Feeding the Teacher’s Brain: Nutrition Tips for Busy Educators

Teaching is a cognitively complex profession. In the course of a single school day, for ten months a year, an educator must make hundreds of decisions and respond quickly to the myriad of unexpected turns that the classroom may take. This is a demanding, high energy job, so it is essential to prime your brain and body with the right fuel.

But in the busy life of a teacher, who has time to think about healthy eating or the nutritional value of various food choices? Unfortunately, the less we think about what we eat, the worse our diets may be - especially if we default to snacking on so-called convenience foods that are high in sugar and saturated fats and low in nutrient-dense ingredients that sustain energy levels.

Everyone who works has to develop a routine for lunch, whether it is sitting at your desk with last night’s leftovers or your go-to PB&J, or going out to a local restaurant. We all have to make a conscious effort to eat healthy every day.

A teachers’ lounge is often a teacher’s refuge during the day. It offers a chance to connect with other adults and compare notes, a time to ask for advice, a time to vent, or a time to eat healthy - or not.

It is easy after dealing with a difficult student or a difficult class to seek refuge in the teachers’ lounge filled with vending machines, and the occasional breakfast or lunch items with questionable nutritional value provided by the school administration, Parent-Teacher Association, or another teacher celebrating - but that’s a bad habit to get into.
Just like you plan your syllabus for your classroom, plan your meals in advance.

A HEALTHY START TO THE DAY 

Let’s take a fresh look at what recent research reveals about eating the right foods at the right time to optimize brain performance. Beginning with a healthy breakfast can mean the difference between a full day of energetic teaching and starting to feel droopy by 10:00 AM.

We have asked teachers about their breakfast habits and a common response runs along these lines: a bowl of cereal with a sprinkle of sugar and low-fat milk, a glass of orange juice and maybe a bagel. When their energy starts to lag mid-morning, they might grab a low-fat yogurt and wonder why they are starving at lunchtime.

The reality is that this breakfast is heavy on carbs and low on nutrient-dense foods. In contrast, a vegetable omelet with a cup of coffee or tea provides ample fuel to keep the brain firing all the way to lunch. Then recharge at lunch with protein such as chicken or fish along with a colorful salad topped with an olive oil-based dressing and then stay calm and teach on.
Anyone who has ever tried to lose weight will tell you that the process is easier when you plan ahead and know what nutrition you will be putting into your body.

Choose one breakfast, lunch and dinner option each day, plus one to two snacks to keep your appetite in check.

Indulge in non-starchy vegetables in unlimited quantities at any time throughout the day, particularly when you get hungry between designated meal and snack times. And, of course, drink plenty of water during meals and throughout the day.

Your school day may be hectic, but keeping your energy up with proper nutrition will keep you focused on your teaching and your students.

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