Every teacher I know will tell you that a student who is undernourished will have a harder time learning.
But for many parents, it’s a challenge to get their kids to eat healthy, truly nourishing foods. By creating an environment for healthy eating at school, educators can come alongside parents to promote healthy eating.
While it’s up to parents to shop and cook for their children, I often work with educators to help them develop helpful language and activities around good nutrition. By modeling some good thought processes at school (and if possible, providing some nourishing food when appropriate), we can help children to engage with—and sometimes even lead—their families in this area. After all, what parent would not want to provide some veggies if their kids are asking for them?
Looking to remove these obstacles and help your students gain focus and have a more productive learning experience? Here are some tips for educators and parents alike that will affect students’ mindsets around food:
- Get excited about breakfast. If kids get a good breakfast, they walk into school alert and ready to learn. Without breakfast, they are likely dehydrated and under-nourished after a night of sleep, and their body will be focused on remedying that rather than on classroom activities. Ask kids to share what they had for breakfast. Whose breakfast had the most variety, who’s took the longest to make, the shortest time to make. With younger kids, ask about colour and textures, Don’t complicate the discussion, but having it allows children to see what everyone is having, and opens up the discussion about variety, why some people eat more at breakfast, or have a staggered breakfast due to morning sports etc. Different cultures eat different items, it is fun to learn these foods and if you can create a tasting, most parents/care givers are happy to help expand others knowledge. Create an expectation that they’ll eat breakfast, and celebrate the good foods.
- Talk about what makes and excellent lunch. Whether they are getting lunch at school or bringing a packed lunch from home, are there a good variety of foods included? For parents who pack lunches, sending home some ideas for healthy lunches can go a long way.
- Ditch the word “healthy” and focus on color and texture instead. Using color and texture as a guide can help children to easily evaluate their meals without any need for nutrition jargon. While they may not know how to ask for healthy food, it’s easy to say, “My plate is mostly white. I’m missing green and yellow, purple, orange, brown and all shades of red.” Kids are willing to get creative in order to fill up on color. Along the same lines, is most of what I’m eating soft? Crunchy? Gooey? Crispy? A good challenge for kids is to try not to repeat a vegetable all week. This requires buy-in from parents, of course, but if we can get the children to start harassing their parents for veggies, that’s half the battle!
- What are the drinks you are packing, I know many people think 100% juice is good for children, but in actual fact it is packed with sugar and also can have a high level of acid, so I can assure you, your dentist is not so pleased.
Good old fashioned water is wonderful, I agree tap water can taste awful as the local authorities do add to it, to kill germs and enhance fluoride etc, but these days you can get filtered water easily, from fridges or water coolers, or bottled water. As much as I hate adding to the environmental problem, it is possible to buy water responsibly. You need to drink a minimum of half you body weigh in oz of water a day, and that is with out exercising. So if you weigh 150lbs, then you need to be drinking 75fl.oz of water. This will allow your organs to be ‘washed’ and help them function properly. If you exercise, live in a hot climate or are not well, you need to increase that amount, so finding water you like is important. We only serve water at meals times, this means all of us our drinking it, and it is just expected. The jug is filled and put on the table every meal time. If the adults are drinking water, I can promise you the children will too. It can take time to turn around habits of soda in the diet, but by making meal times a water zone, you are well on your way to setting a great example.
Schools normally provide water fountains, and if you send your child with a water bottle, they can fill it up from the fountains, instead of drinking straight from them. I send a water bottle in the morning full of ice, it melts and added water also is cooler. I live in a warm State, so ice is the preference! Help your kids to see water as a friend and not the enemy.
How have you created an environment for healthy eating at your school? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.