How Does Food in Class Affect Children in School?

If you’ve ever tried to complete a task on an empty stomach, you understand the critical connection between nutrition and concentration. Still, even though studies show a direct correlation between healthy eating and focus on learning, many students leave the house in the morning with rumbling stomachs or skip lunch, hoping to sneak in snacks throughout the day. Despite this, widespread allergy concerns, rising obesity rates and budget cuts are forcing some school districts to clamp down on allowing food and drinks in the classroom, while other schools may encourage healthy snacking to promote learning.

There are pros and cons to allowing students to eat in the classroom. (Image: Robert Mandel/iStock/Getty Images)

Negative Effect: Allergies

Life-threatening peanut allergies are typically the No. 1 reason schools forbid food in the classroom. According to the National Peanut Board, food allergies of all types affect approximately 4 to 6 percent of school-age children. While some students develop a rash or stomach pain from being exposed to nuts, other students may experience anaphylaxis, a systemic bodily response which can be potentially life threatening. Also, because nut proteins are often food in other foods, school districts across the country have taken drastic steps to eliminate all foods in classrooms.

Negative Effect: Distraction and Mess

If you’ve ever tried to concentrate or watch a movie while someone sitting close to you was gnawing on a crunchy snack, you know how distracting food can be. This is another reason schools tend to outlaw classroom eating. The smells of certain foods may bother some students, or amplify hunger pangs in other, snack-less students. Moreover, eating in class can create messes and disrupt the learning process.

Positive Effect: Energy and Focus

Giving students a short break to allow them to eat a healthy snack can help to encourage concentration and reenergize tired students. Snack breaks can be especially helpful for high school students who are on block schedules, have unusually long class periods, such a labs, or who eat late lunches. In addition, school-sponsored breakfasts or snack breaks can help students perform better on standardized tests.

Positive Effect: Camaraderie

Class parties with food can promote healthy learning and encourage peer interaction. For instance, celebrating a student’s birthday with cupcakes or other treats can help students feel welcome and excited to be a part of a class. For older students, preparing a theme-based party as a class project, such as a party related to a novel being read in class, can allow students to think creatively while learning and having fun.

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