber and omega-3 fatty acids are found in high amounts in some fish, nuts and seeds.
Crunch and Munch
Crunchy foods wake us up because we have to work harder to consume them, and that satisfying crunch engages the ears as well. The more senses involved in eating, the more likely we are to become more alert. Choose crunchy foods that also contain nutrients that will give the body a healthy boost of energy -- for example, raw almonds contain a nice dose of protein, and no other nut has a higher concentration of omega 3s than walnuts do. Apples are kid-friendly crunchy snacks that are loaded with fiber; vitamin-filled carrot sticks contain potassium, which helps to control blood-sugar spikes and crashes; and red and yellow bell peppers are stuffed with six carotenoids, as well as vitamins C and E. Even a crunchy piece of dark chocolate -- the darker, the better -- can wake you up a bit. Cacao boosts energy and increases focus, according to dietitian Kim Stinson-Burt, as reported in the Huffington Post article "Food For Energy: 16 Foods That Will Wake You Up."
Work That Jaw
Chewing chewy food is work -- and you can't do it half asleep. Like crunchy foods, chewy snacks can help a child feel more alert simply because of the effort it takes to consume these foods. Granola bars, which are often held together with caramel, are a chewy choice -- just choose the ones that are low in sugar. Fruit leather is another healthy, chewy snack, and the fiber in fruit will give your child a steady supply of energy -- but again, choose a brand that does not have added sugar. Whole grains contain complex carbohydrates, fiber and B-vitamins that will all help your child stay alert, so try a small, chewy bagel topped with low-fat cream cheese for a healthy snack that will keep your child's brain and body going strong.
It's one thing for a child to be tired occasionally or have periods of fogginess, but it's quite another for a child to be excessively sleepy. If your child just never seems to be alert and fully awake -- even though he's getting plenty of sleep -- it's time to see a doctor. The doctor will be able to rule out or identify health issues that might be contributing to your child's excessive sleepiness, such as narcolepsy, sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome.