Brain-boosting foods for exam time

8th November 2021 | Susie Burrell

Perhaps one of the most important events in the school calendar, the end of year exam period can be a stressful time – for students and parents alike. An essential part of exam preparation and performance involves keeping those young minds fuelled with healthy energy. But with endless aisles now dedicated to snacks of all descriptions at the supermarket, it’s getting harder to find the most beneficial brain-boosting foods to increase productivity and provide study-fatigued students with a mind and body recharge. For this reason, it’s more important than ever to know which foods are best for supporting optimal cognitive function. And so, to help your kids get through this year’s exams with flying colours, I’ve outlined some of the best nutrient-rich brain-boosting foods below.

Brain-boosting foods: peanuts

The power of peanuts

When it comes to specific brain-boosting foods, there’s a growing body of research that’s linked regular peanut consumption and cognitive functioning. Peanuts are also a good source of plant-based omega-3 fatty acids, protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals. So incorporating nutrient-rich foods like unsalted peanuts or a natural peanut butter ensures young people have the brain fuel they need to concentrate and perform at school.

Similarly, other foods that have been shown to support cognitive function and boost brain health include blueberries, eggs, broccoli, pumpkin seeds and fatty fish.

Brain-boosting foods: blueberries

Blueberries for brain power

Blueberries are a super source of flavonoids, antioxidant-rich compounds found naturally in many fruits and vegetables. A recent study from the UK found that a flavonoid-rich blueberry drink improved reaction times, verbal memory performance and recall in children. Further, flavonoids have been found to improve connections between nerve cells, especially in the areas of the brain associated with learning and memory. So a blueberry smoothie could be the perfect study drink to keep that brain in top gear between meals.

Fish and seeds for smarts

Fatty fish like salmon and pumpkin seeds both contain omega-3 fatty acids. When it comes to the brain, these essential nutrients play a role in keeping your memory sharp and improving your mood. Both fatty fish and pumpkin seeds are also rich in protein, which helps your brain’s nerve cells to communicate which each other.

Brain-boosting foods: broccoli

Broccoli for memory

While it might not be everyone’s favourite, broccoli has anti-amnesic properties, which means it helps preserve memory. It’s also rich in vitamin K, which enhances cognitive function and improves brain power. Getting young people to eat broccoli is hard at the best of times, but perhaps the promise of a better final mark might get them over the line.

Eggs for excellence

Eggs are a rich source of B vitamins and choline. B vitamins help to boost energy levels and brain function, while choline is important for creating the neurotransmitters (molecules that transmit messages between nerve cells) that are responsible for mood and memory. They’re also the ideal breakfast food to kick off a hard day’s cramming.

Brain-boosting foods: peanut butter

Brain-boosting breakfasts

But what if your kids prefer breakfast on the go? Firstly, you can try adding a serving of natural peanut butter to their morning smoothie. Or you could make an overnight chia pudding with swirls of peanut butter for a boost of plant-based omega-3 fatty acids.

Alternatively, you can’t go wrong with smearing peanut butter on two slices of wholemeal toast, topped with their favourite fruit like bananas or strawberries. For an extra boost of omega-3 goodness, Mayver’s Omega-3 Super Peanut Butter is packed with healthy fats.

Healthy snack plate

Brain-boosting snacks

Even if they’re not fussy eaters, it can be a challenge to get your kids to choose nutritious snacks over highly processed ones. But nutritious snacks don’t need to be boring, and there are things you can do to have your kids coming back for seconds or thirds.

My first tip is to incorporate variety. Creating a snack plate is a great way to do this. I try to include a variety of vegetable sticks and cut-up fruit to help increase their daily serves of fruit and vegies before dinner. If getting your child to eat fresh fruit and vegetables is a challenge, serving it alongside hummus or peanut butter as a dip can help. You can also try blending peanut butter and vanilla Greek yoghurt or peanut butter and honey together.

Secondly, there are always going to be times when your kids will want a treat. My advice is to lean into this by creating a homemade version of the same snack. For example, my brain-boosting bars are an easy homemade option, as you can cut the bars to the size you want. You could also try my peanut butter and banana muffins. You can find the recipes below.

Looking for more brain food tips to get you through the exams? Check out this advice from senior dietetic advisor at Dietitians Australia, Simone Austin.

Brain-boosting bars

Brain-boosting bars

These brain-boosting breakfast bars are as tasty as they are nutritious. They contain ingredients such as rolled oats and peanut butter with an added boost of omega-3s. They’re best enjoyed alongside a serving of fresh fruit such as bananas or strawberries.

Makes 9-12 bars
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cooking time 35-40 minutes

You’ll need:

2 cups raw oats
¾ cup Mayver’s Omega 3 Super Peanut Butter
1 cup wholemeal self-rasing flour, sifted
1 tsp baking powder
1 cup milk
⅓ cup maple or golden syrup
1 egg, beaten
Vanilla drops
1 large banana
Coconut flakes for topping


1. Preheat oven to 160˚C.
2. Combine oats, flour and baking powder in a bowl. In a separate bowl, combine milk, syrup, peanut butter, egg and vanilla.
3. Combine and fold in chopped banana. Pour mixture into a square baking tin. Top with coconut flakes and an extra drizzle of peanut butter.
4. Bake for 35-40 minutes until cooked through. Once cooled, cut into individual bars.

Peanut butter and banana muffins

Peanut butter and banana muffins

These muffins provide a nutritious solution for the first meal of the day. However, I’d prepare them over the weekend, ahead of the busy Monday morning school rush.

Serves 12
Prep and cooking time 45 minutes

You’ll need:

125g blanched almond meal
100g brown rice flour
50g tapioca flour
60g rolled oats
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp crunchy peanut butter
220g ripe bananas (approx. 3 bananas)
⅓ cup olive oil
3 eggs


1. Preheat oven to 200˚C and line a 12-hole muffin tin with muffin papers.
2. Add all the dry ingredients to a mixing bowl and mix well until combined.
3. Add the peanut butter, bananas, olive oil and eggs to a blender. Blend into a thick, creamy consistency. Pour into the bowl with dry ingredients, mix together until combined.
4. Divide mixture between 12 muffin holes. Top each muffin with a sprinkle of rolled oats.
5. Bake for 30 mins until golden brown and cooked through.

Susie Burrell is one of Australia’s leading dietitians and a Mayver’s ambassador.

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