Food For Thought

Studying for finals requires energy, stamina, and constant focus. You have been training your brain all semester, similar to the way an athlete trains their body for competition. Imagine if an athlete skipped meals, ate mindlessly, and refueled with candy, junk food, and caffeine in preparation for a big race. Without balanced nutrition, even the best athlete’s performance would suffer!

brain-2-graySurprisingly, our brain, which is only 2% of our total body weight, consumes 20% of the calories we eat. This means that eating quality food consistently throughout the day is essential for our mind to perform at its best.

During this busy time it may feel overwhelming to spend time thinking about meals, so here are a few tips to keep your brain out of the fog:

  1.  Eat a morning meal and get your brain into gear! Grab a breakfast sandwich with a side of fruit, a peach farro bowl, or a Sambazon acai bowl. Enjoy a coffee with breakfast, but steer clear of the sugar-laden flavored lattes that can cause your energy levels to crash.
  2. Don’t skip meals. Aim to eat a meal every 4 to 5 hours to maintain a steady supply of energy to the brain. Pack snacks like trail mix, granola bars, or fresh fruit for those times when you can’t squeeze in a meal.
  3. Stay hydrated. Water is essential for delivering nutrients to our cells (i.e. brain cells!) and can help curb cravings for junk food. Caffeine acts as a diuretic, which means that extra hydration is in order if you are drinking coffee, tea, soda, or energy drinks during long study sessions. Carry a water bottle and use the water fountains around campus to refill regularly!

Now, let’s look at some of the brain-boosting foods that can help you maximize your study time.


Go green with vegetables like spinach, kale, collards, Swiss chard, and broccoli! tumblr_nabgwdrqgs1rge63io1_1280Leafy greens are packed with protective antioxidants like vitamins A (in the form of beta-carotene) and C, and nutrients that boost cellular antioxidant defense like sulforaphane, which is found in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli or kale. The good news is that you can find greens all over campus – check out a few of our favorites!

  • Rohr Commons featuring Pure, offers a 100% organic salad bar, that boasts an array of greens like spinach, kale and Arcadian mix, a robust blend of European lettuce varieties including green leaf, red leaf, green tangooak leaf and Lolla rosa
  • Super Foods Salad at Rothberg’s Roasters II. This vegan salad is packed with good-for-you food: kale, Brussel sprouts, Napa cabbage, red cabbage, radicchio, broccoli, pickled carrots, cucumbers, and avocado, as well as plenty of plant-based protein from chickpeas, flaxseed, and edamame.
  • Grab-and-go salads at Rohr Cafe and Rohr Commons featuring Tazza D’Oro – the salad selection is ever-changing at Tazza D’Oro, where chef Anna Calabrese crafts new grab-and-go items based on what is local and in-season.  This fall, try the Mediterranean Bowl made with local greens, herbed quinoa, stuffed grape leaves, balsamic roasted tomato, pickled onion, feta, and oregano vinaigrette.


Nuts and seeds like walnuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds, or flaxseeds may be small, but they deliver big nutrition. They provide a variety of unsaturated fatty acids, which are essential to brain structure and function. A diet lacking in fat can lead to sub-par brain performance, so to ensure you are operating at full capacity, sprinkle nuts and seeds on a salad or grab a handful for a satisfying snack. There are lots of delicious ways to enjoy nuts and seeds when dining on campus:

  • Harvest Turkey Wrap at Au Bon Pain, featuring with turkey, apples, cranberries & walnuts mixed with mayo, cheddar, romaine & balsamic glaze in a whole wheat wrap.
  • UG Fruit and Nut Salad at The Underground – voted the Best Salad on Campus, this sweet and savory salad is sure to satisfy, made with mixed greens, baby spinach, mandarin oranges, dried cranberries, spiced walnuts, tomato, feta cheese and poppy seed dressing.
  • Nourish, an allergen-friendly kitchen prepares grab-and-go items for sale at locations around campus, including Entropy+. Snack on one of three flavors of chia seed pudding, vanilla, chocolate, or matcha green tea, or make it a meal with a chia pudding parfait, served with fruit and granola. 


