Springtime packs a punch for students. Between tests, papers, school trips, extracurricular performances and jobs, finding the energy for spring’s after-school sports is often a challenge. Time and energy are at a premium. Eating well can help ease the crush.
While breakfast is often tapped as the most important meal of the day, lunch is arguably just as critical for all-day performance, says Sue Moores, a registered dietitian in St. Paul, Minn. “What kids eat during lunch at school should help them stay focused and concentrate for afternoon classes, plus help to carry them through their after-school activities.”
According to Moores, the best school lunch contains foods rich in protein and wholesome carbohydrates, plus foods filled with vitamins and minerals, and some good old-fashioned fiber. This mix of foods provides energy for the brain and muscles that can last for several hours.
Missing out on lunch means missing out in class and on the field. Skipping lunch, or choosing a lunch of chips, cookies and a sugary drink – two options school food service directors say they see far too often at the middle and high school age – is detrimental to school performance and athletic endeavors.
“We know that eating poorly affects a student’s physical and concentration capabilities, so we work hard in our program to make sure we provide good options – foods students like to eat, such as teriyaki chicken stir-fry and whole-grain, reduced-fat pizza, that are created to be more healthful and wholesome,” says Amy Herrold, child nutrition supervisor, Edmond, Okla.
What makes a good lunch? Herrold suggests these options from the lunch line:
- Salad bar that includes romaine lettuce, shredded or diced vegetables, cottage cheese or hard-boiled eggs, a drizzle of dressing, plus whole-grain breadsticks, fruit and a low-fat milk.
- Roast beef or ham sandwich on whole-wheat bread, accompanied by an orange, carrot sticks with dip and a low-fat milk.
- Tony’s LiveSmart Schools whole-grain crust pizza, with carrot and celery sticks, grapes and water.
- Quesadillas or a flatbread sandwich with a mixed lettuce salad, melon and a low-fat milk.
- Turkey/veggie wrap with pineapple and mandarin oranges, pretzel sticks and a low-fat chocolate milk.
- Baked potato with broccoli and low-fat cheese sauce, orange wedges, whole-wheat roll and a low-fat milk.
A good lunch equals better results after school
“On any given day, I can tell you within minutes which kids have eaten a healthy lunch and will be productive during practice or in a tournament, and which ones haven’t,” says Jeff Doherty, golf coach at Edmond North High School, Edmond, Okla., who was recently named one of just 20 National Coaches of the Year for 2011 by the National Federation of State High School Associations. “Food is so closely tied to sports performance. More kids today are realizing just how important what they eat is to how they’ll practice or play in the game that afternoon.”
“Athletes who want to get the most out of themselves and rise to the top pay attention to food,” says Moores. “There’s an undeniable connection between food and performance whether it’s on the golf course, the soccer field, the stage or as first chair in the trombone section.”
Lunch provides the energy and endurance for afternoon activities. A nutrient-rich lunch leaves the stomach within four hours and is in the muscles ready for release come afternoon, when the student really needs it, says Moores. No lunch means no energy. The chips-cookie-and-sugary-drink-meal may offer a surge of “liveliness” but, as Moores explains, is quickly followed by a significant dip in it.
Doherty appreciates the work being done by Edmond Public Schools to provide the best options for students. “The increased attention being paid to nutrition throughout our district and at schools across the country is a benefit to all student athletes,” says Doherty. “We want to help kids understand they’re putting fuel in to run a machine – their body,” continues Doherty. “When you eat good food, it allows you to have better results, and I can tell you, the results are noticeable, immediate and lasting.”