The Douglas County School District (DCSD) in the south Denver metro area is curbing hunger to promote learning.
Kids need consistent nutrition in order to maintain peak learning capacity. Studies show that students who receive adequate nutrition and physical activity are less likely to miss class, will perform better on standardized tests, and make fewer visits to the school nurse.
Ensuring that kids get the energy they need throughout the school day is challenging for parents and teachers alike. Once students are in the classroom, several hours of learning pass by before they eat lunch. During this time, hunger creeps in, leading to shortened attention spans, plummeting energy levels, and less focus on learning.
What can be done about the hunger that strikes between meals at school? Handing out candy or cupcakes for a classroom celebration does not cut it. “Treats” like that are nutritionally empty and high in sugar. Students need balanced, healthy snacks to tide them over until their next opportunity for a meal.
The district’s Nutrition Services Department has taken this issue on with the introduction of Nutrition Breaks, a program to deliver healthy, tasty and inexpensive snack to classrooms between meals daily – just when students need it most. These breaks are like a mini-meal and include fruit, veggies and other nutrient-rich foods.
Snack examples include a fruit and yogurt parfait, chef’s granola bar (nut free, of course), fruit smoothies, and string cheese with apple wedges. Produce will vary seasonally and will be Colorado grown whenever possible.
DCSD’s nutrition breaks are currently being piloted in three elementary schools before scaling up district-wide next school year. The program will be closely monitored to ensure success at each step.
Some parents and teachers have expressed concern about taking away instruction time to feed the students, but the benefits of these nutrition breaks are expected to outweigh the drawbacks.
School Nutrition Services staff is being trained to deliver the snacks as efficiently as possible (3-5 minutes per class) in order to avoid disrupting class time. Potential for messes is taken into consideration as snack menus are developed, and snacks are being packed in ways to minimize trash. The intent is that any classroom time missed will be made up in improved concentration on behalf of the students.
Given the district’s high nutrition standards, nutrition breaks will contribute toward healthier diets, increased learning capacity, better behavior, and smarter students.
If you would like to provide feedback or join this conversation, find DCSD’s Nutrition Services at www.facebook.com/schoolnutrition.