The Real Connection between Nutrition and Learning

How Proper Nutrition Improves Learning

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If you want your children at their best and brightest in school—and in life’s other learning experiences—one of the best things to do is feed them a healthy diet. Here’s why.

You don’t hear the aphorism “fish is brain food” much anymore. Still, there’s a fair amount of truth in it—not that fish has any monopoly on nourishing the brain. Most healthy foods—eaten in the right variety, in the right amounts, and at the right times—are assets to a growing (or grown) brain’s powers of concentration and memory.

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If your kids are struggling to learn, the problem may lie in what—or in how—they’re eating.

  • Do they get daily servings of whole grains, fruits and vegetables (without added fat or sugar), and good proteins (fish, poultry, nuts, beans—prepared without heavy sauces)?
  • Do they eat a good-sized breakfast, comprising healthy foods (fruit, eggs, yogurt, whole-grain breads or cereals), every morning? With no breakfast, or with one of sweet pastries and processed juice, body and brain will go sluggish long before lunch.
  • Do they get light, healthy snacks (a lean protein, with a piece of fruit, a raw vegetable, or a small whole-grain item) at midmorning and again at midafternoon? This keeps the brain energized and staves off a “learning slump” before the next meal. If your children’s school only allows eating during official lunch periods, make doubly sure the kids leave home well fueled.
  • Are empty-calorie and “junk” foods kept to a minimum? Not only can these slow immediate brain function, they cause unhealthy weight gain—which may itself divert “maintenance energy” from the brain and reduce cognitive function.

 

Hints for Getting Kids to Eat Their Vegetables (and Other Healthy Foods That May Not Generate Instant Enthusiasm):

  • Never use the “it’s good for you” argument. Trust me, they don’t care.
  • Scrap the “I guess you’re also too full for dessert” technique. Your own eating experience could tell you it’s entirely possible for appetite to revive when something new and intriguing is served. If you worry about your children eating only the less healthy items, just leave those items off the menu.
  • Let your children have some say in menu planning. Adults tend to forget how unpleasant it can be to have someone else’s food preferences forced on you three times a day.
  • Let the kids help with meal preparation; they’ll be eager to eat their own creations.
  • Experiment with a variety of foods, recipes, and seasonings.
  • Don’t serve food bland or overcooked!
  • Serve small helpings to small children; often they leave their plates half full only because your eyes are bigger than their stomachs.
  • When faced with an outright refusal to eat, don’t argue: clear the table without comment and let the kids store up appetite for the next meal. To minimize the risk of long-term problems, keep “empty calories” snacks out of the home (healthy ones are fine), and never let yourself get sucked into the trap of repeatedly preparing separate menus for everyone.
  • Keep the dinner table a pleasant place with pleasant conversation.
  • Set a good example—eat healthy yourself, and enjoy it!