Good Food; Good Grades?

Before you buy a computer, new books, or enlist a tutor to help your child do better in school, take a close look at what sort of food is fuelling (or draining) his or her body every day. Some foods are definitely better than others when it comes to being primed for a full day of learning at school.

One important step is to make sure your child gets breakfast. Studies generally show that without breakfast, children have more trouble concentrating and less speed and accuracy retrieving information from memory. If breakfast at home isn’t possible, school breakfast programs may be an alternative. If time is a problem, make bedtime 15 minutes earlier so both breakfast and a good night’s sleep are possible.

If your children aren’t hungry in the morning, look at their evening eating habits. Studies in adults have found that eating large amounts in the evening is associated with the lack of an appetite in the morning. When breakfast is eaten regularly, night-time hunger and eating tend to decrease and, after about two weeks, breakfast is often a much-enjoyed meal.

For children uninterested in traditional breakfast foods, offer a toasted cheese sandwich and applesauce, peanut butter and banana on a bagel, a waffle topped with fruit and yogurt, or a “smoothie” made of fruit and milk, yogurt or tofu.

Children need a good lunch to continue learning well through the afternoon. If your child takes a lunch to school, use the basic formula of combining some grain product (bread, pasta, crackers, pretzels), some protein (meat, dairy, nuts, or seeds), and some fruits or vegetables (or both). A lunch loaded with fruit “punch” and a variety of sweets is not likely to enhance a child’s learning afterwards. When children fill up on sweets, a surge of energy is followed by a blood-sugar drop, leaving them little fuel to learn the rest of the day.

Consider caffeine, too, which is so abundant today in soft drinks, chewing gums, nutrition bars and even bottled water. Because of children’s smaller body size, caffeine hits them two or three times harder than it does adults. They might have trouble sitting still and concentrating on learning tasks. If consumed in the evening, caffeine can make it more difficult for a child to fall asleep and sleep soundly, and that clearly impairs learning. Some experts recommend parents reserve caffeinated products for weekends only, or at least limit the amount and time of day when they are consumed.

“Nutrition Notes” is provided as a public service by the American Institute for Cancer Research, 1759 R Street, NW, Washington, DC 20009