Healthy eating can help learners in the classroom
Research suggests that healthy food improves academic performance. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that eating a healthy diet and being physically active not only can improve the health of students but also improve their academic achievement.
Evidence is evolving, but the CDC says it shows that improving a child’s access to healthy foods and physical activities is linked to healthier students who are better learners. Children can improve their academic performance by altering their eating habits to include healthy snacks in their daily routines. Parents can support their students in developing those smart eating habits by making sure they can access healthy snacks and meals.
According to the CDC, eating well and participating in regular physical activity not only have health benefits but both habits have been shown to improve brain function, memory and concentration. For example, students who eat foods rich in protein, vitamins and minerals are more likely to perform better than students whose diets are heavy in unhealthy foods – such as sweets and fried foods.
It’s clear that better eating leads to better learning.
How Does Food Help Students’ Performance?
These studies showing how academic performance is linked to diet are important to cyber school students because they can more easily set up a healthy eating and exercise routine than students in a traditional brick-and-mortar school who follow a regimented class and dining schedule.
In fact, the quest to ensure students in brick-and-mortar schools are getting all the academic instruction they need throughout the day has led to school lunch breaks being shortened to 25 to 30 minutes, according to the School Nutrition Association. That includes time to get to the cafeteria and wait in line, leaving some students only minutes to eat their school lunch and affecting their academic performance. Experts suggest that not only hinders learning but may be contributing to childhood obesity.
A multitude of study results show the effects of poor nutrition on learning, and they highlight how healthy eating improves academic performance. For instance, according to the CDC:
- Skipping breakfast is associated with decreased cognitive performance – alertness, attention, memory, processing of complex visual display, problem-solving – among students.
- Lack of adequate consumption of specific foods, such as fruits, vegetables and dairy products, is associated with lower grades.
- Deficits of specific nutrients, vitamins and minerals are associated with lower grades and higher rates of absenteeism and tardiness.
- Hunger due to insufficient food intake is associated with lower grades, higher rates of absenteeism, repeating a grade and an inability to focus.
What Are Healthy Choices for Kids?
It all starts with the basics. In order to perform and feel better, we need to be properly hydrated and have a healthy, balanced diet. Here are some of the things to consider if you’re looking to eat smarter and add healthier food choices to your diet.
A University of Lethbridge study showed that water has a significant impact on kids’ biological, neurological, environmental, psychological and emotional wellness. When kids are hydrated, they learn better and absorb more information. Results of the study found that when children are hydrated they feel more alert, energized and focused, and they are less irritable, tired, moody and stressed.
Yet half of all children don’t drink enough water. Kids from 6 to 19 are at least a little dehydrated on a regular basis. When your brain is even slightly dehydrated, it performs 10% to 15% slower. Poor hydration affects mental performance and learning ability by reducing the brain’s capability to send and receive information. By the time children feel thirsty, their ability to pay attention, concentrate and remember things decreases by as much as 10%, the Lethbridge study revealed.
Encourage your students to drink water instead of soda or juice during scheduled breaks to develop a healthy habit.
Calcium promotes bone health and development, but 90% of girls and 70% of boys do not get enough of it in their diets, according to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Calcium increases kids’ energy levels, reduces the risk of illness and speeds intellectual and cognitive development.
The effects of poor nutrition on learning were evident in a CDC study showing that kids’ diets lacking in specific nutrients such as calcium are associated with lower grades and higher rates of absenteeism and tardiness.
Cheese, yogurt and milk can supply kids the calcium they need to grow. If your kids don’t get the recommended amount of calcium daily, reaching the recommended amount as an average over a few days or a week is an alternative to make sure they’re getting the nutrients they need.
Carb-restricted diets may be all the rage for adults, but because we get most of our energy from carbs, kids need an adequate amount. Carbohydrates should provide 50% to 60% of the energy a child needs from food. Energy helps kids fight fatigue, illness and distractions, allowing them to complete their schoolwork and pay attention to their lessons. Healthy options such as whole-grain cereals, brown rice and potatoes will help your children feel fuller longer and will benefit their bodies and minds.
Carbohydrates are not all alike. Processed, man-made carbs – think white bread, white pasta, sugar, cookies, fruit juice – offer little nutrition and are used very fast by our bodies. These carbs give a temporary burst of energy, but soon after we feel tired or hungry again. More natural complex carbs are loaded with nutrients such as fiber, vitamins and minerals. They do not cause the blood sugar spike and crash. Our body breaks them down and digests them much slower, so we feel full longer. Find these carbs in foods such as fresh fruit and vegetables, whole-grain breads and brown rice.
Fruit intake by children has been increasing over the years, but it’s still below the recommended daily intake of one to two cups a day.
Fruits and vegetables are packed with essential vitamins, minerals, fiber and disease-fighting phytochemicals, making for a healthy food that improves academic performance. Berries rank among the best foods you can eat for your memory. Harvard Health says women who consumed two or more servings of strawberries and blueberries each week delayed memory decline by up to two and a half years.
Did you know you get all the vitamin C you need in a day by eating one medium orange? That’s important for your brain health because vitamin C has been found to be important in preventing mental decline.
Experts recommend that the majority of your fruit come from whole fruit, not fruit juice, and the CDC reports American children have been listening to that advice.
