Lunch and Learning: The Links Between Nutrition and Student Success
Most of the time, parents have a pretty good idea about what their child is eating. Some may even carefully control what nutrients their children consume daily. However, there is one particular place where parents cannot keep a watchful eye on their child’s food intake, a place that their child will spend a significant portion of their day: school. While it’s likely few people can say that school lunches were their favorite meals growing up, many schools today are working to improve their food offerings’ nutrition and taste. What drives this push for better school lunches is the ever-growing body of evidence linking nutrition to academic performance and positive behavior. Here are three key takeaways about the importance of good nutrition and its effect on student performance.
1. Nutrition is essential for brain development, maintenance, and function.
Nowadays, it’s common sense that healthy food is good for you. But modern science has vastly improved our understanding of how healthy food aids in physical health and wellness. According to an article published by the National Institute of Health, nutrition is essential during the first 1,000 days of a child’s life, so much so that “…failure to optimize brain development early in life appears to have long-term consequences concerning education, job potential, and adult mental health.” Beyond these development years, nutrition is still essential for maintenance and functionality. Omega-3 fatty acids, the famous nutrient found in fish such as salmon and sardines, has been cited in countless studies as a possible preventative measure for Alzheimer’s disease. In this study published by the National Library of Medicine, researchers found that “[people] who consumed fish once per week or more had 60% less risk of Alzheimer’s disease compared with those who rarely or never ate fish.” In addition, omega-3s have been used to treat mood disorders and aid patients recovering from traumatic brain injuries. Students should eat fish 2-3 times a week to get an ample amount of omega-3 fatty acids in their diet, though there are also vegetarian sources of omega-3s as well. Fortunately for our students, the cafeteria at RAS offers fish on the menu every week, with dishes such as Perch Fillets with Ginger and Spring Onions, Baked Fish in Lemon Cream Sauce, and Tuna Croissant Sandwich.
2. Proper nutrition is linked to better behavior.
When most people think of their food’s nutritional content, they consider the health benefits and energy boost as the primary advantages, but did you know that a person’s diet can heavily influence behavior? In an article published by the National Institute for Student-Centered Learning, the effects of nutrition on behavior are exemplified by the story of a particularly troubled high school in the United States. Before implementing healthier food options, this school, “. . .had one of the highest dropout and expulsion, drug use, weapons possession, and suicide rates in the state.” After changing the lunch menu to offer more nutritious food options for students, the criteria mentioned above declined significantly. Another example can be found in the book Smart Moves by Carla Hannaford, a neurophysiologist and educator, where she describes one example of how food intake directly affects behavior, “. . . without sufficient water, amino acids, complex carbohydrates and sugars, and good fats, our frontal lobes do not function properly. We are unable to self talk, control our behaviors, plan ahead, speak articulately, display integrated motor skills, or think before acting.” These behaviors are integral to student success, whether it’s a group project in science class or a game of kickball in P.E., and teachers can truly focus on providing the best learning environment in the absence of student behavioral issues.
3. School lunch nutrition is directly related to higher test scores.
Everyone knows that studying, practicing, and reviewing are sure-fire ways to prepare for a test, but can nutrition affect test scores in a meaningful way? A study conducted by the University of California-Berkeley, in conjunction with the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture, focused on the impact school lunch nutrition may have on student academic performance. The researchers looked at the Healthy Eating Index (HEI) of cafeteria vendors from all elementary, middle, and high schools in California. The HEI is a scale created by the USDA to ascertain how well the nutritional value of a vendor’s food matches the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Researchers compared the HEI values of each school cafeteria vendor along with five years of each school’s standardized test results to determine if there is a correlation between the nutritional value of school meals and student achievement, and their results were quite astounding, “We find that contracting with a healthy meal vendor increases test scores by 0.03 to 0.04 standard deviations.” While the increase may seem marginal, school cafeteria food nutrition is a variable that schools can control and, therefore, must not ignore.
Although a student’s achievement is mainly dependent on their own hard work, it is essential that schools do everything in their power to give students what they need to succeed, and it is obvious that nutrition impacts academic performance. Raffles American School follows its own nutritional guidelines, and our offerings match up nicely with the recommendations offered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The RAS cafeteria serves meals rich in protein, vegetables, and grains while limiting sugar and salt. Furthermore, our cafeteria never uses artificial coloring, MSG, or heavily processed foods in its recipes. The majority of our dishes, such as Roasted Egg Curry, Irish Lamb Stew, and Steak Fajitas, are rich in Vitamin B6, B12, Choline, and Iron, which are nutrients integral to cognitive function according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information.
You can check the Cafeteria section of the News Desk on the RAS website every week to see the delicious and nutritious meals we’re preparing for our students.
“We pride ourselves on providing the best quality food to our students. Our daily meals consist of fresh ingredients, and our kitchens are free from pork, MSG, and peanuts in all cooking.”