How Nutrition is the Key to Your Child’s School Success

Helping your child succeed at school is a big part of family wellness, but you may be going about things the wrong way. While helping with homework and meeting with teachers can help your children academically, you’re better off starting with their overall wellbeing. According to award-winning child nutritional wellness expert Dayle Hayes, MS, RD, ‘Experts in both education and health are beginning to realise that more attention to children’s bodies will also help their brains work better. Whether you call it the Learning Connection or the Wellness Impact, the message to parents and schools is clear: Eating smarter and moving more are essential for optimal performance and behaviour in the classroom.’ So what does your child need to succeed?


1. Breakfast, Every Day: Hayes notes, ‘Without fuel for morning classes, students cannot focus, concentrate and learn. At home or school (or even in a car or bus), breakfast changes everything. Any breakfast is better than no breakfast and a bowl of whole grain cereal with milk and fruit can actually be a good source of key nutrients. Even if your kids eat at home in the morning, your support for school breakfast is critical for those children who need it. One kid who is too hungry to learn can disrupt an entire classroom.’


2. Safe Routes to School: ‘Some of the hottest research on activity and brain function comes out of Dr. Charles Hillman’s lab at the University of Illinois,’ says Hayes. ‘Brain imaging and other tests show that a simple 20-minute walk can improve a student’s performance in both reading and math. Takeaway for caring parents? Walking (or biking) to school means your kids arrive with brains that are ready to learn. Concerned about their safety? Get your workout by walking or biking with them – or get involved in a Safe Routes to School group.’


3. Active Recess Before Lunch: Hayes points out, ‘Physical activity at recess is good for kids brains (and their bodies) for the exactly the same reasons as walking or biking to school. However, recess before lunch has been shown to have some other very important benefits. When children are active before coming to the cafeteria, they eat better and behave better. Studies show that they actually eat more entrée, vegetables and fruits – and drink more milk. When kids rush through lunch so they can run out to play, lots of food goes into the garbage can and students are short-changed on afternoon fuel. Breakfast helps children learn in the morning, but lunch is just as necessary for afternoon classes.’


4. Comfortable Cafeterias: ‘Sadly, many cafeterias are not pleasant, positive places to enjoy a meal,’ laments Hayes. ‘The good news is that they can be. All they need is a bit of bright décor and adults who are trained to encourage appropriate conversations rather than just patrolling between the tables and telling everyone to hurry up and eat. Parents can help create Comfortable Cafeterias by eating with their children and making positive, pleasant mealtimes part of a local wellness policy.’


5. Smart After-School Snacks: ‘Since children are all-day learners, they need regular refueling throughout the day, including after-school snacks – for sports, homework and academic enrichment programmes,’ Hayes explains. ‘Many snack foods (candy, chips, soft drinks, etc.) do not offer the lasting power that kids need…Fruits and veggies are always good, but protein power is even more important. Yoghurt, string cheese, nuts, nut butters, sliced deli meats, beef jerky, hard cooked eggs and hummus can all be incorporated into at home or on-the-go smart snack routines.’

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