School Psychologist Uses Nutrition to Improve Learning
The following is an article from a Community Grant recipient.
The incidence of learning and behavioral problems in children is rising. Thirty years ago, teachers often had only one or two students with attention-deficit disorder (ADD) in a classroom, one child on the autism spectrum in the entire building, and a few children with allergies sprinkled about; now, the prevalence rates for these disorders have almost doubled. In my routine visits for school consultation, I often see dozens of children lined up at the front office to receive their afternoon medication.
Several factors have been blamed to contribute to this dilemma—video games, smartphones, and social media are accused of negatively impacting our children’s ability to learn—but a crucial consideration is poor nutrition.
The average American diet contradicts common sense. We would not deliberately feed our children Clorox, and yet we do feed them cocktails of sugary, chemically laced, denatured, artificial, and indigestible processed foods. These foods wreak havoc on the hormonal, nervous, and immune systems. They make it difficult to think, focus, and engage in proper social interaction. Children often tell me that they only have one or two bowel movements in a week. Knowing what so many of them eat, it’s no surprise that they’re often moody and fatigued, or that teachers struggle so much with student irritability, anger outbursts, anxiety, and boredom in their classrooms.
Parents, asked to describe their state of mind, also admit to feeling stressed, rushed, and frazzled. Our hectic lifestyles are promoting the McDonaldization of the institution of family. Parents seeking efficient, predictable meals often turn to junk food. But the solution is right in front of us—getting the entire family involved in the daily ritual of selecting and preparing nutritious food has profound and immediate benefits.
Our Nutrition 4 the Growing Brain Program is designed to inform parents about the link between toxic foods and their children’s behavioral and academic performance. We introduce parents and children to a whole food, plant-based diet, menu planning, preparing grocery lists, and delicious recipes to help them change their food choice habits.
Just as people often say, “the family that prays together stays together,” it is also true that the family that cooks together is happier and healthier. Cooking as a family helps children to make informed dietary decisions. It also teaches them to prioritize quality time with family, a lifelong lesson. Family cooking time becomes an enjoyable alternative to digital entertainment, and over time children experience other benefits, too:
Our Nutrition 4 the Growing Brain Program is designed to inform parents about the link between toxic foods and their children’s behavioral and academic performance. We introduce parents and children to a whole food, plant-based diet, menu planning, preparing grocery lists, and delicious recipes to help them change their food choice habits. Participants leave the program ready to create and sustain lifestyle changes, and once they have firsthand experience of the benefits of a low-glycemic diet that is meat and dairy free, low sodium, with little to no added oils and increased organic produce consumption, they’re also likely to spread the word to other families. Through our own unique assessment of a family’s pantry, we help parents see the myth of convenience, which in turn drives their food choices in a way that empowers them to change.
The grant awarded by the Center for Nutrition Studies will help us conduct tasters, demos, and hands-on cooking classes. We’re launching three virtual cooking classes—one to cover each meal of the day—and conducting ten live cooking demonstrations and tasters for families of five. There will also be a field trip to an organic farm for activities and a picnic. All of our education materials will draw on scientific studies, testimonials, and anecdotal stories from families that are a part of The Family Advocates’ network. The project will serve a total of 150 participants (100 virtual, 50 physical) with 15 lucky participants attending the farm picnic.
The long-term goals of Nutrition 4 the Growing Brain include 1) training a half dozen early interventionists—individuals who will be able to go into homes and assess the pantry, teach cooking, and provide nutritional guidelines to families, and 2) partnering with local community food activists to assist families in growing their own food. We also plan on building out our center to host interactive cooking classes for multiple families at a time. In the meantime, we’re creating our first workbook, The 21 Day Makeover – Family, Food, and Fun.
Our grassroots program has already helped many families. We helped a stay-at-home dad who was on dialysis improve his health and bond with his children. We helped grandparents who had adopted their special needs grandson and helped him improve his classroom performance. We helped a teenage girl with anger outbursts and a disrupted menstrual cycle. It’s so important that parents know they can get their children to concentrate in class, get along with others, and develop their talents simply by eating better. Dietary interventions can and should be used as brain medicine, and that’s exactly what we will continue to do.
The T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies (CNS) is committed to increasing awareness of the extraordinary impact that food has on the health of our bodies, our communities, and our planet. In support of this commitment, CNS has created a Community Grant initiative to empower sustainable food-based initiatives around the world by providing grants to enable innovative start-ups and to propel the growth of existing initiatives. Please consider making a donation to this great cause. 100% of your donation will go to support initiatives like the one you just read about in this article.
Learn more about our Community Grant program:
- Becerra, T. A., von Ehrenstein, O. S., Heck, J. E., Olsen, J., Arah, O. A., Jeste, S. S., Rodriguez, M., & Ritz, B.(2014). Autism spectrum disorders and race, ethnicity, and nativity: a population-based study. Pediatrics, 134(1), e63–e71. https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2013-3928
- Danielson, M. L., Bitsko, R. H., Ghandour, R. M., Holbrook, J. R., Kogan, M. D., & Blumberg, S. J. (2018). Prevalence of Parent-Reported ADHD Diagnosis and Associated Treatment Among U.S. Children and Adolescents, 2016. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 47(2), 199–212. https://doi-org.winthropuniversity.idm.oclc.org/10.1080/15374416.2017.1417860
- Fritz, G. K. (2006). The importance of the family dinner. Brown University Child & Adolescent Behavior Letter, 22(2),8.
- Kuehn, B. M. (2008). Food Allergies Becoming More Common. JAMA: Journal of the American Medical Association, 300(20), 2358. https://doi-org.winthropuniversity.idm.oclc.org/10.1001/jama.2008.706
- Nevison, C., & Zahorodny, W. (2019). Race/Ethnicity-Resolved Time Trends in United States ASD Prevalence Estimates from IDEA and ADDM. Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders, 49(12), 4721–4730. https://doi-org.winthropuniversity.idm.oclc.org/10.1007/s10803-019-04188-6
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