Why food matters
Too many families continue to disregard the guidelines to healthy eating, considering them to be from those on the fringe, or tree-hugging fanatics. They consider all the contents of supermarket food isles as being appropriate foods for growing children – and feel that denying children the foods they prefer is unfair.
Yet the evidence is clear, and those of us who work with young learners have proved over and over again that children who struggle at school improve when their diets are altered.
We know that children need appropriate foods to support their growth and development – but there is a huge body of research showing conclusively that what children eat also affects their mood and learning. A truly healthy diet can enhance concentration and memory, improve moods, moderate behaviours, increase energy and generally lead to improved academic performance.
All children deserve the opportunity to be successful, happy, healthy and resilient.
Providing and promoting healthy foods is a first step towards this goal.
A healthy diet means that families should be eating plenty of nutritious, minimally processed foods from the five food groups:
- vegetables and legumes/beans
- whole grains (no refined flours, or cereal products)
- lean meat and poultry, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds
- milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or their alternatives
Foods and drinks to avoid are those that are nutritionally poor, like sweets, chips, fried foods, white flours, baked goods and processed meats. These have been linked to emotional and behavioural problems in children and adolescents.
What have schools to do with this?
Schools can play a key role in influencing healthy eating habits by enforcing healthy choices being available in tuck shops and giving clear guidelines as to what learners should have in their school lunch-boxes. Teachers should also be role models and be seen to drink water often and enjoy wholesome foods themselves. Rewarding children with lollipops or other sweets should not happen either.
In short, homes and schools should work together to encourage healthier eating habits. Childhood and adolescence is a key time to build lifelong habits and learn how to enjoy healthy eating.