Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Planning for Success: A Good Breakfast

Image courtesy of the Pittsburgh Post

Sometimes, things interfere with a child's ability to learn. One thing that has a powerful impact is hunger. Hungry children don't learn as well as children who are well-fed because their brains become consumed with the need to eat. Instead of focusing on what happens when you encounter silent e, they are thinking, "What can I eat? When can I eat? How can I get my stomach to stop hurting RIGHT NOW?" Children who are persistently hungry tend to perform worse on standardized tests (Tufts University Center on Hunger Poverty and Nutrition Policy). One study that examined hungry kindergarteners found that hunger was directly linked to a drop in math scores. Probably reading, too, but they didn't look at that (Food Insecurity and Hunger in the Kindergarten Classroom: Its Effect on Learning and Growth, Winicki and Jemison, 1999).

This may seem like a no-brainer, but it really is important for kids to have a good, healthy breakfast before they go to school, and I would submit that they need a mid-morning snack if their lunch period is more than 3.5 hours from when they ate breakfast. Unfortunately, some schools seem unable to grasp this idea and act like snacks are an unforgivable inconvenience. This is particularly true as you move into the higher grades -- 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th -- but not when you get to junior high or high school -- children that age can usually eat during their passing time between classes without anyone going into a tizzy over contraband food. It's bizarre to me that adults will wander an elementary building with a cup of coffee and a donut or bagel, seldom going more than 2 hours without eating, yet deny kids the same opportunity.

Image courtesy of The Daily Green

So, what can parents do to maximize their children's chance of success in the classroom?
1. Find something healthy (read: balanced) for them to eat at breakfast. If you need some ideas, try The Daily Green and Family Fun for some recipes. Sweet rolls are yummy, but not the best choice to start the day. Ditto for that bowl of Cocoa Puffs.

2. Lobby for snacks in the classroom if your child has to wait more than 3.5 hours between breakfast and lunch. Be respectful, but be firm. Sometimes, you can even make it a medical issue. One of my children gets migraines, which are occasionally triggered by hunger. She is now able to go to the nurse's office and have a snack at 11 o'clock, a full 1.5 hours before her lunch (her breakfast-to-lunch waiting period is 5 hours -- waaaaay too long). Her classmates, however, are out of luck.

Image courtesy of Reader's Go there for the recipe -- yummy!

3. Pack a snack with some substance. This is not the time for fruit snacks and YoGos (these are just candy with a good marketing rep, folks). Pack cheese sticks, peanut butter on crackers (check your school's peanut policy first -- a lot of schools are peanut-free because of allergy issues), protein bars, a bagel with cream cheese, a bag of granola... something that will hold your child until lunch.

4. Pack a good lunch and/or monitor their selections for school lunch. Sometimes the problem is on the other end of the day -- your child has an early lunch and then has a long wait until he arrives home. Be sure to pack lunches high in protein and complex carbohydrates which take the body more time to digest. It's okay to pack treats, but if your kids are like mine, they eat the treat first and may actually ignore their sandwich or cheese or whatever healthy stuff is in there to keep them going. If you pack a treat, make it small. Here are some fun sites for lunch ideas: Family Fun, Raising a Healthy Family, What's for Lunch at Our House (Bento Boxes -- so cool, but maybe a little intimidating), a more down-to-earth take on Bentos at Just a Girl, and lunches for kids with severe food allergies at To The Moon and Back.

Food. It's important. Make sure your kids are getting what they need when they need it.

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