Healthy meals and education are partners when it comes to child wellness. When we think about which tools kids need to be prepared for classroom learning, the things that come to mind first are often books, computers, pencils, and notebooks. But when it comes to setting students up for success in an academic environment, there’s something even more important than the school supplies they carry: the food in their bellies.
The Impact of Healthy Meals and Education
Serving breakfasts and lunches are some of the most important programs that districts can put in place to help kids K-12 do well in school. Welcoming kids to school in the morning with a balanced meal gets them ready to start their day on a positive note: eating breakfast has been shown to decrease tardiness and suspensions and improve student behavior and attentiveness.
Many Children Miss Out on Breakfast
There are a variety of reasons why kids may not have breakfast at home. Like many adults, some children just don’t have an appetite shortly after waking up. Sometimes, getting the whole family dressed and out the door in the morning leaves little or no time for breakfast. In other households, food is scarce, and breakfast simply isn’t an option. Serving breakfast to all students regardless of whether or not they have access to it at home is one way schools can help make sure every kid begins the school day on the same page and reduces any stigmas.
While breakfast builds the foundation, a healthy lunch is key to learning, too: children who don’t have access to nutritious food mid-day may have difficulty learning, taking tests, and are more likely to display mood and behavioral problems. They also run out of energy for healthy activities shown to reduce childhood obesity during recess, gym class, and after-school sports.
Offering Healthy Meals in School
So what do nutritious school breakfasts and lunches look like? The USDA School Lunch Program requires at least one cup of fruit and one cup of vegetables, two ounces of whole grains, two ounces of meat/meat alternative, and one cup of milk per day. These portion sizes can vary too depending on the child’s age. These are offered in various combinations to make sure dietary guidelines are met on any given day.
Offering choices and variety whenever possible empowers kids to have a say in what goes on their breakfast and lunch trays, and they’ll be more likely to eat what they’ve selected for themselves. We can provide food set out as a variety of vibrant veggies and hummus, make-your-own versions of assembled entrees like tacos, and seasonal or festive specials.
Another successful tactic is to help kids make the connection between good nutrition and feeling well. While the idea of eating healthy might not sound very exciting to a third grader, the ability to get smarter, faster, stronger, and feeling great are more appealing—so emphasizing those “whys” when we talk about smart food choices can provide the motivation students need to succeed. These are discussions that can be integrated into a variety of opportunities throughout the school day, including in classroom lessons, in gym class, and in the cafeteria itself.
Do You Want to Better Serve Your Students?
Need a hand making healthy and enticing breakfasts and lunches an affordable, easy reality at your school? Get in touch with our educational food service professionals today.