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A well-balanced diet can benefit elementary school students’ performance in school.

Kelly Christian, a clinical psychologist and clinical director of Lawrence School’s Ethan D. Schafer Center for Learning Differences in Broadview Heights, and Jerry Isaak-Shapiro, head of school at Joseph and Florence Mandel Jewish Day School in Beachwood, said good nutrition can help students sustain attention.

“There is quite a bit of research out there that Omega-3 is a really good indicator of food health,” Christian said. “With that strong food health, you also see kids who are able to sustain attention, when they are able to have good nutrition with Omega-3 added to it. Fishes like salmon and trout. Kids are actually able to sustain attention better, than with a placebo, when they look at different clinical trials of kids. We know that food in general ... we need to be able to power our bodies to feel good.”

Isaak-Shapiro said balanced meals benefit students.

“The research is clear: nutritious food is not only good physically, it also leads to better focus, which of course leads in turn to better learning and retention.”

With so many food choices, parents should be aware of what their child consumes.

“Avoid things with empty calories,” Christian said. “Anything really sugary or high in fat, that’s also empty. Fatty foods that aren’t providing other nutritional support. I would probably avoid fast food items. We just suggest that kids eat well and they eat a lot of what they like. If your kid only eats broccoli but hates carrots, give them a ton of broccoli. We are not too concerned as long as they are getting a good mix of vegetables, fruit, grains, oils and protein. A lot of families are very concerned with their children’s health, especially now. I think we already have this microscope on what they are eating.

Isaak-Shapiro said the lunch program at Mandel JDS focuses on balance.

“Our menus are based on the new food pyramid, which of course isn’t so new anymore: a minimal amount of fats and oils; then proteins like poultry, fish, eggs, beans and cheese; whole grain varieties of pasta, potatoes, rice; and plenty of vegetables, salad and fruit. We don’t serve juice, which is essentially sugar water with a really good marketing plan.”

Parents do not need to be overwhelmed when it comes to their child’s food intake.

“I think as long as parents kind of relax and remember that as long as they are eating when they are hungry, they’re not suffering from a sort of food insecurity, not worried about their next meal and they are eating a variety of things in moderation, they are probably in good shape food-wise,” Christian said.

Isaak-Shapiro noted even lunch can be a learning opportunity.

“Everything in a school should be – can be – an educable opportunity. The dining room is its own integrated classroom: kashrut is of course a central component, as is birkat hamazon, the blessing after the meal. Nutrition is another way of saying ‘science’ and offering falafel one day, authentic Italian minestrone soup another day and stir fry on yet another day offers cultural variety and encourages some finicky eaters to step out of their comfort zone.”

Ally Benjamin is the Irving I. Stone Editorial Intern at the Clevleland Jewish News.

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