Omega 3 fats are also known as essential fatty acids (EFAs), or fats that cannot be made by the body and must be obtained from food. Among the long list of omega 3 EFA health benefits, brain development and cognitive function are at the top! Omega 3 fats may also boost your mood, something we all need during the stress of finals week. The most potent sources of omega 3 fats are found in marine foods, such as salmon, trout, albacore tuna, mackerel, oysters, and seaweed. If you prefer plant-based sources, reach for walnuts, soy, flaxseed, chia seed, and pumpkin seeds.

These dishes will help you enjoy the recommended 2 to 3 servings of fish each week:

  • Create your own unique poke bowl at iNoodle with your choice of rice or noodles, vegetables, up to two types of raw or cooked fish or shellfish, and customized flavor with sauces and spices.

Poke bowl at iNoodle

  • The Salmon Burger at The Underground, made with hand-chopped salmon, onion, lemon and parsley rolled in panko breadcrumbs with buttermilk dill ranch on a brioche roll.
  • Nakama Sushi – choose from a wide selection of raw, cooked, and vegetarian options, rolled fresh daily.  Nakama sushi is located in Resnik Servery, but can be found in grab-and-go coolers around campus as well!


Grains provide a dense form of carbohydrate, the nutrient that is most efficiently used to fuel the brain. The best grain foods for our body and mind are whole, unprocessed plants that digest slowly and provide a steady supply of energy. Choose whole grains like oatmeal, barley, quinoa, whole wheat, corn, or brown rice, which will provide sustained energy as you study.

  • Start your day with steel cut oats at Carnegie Mellon Cafe, complete with your choice of custom toppings like flaxseed, dried fruit and more!
  • Create your own superfoods bowl at Rooted for lunch, Monday – Friday, or select one of the daily signature bowls created by our chefs. Select from an array of whole grains, fresh veggies, legumes, and plant-based proteins, topped with a flavorful sauce of your choice!
  • Quinoa Crunch Bowl at Nourish, an allergen-friendly kitchen is a plant-forward dish made with quinoa tabbouleh, crunchy carrots, celery, peppers, kale, white bean-basil hummus, lemon vinaigrette. For extra protein, top with chicken, turkey, ham, roast beef, or house-made vegan sesame cheese.


Just like whole grains, beans and other legumes (like lentils and peas), provide slow-digesting, complex carbohydrates. Beans also pack a full serving of protein per 1/2 cup, making them a great choice when you need your meal to keep you satisfied so that you can keep your mind on your studies. Beans offer an excellent source of B vitamins like folate and B6 that are linked to regulating metabolism and maintaining normal brain and nervous system function. When you order food on campus, ask for beans on a salad, in a burrito, or make them your main dish!

  • Chana Masala at Taste of India – chickpeas are the star of the show in this

    Chickpea salad & mushroom panini at     Tazza D’Oro

    flavorful Masala curry dish.

  • Build your perfect tacos, burrito, or bowl at El Gallo de Oro. You choose between black beans or pinto beans, combined with rice, protein, vegetables, and the salsa that fits your spice level.
  • Chickpea salad at Rohr Cafe and Rohr Commons featuring Tazza D’Oro – this light and flavorful grab-and-go salad is tossed with onion vinaigrette, red onion, red bell pepper, and cucumber. Pair with a panini made with a multigrain roll and a mixed green salad for the perfect trifecta of brain food!


Berries are truly a powerhouse fruit. Due to the high skin-to-fruit ratio, berries are low in calories, high in fiber, and provide a dense source of unique plant nutrients, called phytonutrients. Phytonutrients are concentrated in the skin of fruits and are linked to the color of the fruit. The highest concentration of a group of phytonutrients called anthocyanins are found in dark blue and red berries such as blueberries, blackberries, and cranberries as well as cherries, and red and purple grapes. Anthocyanins have been shown to improve memory, as well as protect brain cells by reducing inflammation. Take advantage of berry benefits by adding them to your yogurt, cereal, oatmeal, smoothie, salad, or simply enjoy them as a snack!

  • Blueberry OTY Superfood Smoothie at The Exchange

    Blue Power OTY, made with blueberries, lemon, vanilla, and hibiscus.


  • At Maggie Murph Cafe, berries are plentiful in the Sambazon acai bowl! Add your favorite sweet and savory toppings like granola, nuts, seeds, fresh fruit and toasted coconut and make it your own!

Carnegie Mellon Dining Services wants to know what foods help you to stay focused during finals. Share your tips here!

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