Although fruit is always a better snack or part of a meal than processed foods, it’s important to balance fruit intake with vegetable intake.
Depending on their age, kids need two to three servings of vegetables a day. Vegetables are some of the richest foods in fiber, vitamins and minerals. They also tend to be naturally low in sugar, sodium and fat.
While carrots are renowned for their contributions to eye health, other vegetables are superheroes as well. In the vegetable garden, the darker the color, the higher the concentration of nutrients. For example, spinach has more nutrients for the mind than does iceberg lettuce.
Broccoli, packed with powerful plant compounds, contains more than 100% of your daily allowance of vitamin K in just one cup. Vitamin K is essential for forming a type of fat that’s important for proper brain development and function. Broccoli also contains a number of compounds that give it anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, which may help protect the brain against damage.
After water, protein is the most plentiful substance in the body. Protein is the body’s main building block. It helps to form muscle, strengthens skin and bones, produces hormones and moves nutrients. For more proof that academic performance is linked to diet, studies have shown a lack of protein leads to poor school performance and causes young children to be lethargic, withdrawn and passive. So is more protein better?
No. Too much protein can cause long-term health problems. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine recommend 10% to 30% of a child’s calorie intake come from protein. What does that mean daily? Experts say that equals two servings of dairy and one or two servings of lean protein such as lean beef, pork, poultry and fish.
Excessively high protein levels in healthy, non-vegan/vegetarian kids can cause weight gain and organ damage.
Practical Tips For Parents
Feeding your kids healthy foods that improve academic performance is only one thing on your daily to-do list. For healthy kids who are ready to perform in school, it’s important to plan meals that are likely to be eaten but also help your child develop healthy eating habits for life.
Whether you have a toddler or a teen, here are five ways to improve nutrition and encourage smart eating habits, according to Nemours, a nonprofit children’s health system:
- Have regular family meals.
- Serve a variety of healthy foods and snacks.
- Be a role model by eating healthy yourself.
- Avoid battles over food.
- Involve kids in the process.
Today’s hectic schedules can make it hard for families to eat together. It might mean eating a little later after your teen gets home from practice or setting aside a weekend evening when everyone can be around.
Regular family meals provide a time to catch up on everyone’s day. In addition, studies show children who take part in them are:
• More likely to eat fruits, vegetables and grains
• Less likely to snack on unhealthy foods
• Less likely to smoke, use marijuana or drink alcohol
If your teen bristles at the idea, let them invite a friend to dinner and involve them in meal planning and preparation. And don’t nag.
Stock Up on Healthy Foods
Kids will eat what’s there. We know the effects of poor nutrition on learning, so make smart choices for the foods you serve for meals and snacks.
Snacks help kids stay focused at school and on homework, give them needed nutrients and keep hunger at bay. Many kids think snacks are cookies, chips and other low-nutrient foods. It’s important for kids to have healthy snacks such as fruit, veggies, nuts and low-fat crackers.
Offer your kids a snack containing protein and fiber, so they are filling but add quality to the diet. That could include low-fat cheese and pear slices, nuts and raisins or baked tortilla chips with salsa.
Generally speaking, choose whole-grain breads and cereals so kids get more fiber and limit fast food and low-nutrient snacks, such as chips and candy, to “once-in-a-while” foods, so kids don’t feel deprived. Limit sugary drinks, such as soda and fruit-flavored drinks. Serve water and low-fat milk instead.
Be a Role Model
If you eat well yourself, your kids will follow the lead. Another way to be a good role model is to serve appropriate portions and not overeat. Parents who are always dieting or complaining about their bodies may foster these same negative feelings in their kids. Try to keep a positive approach about food.
Don’t Battle Over Food
Parent-child struggles over food don’t have to be your routine. Give kids some control, but also limit the kind of foods available at home because we know better eating equals better learning.
Kids should decide if they’re hungry, what they will eat from the foods served and when they’re full. Parents control which foods are available for meals and snacks.
Tips to help you do that include:
- Establish a predictable schedule of meals and snacks.
- Don’t force kids to clean their plates. It teaches them to ignore feelings of fullness.
- Don’t bribe or reward kids with food. Avoid using dessert as the prize for eating the meal.
- Don’t use food as a way of showing love. When you want to show love, give kids a hug, some of your time or praise.
Get Kids Involved
Most kids will enjoy helping to decide what’s for dinner. Some might even want to shop. These are moments to talk about balanced meals and what’s on a food label. Find age-appropriate kitchen tasks so kids can help but not get hurt or feel overwhelmed. Always thank the chef.
Being involved helps get them ready to make good decisions on their own about the foods they want to eat. The mealtime habits you help create now can lead to a lifetime of healthier choices and maybe even better school performance.
Cyber School’s Flexible Schedule Can Help Improve Performance
The science surrounding health, food and academic performance has come a long way. It’s clear that eating healthy food improves academic performance. For students at CCA, who enjoy a flexible learning schedule, it can be very important to their academic performance to learn healthy eating habits, select well-timed snacks to power their brains and be a part of family meal planning.
At CCA, we know that family involvement is key to success in school and in life. It’s a bonus that better eating leads to better student health and academic performance. If you’d like to learn more about our K-12 public cyber charter school and how our flexible online education can work for your family’s schedule, request more information today.