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Back to School – A Healthy Diet Enhances Academic Performance

health diet and academic performance

In addition to helping your child with improved study habits and ensuring they get plenty of sleep at night, a good healthy diet can overall improve your child’s performance at school this year.


Each night, you sit down with your child and go over the homework for the day. You insist they read for at least 20 minutes each night. You tuck them in and help them get plenty of rest so they can tackle the days ahead. Did you know that ensuring they eat a quality diet is also an important strategy for helping your kids succeed at school?

A new study published in the European Journal of Nutrition has found that a diet that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fish over red meat and sugary processed food was associated with improved reading skills in elementary school.

Researchers at the University of Eastern Finland and the University of Jyvaskyla followed 161 children, aged 6 to 8 years old, through Grades 1, 2 and 3. Diet quality was positively associated with higher reading skills in Grades 2 and 3, independent of how they read in Grade 1

“Another significant observation is that the associations of diet quality with reading skills were also independent of many confounding factors, such as socio-economic status, physical activity, body adiposity, and physical fitness,” says Researcher Eero Haapala, PhD.

Young children are particularly adaptable to changes in diet. Once they get in their teen years it is much harder, but can be done!

• Before making changes, take a look at your family’s overall eating patterns. Remember that family dinners together (that include healthy meal options that everyone enjoys) are key to improving the diet. Remember that if your kids see you eating healthy, they are much more likely to follow along.

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• Choose one food you know can be improved – such as that boxed macaroni and cheese for lunch – and create a homemade, non-processed version to try at home together. Make homemade chicken nuggets and potato wedges instead of fast food meals.

• Start slowly by introducing a new food each day or a couple of times a week. Include it as a side to their usual favorites. Insist that they try at least one bite (better if they try two or three!) Don’t worry if they don’t like the food right away. It can take up to 10-15 exposures before a child is accepting of a new food.

• Have your child go with you to the grocery store or farmers market to pick out an interesting fruit or vegetable to try. Look up a kid-friendly recipe on websites such as Super Healthy Kids.

• Have your child help you in the kitchen. Or if you have a garden at home, be sure your child helps with the tending and harvesting. If your child is actively involved in food preparation, they are more likely to try new things.

• Make healthy eating a game with a reward at the end. Fruit and Veggies More Matters offers several games to challenge your children to eat better.

Journal Reference:
Eero A. Haapala, et al. Diet quality and academic achievement: a prospective study among primary school children. European Journal of Nutrition, 2016; DOI:10.1007/s00394-016-1270-5

Photo Credit: By Rodrigo Fernández - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons