As a child, my parents encouraged me to FUEL my body and mind. “Eat up,” my dad would say…. “This is brain food!”
Other family favorites were, “Eat up… This is GROWING food!” and the all-purpose, “This’ll stick to your ribs!”
Healthy, hearty food was a way that my parents showed me love and affection, and I find myself doing the same for my son. I pride myself on crafting meals that will power his growing body and hard-working brain. When he has a test coming up, I get SO EXCITED to help him by fueling him well!
Before I get to my “brain food” salad recipe, it’s important to remember that a single “super-power” recipe won’t cut it if your overall diet isn’t (generally) healthy. The foods we eat over the long-haul provide long-term effects, so a single day of brain food isn’t as ideal as months and years (or ultimately, a lifetime) of brain food.
Food is POWERFUL MEDICINE.
The subtle, long-term effects of a healthy diet can help relieve stress, provide energy and promote general well-being… Not to mention provide weight management, clear skin, and ideal “growing conditions” for kiddos. So let’s consider eating “brain food” on a regular (if not daily) basis, not just a “one-shot” kind of a thing.
I created this make-ahead, gluten-free, dairy-free “brain food” salad with broccoli and quinoa for magnesium, walnuts for a nice balance of omega fatty acids, salmon for the omega 3’s, olive oil as a healthy polyunsaturated fat (good for brain function), blueberries for their antioxidants, and turmeric for its anti-inflammatory properties.
Before we get to the recipe, a note about magnesium:
The mineral MAGNESIUM is essential for cellular health and over 300 biochemical functions in the body, yet it is estimated that 80% of Americans are deficient in it! Why? In part because our soils are so depleted these days, but also because our diets often DO NOT include sufficient magnesium-rich foods. If you (or your child) are eating less than three servings of veggies per day, you’re probably NOT getting enough magnesium. Irritable bowel syndrome or difficulty digesting (and absorbing) your food can also play a role in magnesium deficiency, as well as excessive alcohol consumption.
Magnesium deficiency can cause fatigue, trouble concentrating, headaches, and mood disorders such as anxiety and depression.
Need focus? Need to concentrate? You need brain food… You need magnesium.
Magnesium is naturally high in leafy greens, squash, avocado, bananas, pumpkin seeds, black beans, and figs. It’s also high in salmon, coriander, cashews, goat cheese and artichokes. Dr. Axe has more great info here.
Assuming your body tolerates quinoa (a gluten-free grain that I enjoy and tolerate well), my “brain food” salad will help you get your daily dose of magnesium and then some! If you do NOT tolerate quinoa, omit and substitute additional lightly steamed broccoli.
Brain Food Salad
make-ahead, serves 4
For the salad:
- 2 cups cooked and cooled quinoa, cooked per package instructions (1 cup uncooked quinoa + 2 cups water or broth should yield approximately 2 cups cooked quinoa)
- 1 broccoli crown, cut into florets (blanched or lightly steamed is ideal)
- 1/2 cup (heaping!) chopped walnuts (raw or lightly toasted)
- 1/2 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)
- 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
- 2 Tbsp. finely chopped red onion
For the dressing:
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar with “the mother” (such as Bragg’s)
- 2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2 tsp. pure maple syrup
- 2 tsp. Dijon mustard
- 1/2 tsp. sea salt
- 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
- 1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
- ground black pepper to taste
- 1 small clove garlic, very finely minced
- 4 servings wild-caught salmon, cooked any way (I like to bake my salmon with lemon and dill)
- A bed of baby spinach, baby kale, and/or chopped romaine lettuce
Whisk together all dressing ingredients (or shake in a small jar with tightly-fitting lid). Add all salad ingredients to a large mixing bowl. Drizzle dressing over salad ingredients. Toss VERY GENTLY with rubber spatula (so as not to smash the blueberries). Taste, and add additional salt and ground black pepper as needed. Serve immediately at room temp, or better yet, refrigerate for up to 12 hours.
Serve salad on a bed of baby spinach, baby kale, and/or chopped romaine lettuce with a serving of cooked wild-caught salmon on the side.
“Brain food” is just ONE WAY to help with mental concentration and focus.
It’s also important to get sufficient sleep and exercise, and to keep your mind and body relaxed and stress-LOW (notice I didn’t say “stress-FREE,” because frankly, that’s not possible!). Another great way to care for your mind and body is the use of natural essential oils. I’m a LOVER and DAILY USER of certified pure, therapeutic-grade essential oils, and I share some of my tricks and tips for using them for FOCUS in this episode of “She’s OIL That:”
Between consistent intake of “brain food,” general healthy living, and the use of natural alternatives to promote a healthy mind-body-spirit, you and your kids should be SET for your next long day at the office or school, your next big event or test… Or ANY TIME you need an extra boost of focus and concentration!
Enjoy, and tell me: what’s your favorite “brain food?”
Until next time, remember: Eat clean, move every day, and you WILL shine brighter. Lots of love,