Eating for Good Grades
By Brooke Parker
School is fully upon us. My oldest just entered kindergarten so I’m new at being a school mom, and I’m concerned about my son’s well-being while he’s at school. The dietitian in me especially worries about his nutritional health, which affects his ability to focus on schoolwork throughout the day. I believe that this concern is extremely valid. The length of time away from home and accessibility to nutritious foods both pose a problem for optimal energy and focus. The following are basic concepts to simplify the school nutrition obstacle:
1 – Eat breakfast – Breakfast is fuel that will help get you through your morning and power you up for the rest of the day. Take time to eat in the morning. If you have to rush to class or work grab some dry cereal in a bag, a piece of fruit, a granola bar or yogurt, for example. Remember to include a protein food for longer lasting energy.
2 – Keep meals small and frequent – Do you remember how tired you feel after Thanksgiving dinner? Eating large meals can cause drowsiness. Make sure you get the energy you need, without the sleepiness, by eating frequent, smaller meals. This provides a constant source of energy. If meals are not an option, use snacks, either purchased at school or stored in a backpack. Your goal should be to eat about every three to four hours.
3 – Stay hydrated – The first sign of dehydration is fatigue. Often those who feel lethargic assume they need more food when, in fact, they really need more fluids. If you do not have easy access to water, pack a water bottle with you for use during the day.
4 – Always include protein at meals – A carbohydrate-rich meal can leave you feeling drowsy a few hours later. Eating a light meal with a mixture of protein and carbohydrates fuels the body without making you groggy. Try adding deli meats, string cheese, cottage cheese, nuts and even jerky to meals and snacks.
5 – Be moderate with sugars and caffeine – The rapid rise in blood sugars and energy provided by sugary foods and caffeine can feel like just the right answer to a more active brain. But the problem lies in a nutritional law similar to the law of gravity. What goes up quickly, must come down quickly. Sugars and caffeine, when consumed alone, always come down with a crash after the high. The long-term answer for energy is to eat these foods in moderation and try to always combine them with a protein food.
6 – Eat vitamin-rich foods – Antioxidants such as beta-carotene, vitamin C and vitamin E, as well as iron and the B vitamins have an impact on brain function and memory. These nutrients are found in fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean meats.
Balance your diet with all the food groups and your brain will love you!!
Brooke Parker is a Registered Dietitian working for Utah State University. She specializes in Eating Disordered patients and loves helping her clients enjoy food again. She is the mother of three wonderfully active children and lives in Utah. © 2009