When test day strikes, all of the studying and tutors in the world can’t save a hungry kid from a score-dropping sugar crash. Test taking means buckling down for hours with just a few short breaks. Even after a healthy breakfast, any reasonable person is going to get hungry. Snacks for time-outs are a must-have item, right up there with a No. 2 pencil.
Sugary, carb-loaded foods such as cookies and chips may give kids a quick fix (and they definitely taste good!), but the spike in energy will be short-lived, leaving the test-taker feeling groggy and tired. This just isn’t a good combination when your brain is already being challenged. Proteins, however, fuel young brains without the fall-out sugar can cause later. Joyce Berenson, a dietician and nutritionist from Temecula, California, recommends loading up on lean proteins, healthy fats and whole grains for optimum clarity.
“Studies have shown that healthy fats and proteins, like nuts, sunflower seeds and peanut butter, give the brain what it needs to perform for concentration,” Berenson says. “Even grabbing one of those healthy granola bars is a great way to wake up your body.”
Charis Freiman-Mendel, author of the book Cook Your Way Through The S.A.T., and a student from Hartford, Connecticut, recommends keeping all snacks and meals, even dinner the night before, high protein and low carb. “[Carbohydrates] spike insulin, which causes blood sugar to go down, which causes fatigue and hurts concentration,” Freiman-Mendel said. “Protein keeps blood sugar stable, which improves focus and concentration.”
Here are some winning choices for power-snack ideas:
1. Whole wheat pretzels and hummus. Rich in protein and low in fats, hummus is an ideal snack on test day. Combined with more complex carbs such as whole wheat pretzels or veggies, this power snack can’t be beat.
2. Greek yogurt with sliced fruit or berries. Go for the real stuff here. The first ingredient in yogurt should not be high-fructose corn syrup. Greek yogurt’s protein–roughly double that of traditional yogurt–combined with the slow-burning sugars in fruits and berries mean your brain won’t crash as it might from a bag of M&Ms.
3. Hard boiled eggs. Plain and simple, these bad boys are packed with proteins, and if you buy into the omega-3 option, they are perfect for test day. Omega-3 eggs come from chickens fed a high omega-3 diet and contain significant long and short omega-3 fats, which makes them a brilliant brain food.
4. Protein wrap. Shoot for sliced turkey or chicken, cream cheese, hummus, lettuce, tomato and cucumbers wrapped in a whole wheat tortilla for an all-around solid snack if your student is testing through lunch hour. Don’t make it as large as you might for a normal lunch, but this one will pack a little extra punch.
5. Multigrain waffles topped with natural peanut butter or honey and sliced bananas. Again, this is a high-protein, complex-carb option, with a little natural sugar to keep that brain burning bright for hours.
6. Smoothie. Use a combination of any of these ingredients: low-fat yogurt, frozen berries, fresh fruit (bananas, mango, pineapple), fruit juice, protein powder and honey.
7. Trail mix with nuts and dried fruit. Avoid super-sugary trail mixes, but the protein and natural sugars in fruit are ideal for test day.
8. String cheese with salami slices. Alternate this one with the whole-grain and fruit snacks for a filling snack when your stomach is crying right along with your maxed out brain.
9. Celery or carrot sticks spread with cream cheese or peanut butter. Veggies and a protein make for a solid snacking combo that will never steer you wrong.
10. Whole grain bagel sandwich. Use peanut butter, meat, cheese and veggies to create a larger snack that will slow burn all day.
Keep in mind that all of these snacks should be small and not the size of a full meal. The breaks during the SAT are only a few minutes, and overeating can cause sleepiness. Keep portions light, but protein-packed, and use an insulated lunch bag to keep refrigerated items cold during the exam. You’ll have plenty of time after the test is over to eat a full-sized lunch.
And don’t forget that “the best pre-test drink is water,” Freiman-Mendel says. “Stay hydrated and stay steady with your blood sugar. Sugary drinks and caffeinated drinks cause a quick high and then a crash…not auspicious for test day.”
Sheila Szabo is a born cheerleader, and recovering love addict. Passionate about love, art, cooking, storytelling, and inspiring others, she is currently a freelance creative writer from her home in Northern San Diego. Her work can be found here.