It’s been one of those mornings.
Somehow, the alarm didn’t go off, and the dog literally ate your kid’s homework. Some evil black magic transferred an astounding amount of an unknown substance onto your middle child’s school clothes, and their backup is in the washer. You can’t find the keys, and the toddler bumped his pinky toe and won’t stop crying.
Your husband forgot his briefcase, and you’re still collecting toddler snacks for a long day out. With a despairing eye on the clock, you frantically shove things into the diaper bag while shouting the time to anyone who will listen!
Finally, the impossible happens; all three kids are standing in front of you dressed, packed, and ready to go. Even the toddler. You do a quick once-over to make sure everything is in place, and then you timidly glance at the clock, sure that you’re embarrassingly late.
To your amazement, you are somehow 10 minutes ahead of schedule! You order your little flock to the car, pleased with yourself. You’re a boss.
Not so fast, Mama. You are a boss, but you’ve forgotten one thing—breakfast.
Can the kids survive on the small granola bar you shove at them from the front seat? Well, yes. Millions of relatively healthy children routinely skip breakfast to avoid being late to school. But, should they?
According to the CDC, skipping breakfast could keep your kids from doing their best work at school. For one thing, kids who skip their morning meal experience decreased cognitive performance, meaning they are less likely to be able to concentrate, memorize, and stay alert.
A paper by the U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health notes that “…it has been demonstrated that dietary intake does influence academic achievement. Mostly, existing studies have focused on breakfast consumption, with evidence showing that more frequent consumption, and higher nutritional quality of breakfast, are positively associated with academic achievement.”
So, the kids are in the car, you’re locking the door behind you, and now you’re wondering just how big a part your kids’ nutrition plays in their education. Let’s examine nutrition’s role in your child’s school success (or struggles) and find out.
Proper nutrition is a crucial component of a child’s well-being. Merely ingesting a substance resembling a meal doesn’t necessarily yield optimal results.
“We know that fuelling children with the appropriate foods helps support their growth and development. But there is a growing body of research showing that what children eat can affect not only their physical health but also their mood, mental health, and learning.”
This Eating Healthy Advisory Service statement defines four key areas impacted by a child’s nutrition. This article will examine the importance of a child’s eating habits and the importance of what they eat when it comes to physical health, mood, mental health, and learning.
Food is information for the body. It provides cells and organs with the necessary nutrients to function properly. Nutrition tells the body what to do, when, and where. Food can stave off disease, and it can even heal to a great extent. Studies have found that children who routinely eat breakfast have higher levels (20%–60%) of essential vitamins and minerals than their meal-skipping counterparts.
Blood sugar levels affect a student’s ability to think clearly, focus, and learn. Kids who don’t eat enough nutritious food will find their bodies rebelling, unable to maintain the energy a child their age would usually exhibit., This state of low energy impacts their ability to perform throughout their school day and leaves them tired and draggy.
Supported Accommodation and Homelessness Services Shoalhaven Illawarra (SAHSSI) notes, “Breakfast is so important because when we wake, our body has been fasting for up to 12 hours…long enough for our blood sugars to get depleted by the body and drop to a low level. Breakfast allows for the blood sugars to return to a proper functioning level and takes the body out of fasting mode.”
A well-balanced diet goes a long way toward raising a healthy child. Lack of nutritious food ultimately leads to more serious concerns, such as a higher risk of obesity and diabetes. Routinely skipping meals can jumpstart a long list of chain reactions in a child’s body, affecting their education and their life beyond the schoolroom.
Depending on their age, some children are moody by nature. The teen years are notorious for this particular malady. However, if your child is uncharacteristically “off” emotionally, you may want to examine their eating habits—or lack thereof.
“It is well known that unhealthy eating patterns can cause mood swings,” Mental Health First Aid explains. “Blood sugar fluctuations and nutritional imbalances are often to blame. Without a steady source of fuel from the foods we eat, our minds and bodies don’t function well. ”
Children who experience moodiness are more prone to acting out in class, having social problems with their peers, and being unable to complete their studies attentively. Regular, nutritious meals can help give kids the tools to self-regulate their emotions and respond to outside stimulation appropriately.
