Did you know American children obtain 50% of their calories from added fat and sugar? Fewer than 15% of school children eat the recommended servings of fruit, less than 20% eat the recommended servings of vegetables and soda consumption has almost doubled in the last 20 years? These poor nutritional habits combined with a decreased physical activity have lead to a doubling of obesity rates among children and a tripling among adolescents in the past 20 years. And poor nutrition and a lack of physical activity aren’t just related to overweight and obesity, but can also play a role in lower academic achievement. Poor eating habits and a sedentary lifestyle can cause problems with concentration, mood, energy and focus, which all can impact a child’s ability to learn. The good new is many studies have shown that when a child’s basic nutrition and fitness needs are met they do much better in school, attaining higher academic achievement.
Get a smart nutritional start to the school year with these tips to help optimize your child’s nutritional status and school performance.
- Start the day off right by making sure your child eats a healthy breakfast. Skipping breakfast has been shown to have a negative effect on learning and attention, even among healthy well nourished children.
- Sign your child up for the school breakfast program.Studies have shown thatstudents who participate in school breakfast programs improve in both math and reading, have increased attention in class, spend less time visiting the school nurse and demonstrate improvement in behavior.
- Help keep your child’s energy up with healthy snacks in their lunch box. Avoid snacks that are high in refined sugar and artificially colored or flavored. They may boost energy levels in the short term but can cause energy levels to crash leaving your child feeling sluggish later on in the day. Pack some trail mix, fresh fruit, carrot sticks or peanut butter and celery in their lunch.
- Become familiar with school lunch menus. Keep a copy of the current lunch menu in your kitchen. Ask the school food service director for nutrition information and be sure to go over the menu with your child and talk to them about making healthy choices. When school menus offer burgers, pizza or tacos, encourage your child to have a salad, yogurt, fruit or milk with them.
- Get your child involved in planning and preparing their lunches. When children are included in planning and preparing their own meals, they’re more likely to eat their carrot sticks instead of trading them with someone for cookies.
- Encourage your kids to be active at school. Participating in school physical activity programs and team sports are excellent ways to keep your child active and engaged in academics. Studies show that schools that offer intense physical activity programs see positive effects on academic achievement including increased concentration, improved mathematics, reading andwriting test scores, as well as reduced disruptive behavior even when time for P.E. classes reduces time for academics.
- Make physical activity a family affair. Be a good role model and engage the entire family in an active lifestyle. Walk the kids to school, teach kids to ride bicycles and ride together as a family, teach your children the skills they need to jump rope, throw or kick a ball, run and skate and even get involved in your community to increase access to parks, playgrounds, and organized sports.