Health & Fitness

Fueling achievement: Efforts aim to ensure kids are ready to learn

Why do we only care about giving our children a good breakfast and snacks on school testing or end of course assessment days?

Think about it. Do we only train the day before a race? Test days are very important — our children do need to be well-nourished and ready to perform at their very best. Teachers send notes home reminding parents to feed their children breakfast and to be sure to pack healthy snacks on this day, because studies show that fueling the brain will mean higher test scores.

But don’t students need to come to school every day ready to learn, so that they are prepared months in advance of their exams?

The Idaho Dairy Council recently sponsored a seminar in Boise with Dayle Hayes, registered dietitian, national speaker, author and cheerleader for excellence in school wellness and nutrition.

I sat down with Hayes to get some of her insights on how wellness strategies fuel achievement. She described the critical components to help our children be healthy, ready to learn and ready to dream.

Here is her daily schedule for success:

School meals/

school nutrition

So, why all the focus on food and nutrition?

An estimated 42-47 percent of students in Idaho public schools are low-income. These students often come to school hungry, and educators often describe these children as tired, lacking motivation, unable to concentrate, having behavioral problems and having poor academic performance.

Most educators are concerned about the long-term effects hunger could have on a child’s education. Hunger doesn’t just affect kids. It affects us all, especially our future workforce and global competitive edge.

Physical activity

When it comes to trends in kids’ activity, everything is heading in the wrong direction.

There is more screen time, less active play at home, less physical education and more desk time at school.

According to Hayes, students who earn mostly A’s are almost twice as likely to get regular physical activity than students who receive mostly D’s and F’s.

In research done by Charles Hillman at the University of Illinois at Urbana, just a single bout of exercise (a 20-minute walk) stimulated more brain activity in those who were physically active before taking a test compared to those who sat quietly.

Hayes suggests that physical activity helps students focus, improves behavior and boosts positive attitudes. Any type of physical activity is good, and 60 minutes a day is best. What’s the best recipe for getting kids active?

Here’s another simple question from Hayes. How many of you like to go out for a run or workout after eating lunch? Then why do we make students do this?

Elementary students who go to recess after lunch are often thinking ahead to recess and rush to finish their lunch rather than taking the time to eat a well-balanced meal.

Schools that offer recess before lunch accomplish several things. First, the lunchroom is quieter. Kids throw less food in the trash can, which means they are getting more nutrition and they drink more fluids. They also spend more time engaged in eating and conversation.

Wellness policies

All schools are required to have wellness policies. If you have school-age children, find out more about your school’s wellness policies so that you can ensure your student is in an environment that fuels achievement.

If you would like more information about school wellness strategies, follow Hayes — and her School Meals That Rock efforts — on the following social media sites:

SeAnne Safaii, Ph.D., R.D., L.D., is an assistant professor at the University of Idaho Dietetics Program and past president of the Idaho Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.