We’ve all heard the saying, “You are what you eat.” But did you know that what you eat can affect how well you learn?
A healthy diet is vital to a student’s academic achievement. Unfortunately, many students in the United States do not have access to nutritious foods, and this could impact their performance in class. Help close the achievement gap created by poor or inadequate nutrition by educating students and their families about the importance of a healthy diet and recommending resources that help students gain access to healthy foods.
Food is Fuel for Learning?
Research suggests that low income students acquire academic skills at a slower rate than their more affluent peers. This disparity is caused in part by higher stress levels, home environments, and financial difficulties. Another major contributing factor is poorer health and well-being due to inadequate diet.
Recent studies also indicate that nutrition impacts cognitive skills, behavior, and health — all factors that affect academic performance. Additionally, children without access to proper nutrition early in life can have slower cognitive development, and diets high in trans and saturated fats can have a negative effect on learning and memory. We also know that a healthy diet can improve cognitive ability, energy levels, and concentration.
Engage Both Students and Family Members
Healthy eating habits start at home, so it’s important to get the whole family involved when teaching students about nutrition. With some fun, family-friendly activities, you can educate students and their families about the importance of healthy eating.
- Start a school garden. Plant popular fruits and vegetables such as melons, tomatoes, peas, beans, carrots, and peppers, and recruit parent volunteers to help maintain it. This activity is also a great opportunity to teach about the plant life-cycle — and students get to eat the fruits (and veggies) of their labor!
- Teach students how to read Nutrition Facts labelson packaged foods and drinks. Explain how to look for healthy ingredients and how to tell if a food is high in unhealthy ingredients such as trans fats or sugar. Encourage students to go home and share the information with their parents.
Host events around nutrition. Engage parents by asking them what types of nutrition-related information they are interested in. Schedule a family night and have students prepare healthy snacks or a nutritious meal to serve while you discuss those topics. Or, reach out to parents in the restaurant industry and invite them to share about their work.
Gaining Access to Healthy Foods
Keep in mind that many students might not have access to nutritious foods. Share these resources with those students and their families to help them get the support they need.
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)offers nutrition assistance to millions of eligible low-income individuals and families and provides economic benefits to communities.
- Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) is a federally-funded program for supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition education that’s available to low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and non-breastfeeding postpartum women as well as infants and children up to age five who are found to be at nutritional risk.
- Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) provides reimbursement for healthy meals and snacks in child care centers, family child care homes, after school programs, emergency shelters, and adult day care programs.
- Team Nutrition offers training and technical assistance for food service, nutrition education for children and their caregivers, and school and community support for healthy eating and physical activity.
- This guidebook, compiled by the USDA, provides helpful information on how folks can apply for food assistance.
A healthy diet is important for students’ health and well-being as well as their ability to learn. Teaching students about good nutrition will set a foundation for a lifetime of healthy eating habits. Educators can take steps to improve students’ nutrition by educating them on how to follow a healthy diet. Getting parents involved is a key part of the process, along with helping families access the support that’s available to them.
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