Any teacher will tell you how difficult it can be to keep students focused after lunch. Some schools in Australia have tackled the ‘afternoon slump’ by scheduling lunch earlier or allowing students to snack throughout the day.
These solutions can help improve learning, but they’re not available at all schools. The best way to help your child stay focused in the afternoon is by choosing the right foods for their lunchbox.
School lunches should be filling but not too heavy as this will make kids sleepy. Carbohydrates such as pasta and rice should only be eaten in small quantities at lunchtime as they cause blood sugar levels to fluctuate.
The best lunch options for kids are whole grain rolls or bread with a protein filling such as lean turkey breast, chicken, tuna or cottage cheese. Chickpeas and fava beans provide energy without blood sugar spikes. Fresh fruits and crunchy vegetables, boiled eggs and nuts are also nutritious and easy to snack on.
Yoghurt is a good choice for school lunchboxes and there is evidence that whole milk is better than low-fat options as it helps children stay fuller for longer. The less added ingredients in yoghurt the better.
Getting enough water during the school day is very important as dehydration often mimics hunger, causing kids to overeat. When students are hydrated, they are more alert and focused in class. It’s important to provide a water bottle in your child’s lunchbox and make sure they can refill it easily at school.
Nutritionists believe that everyone should eat five small meals a day rather than three large ones to assist with digestion and concentration. ‘Grazing’ distributes energy and prevents blood sugar spikes.
This is difficult at school when students have limited time for morning and afternoon breaks, but you can encourage your child to spread their eating out by having half a sandwich or roll for morning tea and the other half for lunch.
Providing other light snacks such as carrot and celery sticks, berries, bananas and nuts allows them to eat until they are full, without feeling heavy. Jazz these up with a tub of hummus for the vegetables or yoghurt with the fruit and nuts.
Kids who have a variety of healthy foods to snack on through the day are less likely to come home starving, reducing after-school binging.