Maybe you knew that keeping up with your children’s homeschooling curriculum would be a challenge, but did you anticipate that staying on top of their eating schedule could be even more demanding? As parents, feeding our children nourishing foods is one of the most intuitive ways for us to take care of them. But how can it be lunchtime already when you were just in the middle of this morning’s learning block?
Maybe some of you already had the opportunity to observe that your kids can have difficulties concentrating when they are hungry, while overly sugary foods can make them jittery or lead to a post-sugar crash. In this case, you will be excited to learn that providing wholesome snacks and nutritious meals can aid in keeping an even blood sugar level and help your child to stay focused and balanced throughout the (homeschool) day!
The Importance of Good Nutrition during the School Day
What children eat during their day of studying not only impacts their performance, but also their behavior and mood. Research has shown that many popular school cafeteria lunches are actually hindering the learning experience. Saturated fats, refined sugars and artificial ingredients can cause a drop in energy, poor mental performance, and irritability. With that in mind, nutrition can become an important component of your children’s home schooling concept and benefit in setting them up for successful learning.
E-Learning Eating Schedule
Most growing children and teens need to eat around three meals and about two snacks during the day. If you are teaching or learning from home, it makes sense to have designated “snack breaks” at a specific, scheduled time, and at a place that is different from the study desk.
This creates a more relaxed and mindful environment for enjoying your food. Eating while rushed or distracted is never a good idea, even with snacks. (If only 19- year-old me with a bottomless bowl full of chocolate coated peanuts next to her textbooks had been aware of this!)
How to Plan & Prepare Ahead of Time
Preparing and planning is key to keep your children fed and you sane! Keep a choice of healthy snacks handy, so you don’t have to make last-minute decisions about what’s to eat when your child is already “hangry”.
Some good options that can be prepared in advance are healthy granola bars, veggie sticks with hummus, a yogurt parfait with fruits, or a home-made trail mix. Combinations that include protein, like cheese, hard boiled egg, nuts or yogurt, are a little more filling when a smaller snack doesn’t seem enough.
Why Smaller Meals Are Better for Learning
When it is time for a more hearty meal, finding the right balance is important. Every child is different, and depending on their age, development stage and energy level, their appetite can vary greatly. But even the ancient Romans already knew the phrase “Plenus venter non studet libenter!” - “A full stomach doesn’t like to study!” (though the word “studet” can be more loosely translated with “making an effort” in general).
While we have all been taught that carbohydrates are a necessary fuel for our children’s brains and muscles, the quality of the carbohydrates we choose matters. Too many refined flour products can easily make a child feel “stuffed”, “bloated” or “sluggish”, and too many sugary foods can make them fidgety and un-focused.
After a heavy meal, our bodies are busy with digestion, so that the brain temporarily receives less “attention”, blood flow and oxygen. This is completely normal, but it can interfere with a child’s learning experience. In this case, it may be time for a little break, or some physical activity, like a short walk outside to catch some air and exercise.
Preparing Balanced Breakfasts & Lunches
On the other hand, children who do not have much of an appetite in the morning could experience a drop in energy, if they do not eat to restore their blood sugar levels that were depleted over night. They might benefit from a little “pick me up” breakfast drink made with fresh fruits, yogurt, rolled oats or nut butter, or a “smoothie” snack like one of White Leaf Provisions’ fruit or vegetable pouches. Find it here and shop now!
I usually like to make sure that a balanced lunch meal contains some whole grains, a source of lean protein, some healthy fat, and a choice of fruits and vegetables, of which some can be cooked and others raw. I also like to save time and money by using ingredients that can be pre-prepped and used for multiple meals.
Many lunches can be prepared in advance and served either cold or heated up, like rice or pasta salad, frittatas, sandwiches or wraps. All of these can also be wonderful ways to utilize leftovers from previous dinners. Whether you prepare grilled chicken, roasted vegetables, meat balls or a big bowl of noodles, it is always a good idea to make double the amount and save the leftovers in the fridge or freezer for easy future use.
Some of my favorite ideas for using dinner leftovers to make lunch is to stuff them into a piece of whole wheat pita bread, layer them on top of a salad, or roll them inside a whole wheat tortilla. If you have several children at home, this is also a great way to give them a few options to choose from that are all fast and easy to make.
Meal Prepping for the Whole Family
In fact, if your children are older, why not involve them in the meal planning and preparing as part of the homeschool curriculum? Helping in the kitchen is an excellent opportunity to apply math skills in real life! Most children love measuring ingredients and the feeling that they are being helpful.
- While you try out new recipes together, they can learn about adding, subtracting, volume and weight units.
- You can also use the opportunity to teach them about healthy nutrition, learn about their favorite foods, or put them in charge of the week’s meal plan (or just for the next day’s, if planning that far ahead is not your thing)
- Older children can take stock of what’s in the fridge, write down a daily menu and shopping list, or create a spread sheet on the computer.
This is a great way to give children a little more responsibility and allow them the chance to make mealtime decisions. Ideally, It will help to share some of the burden and free up some of your own time for other tasks (or just to enjoy a cup of coffee).
And Remember To Pat Yourself on the Back!
Which brings me to my last-but-not-least point: Cut yourself some snack. I mean slack! In these days, my instagram feed makes me feel like a failure if every single meal for my child is not perfectly color-coordinated, decorated, and cut into heart shapes with a cookie cutter.
But if you are not only required to be a parent, but also a teacher, a principal, a learning partner, a lunch planner, waiter and a short-order cook, this type of multi-tasking is a lot to juggle. My son’s daycare teacher told me the other day: “when I was little, my only option for lunch was a peanut butter and jelly toast. Every day. If I got to choose between grape jelly or strawberry jelly, that was a luxury.”
Now, while PB&J for lunch is not my first choice for daily lunch recommendations, I just wanted to remind you that not every meal has to be perfect. And if you have to compromise on lunch occasionally, you can make up for it by serving a more wholesome breakfast or dinner that day. Bon apetit!
*Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only and not a replacement for personalized nutritional advice. Every child’s nutritional requirements may vary based on its age, activity level, developmental stage and individual needs. Please always speak with your Dr. if you have any questions or health concerns*