Proper nutrition and regular meals bolster kids’ mental health. Proper levels of vitamin B12, calcium, iron, and other vitamins and minerals make children less likely to experience mental health issues such as depression or anxiety.
But it’s not just food in general that makes a positive difference. Research has shown that junk food, or food without much nutritional value, has a negative effect on children’s mental well-being.
A study published in 2021 found, “The difference in mental well-being between children who consumed the most fruits and vegetables compared with the lowest was of a similar scale to those children experiencing daily, or almost daily, arguing or violence at home.”
Poor nutrition and too much junk food often cause emotional and behavioral problems in kids. Shockingly, an unhealthy diet can put a child at an 80% higher risk for mental health problems such as depression.
An imbalanced diet also leads to key deficiencies. US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health addresses this issue: “Several nutritional deficiencies, such as vitamin B12, B9 (folate), and zinc, can cause symptoms of depression and dementia such as low mood, fatigue, cognitive decline, and irritability. The evidence linking diet to mental illness has evolved from a focus on specific nutrient deficiencies to an emphasis on overall dietary pattern.”
Nutritious food fuels the brain, and kids need that fuel for academic achievement. The CDC notes that something as simple as consuming a healthy breakfast improves a child’s memory and other cognitive functions.
The Food Research and Action Center notes that regular meals improve education outcomes. “Students who eat do better than students who miss meals. Students who consume healthy foods do better than students who pick up a bag of chips and a soda at the corner store.”
Studies have shown that a consistent diet void of proper nutritional values leads to lower test scores. Neglecting adequate nutrition impacts students’ overall academic performance, especially in math and reading.
Deficiencies in vitamins, such as Vitamin B12, directly affect the brain’s ability to process. Grades suffer when the brain is not sufficiently supported with vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids like Omega-3. While supplements are sometimes helpful, a balanced diet with a variety of nutritious meals is still the best way to give young bodies what they need.
Parents can adopt many effective nutritional strategies to ensure their child is living their healthiest life both inside and outside of school. If you and your family need to make some culinary changes, it can seem like a daunting task. Here are a few simple steps to help you get started!
- Be the role model.
Kids Health suggests, “The best way for you to encourage healthy eating is to eat well yourself. Kids will follow the lead of the adults they see every day. By eating fruits and vegetables and not overindulging in the less nutritious stuff, you’ll be sending the right message.”
- Stock a healthy kitchen.
Momcritics offers this tip. “Keep the junk food out of your house, make sure that you stock up on plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables so that you don’t have to go out and buy some when your child is hungry.”
While hot pockets can make for a fun movie night snack, children need a balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, and proteins. The Children’s Bureau offers some wonderful suggestions for balanced and nutritious meals for kids of all ages.
- Implement portion control for the whole family.
From the CDC: “To minimize the temptation of second and third helpings when eating at home, serve the food on individual plates, instead of putting the serving dishes on the table. Keeping the excess food out of reach may discourage overeating.”
- Implement new foods a little at a time.
WebMD offers this tip. “Try one or two new healthy foods or recipes every week…Serve new fruits and veggies in bite-sized pieces, so they’re easier to eat — with dipping sauces to make them yummier.”
- Prioritize breakfast.
The HuffPost suggests, “If you’re running late, go for breakfast meals that are quick and easy to prepare. Just blend together a quick smoothie…Simply blend a banana and some blueberries together with Greek yogurt. It’s that simple.”
It’s Worth the Effort
Your kids depend on you to provide them with the nutritious fuel their bodies need for success both at school and at home. The eating habits you help them form today are the habits they will live on tomorrow. Some days, it might take more effort, more planning, and more creativity than you’re used to, but a healthy, balanced diet is well worth your sacrifice.
So on the next hectic morning that has your sanity hanging by a thread, take a deep breath and remember this: with a healthy breakfast, you’re sending those kids off at the top of their academic game, and they have you to thank for it!