Project Appleseed

Eat Your Way To An A? 
The Link Between Student Nutrition And Student Achievement


We all understand that eating right is an important aspect of keeping our children physically healthy, but many parents do not know that proper nutrition is strongly linked with academic achievement. Even fewer people know that poor nutrition is not only a problem for impoverished families – children of all socioeconomic levels can suffer from lower student achievement due to nutritional problems at home. 

According to a study conducted by the American School Food Service Association, children with insufficient protein intake scored the lowest on achievement tests. According to the Food Research and Action Center, missing breakfast adversely affects cognitive performance, memory, and behavior. Research reaching back to the 1950s agrees that hungry and malnourished children have shorter attention spans, cause more disruptions in the classroom, and score lower on achievement tests.


Shockingly, despite the well-established facts that breakfast and well-balanced meals help children prosper in school, one in three children go to school without eating a sufficient breakfast and 40% of elementary school children do not meet their daily recommendations of vegetable or dairy products. Too many children are simply not ready to learn at the beginning of their school day.


Although poverty is the leading cause of undernourished, malnourished, and hungry elementary school students, other children are at risk for the same issues as well. In some cases, busy schedules at home or early-morning extracurricular activities lead to missed breakfasts and unbalanced meals. In other cases, children are eating three meals a day but are not given healthy food choices by their parents or caretakers. Whatever the reason for their lack of good nutrition, all kids that skip a healthy breakfast face an extra barrier against learning.


What makes a healthy breakfast?A bowl of sugary cereal or a processed toaster snack on the way out of the door is better than nothing, but a substantial, balanced breakfast can help your child think and focus all morning. Children should be eating 25 to 30 percent of their daily calories at breakfast – and their breakfast should contain complex carbohydrates (whole grains), lean protein, and healthy fats. Here are some healthy “brain food” breakfasts for kids:


  • Whole wheat pancakes with fruit and nuts on top.

  • Scrambled eggs with whole-wheat toast and juice.

  • Frozen whole-wheat waffles and a strawberry yogurt smoothie.

  • Oatmeal with blueberries and a side of lean bacon or ham.

  • Granola with yogurt and fruit.

  • Wheat cereal with low-fat milk and sliced bananas.

  • Scrambled eggs, vegetables, and cheese in a burrito wrap.

  • Oatmeal or bran muffin with apple slices and lean bacon.

  • Ham and an egg on an English muffin.


Be sure to remember that breakfast does not have to be limited to breakfast foods. If your child prefers other healthy foods, encourage those choices at breakfast even if they are untraditional. If time is an issue, know that you can freeze waffles and pancakes (and pop them in the toaster), reach for packaged healthy cereal or oatmeal, or even reheat leftovers from dinner the night before. Taking just a few minutes each morning for breakfast will have a significant impact on your child’s classroom performance – and his overall health. 


Written by Elliott Shostak