Nutrition and Academic Performance

By Latisha J. Alford and Willetta D. Alford

New shoes, book bags, lunch boxes, pencils, glue sticks, school buses, and long car rider lines…Summer break has ended, and school is officially back in session. Returning to school can bring many emotions- excitement, anxiety, anticipation, or nervousness. Your child may have already received a progress report by now or soon will. One of the most critical factors in school readiness sometimes gets overlooked. Have you thought about how nutrition influences your child’s academic performance? Studies have shown that the nutrients we receive directly impact a student’s ability to focus, behaviors, learning, and memory. 

Good nutrition helps students show up at school prepared and ready to learn. The school day is long. Students must get a well-balanced diet to keep their focus and energy up. We all have our favorite things we like to indulge in, but we should enjoy these in moderation. Balance is key. A healthy and balanced diet includes complex carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats, known as macronutrients. We are often led to believe that carbohydrates and fats are bad things. However, we need these macronutrients to work together with proteins for our primary bodily functions. Proteins, carbohydrates, and fats work together to provide our body with energy, muscle repair, cell renewal, and more. Students have multiple classes throughout the day that require them to exert a lot of energy physically, mentally, and emotionally. The lack of the correct nutritional needs, or malnutrition, inevitably leads to distracting behaviors that can cause a decline in academic success. 

Our priority is to ensure that we are instilling habits that encourage a healthy relationship with food for our children to help them succeed, now and in the future. In the mornings, that starts with breakfast. Do you know why breakfast is the most important meal of the day? It is because “breakfast” breaks the overnight fasting period. When we are asleep, it is the longest time throughout our day that we go without food or beverages. Breakfast replenishes our supply of glucose to boost our energy levels and alertness. In addition, breakfast provides essential nutrients that the body, especially the brain, requires. 

We all want our children to have a successful school year, so here are a few tips to help you on the nutrition side:

  1. Start the day off with a healthy breakfast. Keep it simple and ensure you incorporate foods your child loves. Try to make sure that you include protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fat.
  2. Make healthy eating a priority at home. Teach your child the importance of eating healthy meals and lead by example.
  3. Keep healthy snacks on hand. These snacks can be grab-and-go for before and after school. 
  4. Teach your child the importance of drinking water. Research has shown that staying hydrated has been linked to faster decision-making and improved performance on cognitive tests. Hence, water is essential to our brain’s function.
  5. Talk to your child about what they ate at school and encourage healthy choices, but let them know it is okay to get a bag of chips too. Making healthy choices is not about restrictions. It is about balance. 

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