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How Do School Lunches Affect Child Development?

Learn the key nutritional components that keep young brains functioning at their best.

From preschool directors to teachers’ aides, educators at all levels share the common goal of promoting the healthy development of children—whether they are in the classroom or the lunchroom. After all, more than 32 million children in the U.S. participate in the National School Lunch Program, and for many, the meals they eat at school are the only nutrition they receive in a day.1

Educators carry a great deal of influence with students and their families. This ties into an important part of your job—encouraging students and their families to understand and make healthy nutritional choices. That’s one reason why many traditional and online education degree programs reinforce the importance of understanding the impact nutrition has on a child’s development and growth.

How Do School Lunches Affect Child Development?

If you enroll in an online bachelor’s degree program in education with a curriculum that includes childhood nutrition, you will be exposed to a wide range of research about the effects food has on academic performance. One particular research project identified five key nutritional elements children need and how they contribute to proper brain functioning:2

  • PROTEIN is used to make the most of the body’s tissue, including the transfer of information from one brain cell to another. Protein is generally found in meat, fish, milk, and cheese. A lack of protein was determined to be a culprit in poor school performance and also contributed negatively to aspects of social and emotional development, causing children to be lethargic, withdrawn, and passive.
  • CARBOHYDRATES break down into glucose and provide energy for the brain. They are commonly found in grains, fruits, and vegetables. When a child’s carbohydrate levels fluctuate, they can feel dizzy and confused, which negatively affects cognitive performance. When too many carbohydrates are consumed, a child will feel sluggish.
  • FAT makes up more than 60% of the brain and can impact a child’s mood. Omega-3 fatty acids are key to optimum performance of the brain, while a lack of these fatty acids can lead to depression, poor memory, and even a low IQ.
  • VITAMINS and MINERALS are important for proper brain function. Vitamins A, C, E, and B complex—as well as the minerals manganese and magnesium—are necessary for optimal brain functioning, while sodium, potassium, and calcium affect the thinking process.
  • IRON has been at the center of many studies, and diminishing levels of it have been linked to lower test scores, particularly in math.

A BS in Elementary Education is the perfect foundation for your success and can prepare you for teacher licensure. Learn more about Walden University’s online education programs, which include bachelor’s, master’s, doctoral, certificate, and licensure preparation and endorsement programs.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering a BS in Elementary Education (Teacher Licensure) degree program online. Expand your career options and earn your degree using a convenient, flexible learning platform that fits your busy life.


Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,

Walden offers both state-approved educator licensure programs as well as programs and courses that do not lead to licensure or endorsements. Prospective students must review their state licensure requirements prior to enrolling. For more information, please refer to

Prospective Alabama students: Contact the Teacher Education and Certification Division of the Alabama State Department of Education at 1-334-242-9935 or to verify that these programs qualify for teacher certification, endorsement, and/or salary benefits.

Prospective Washington state students are advised to contact the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction at 1-360-725-6275 or [email protected] to determine whether Walden’s programs in the field of education are approved for teacher certification or endorsements in Washington state. Additionally, teachers are advised to contact their individual school district as to whether this program may qualify for salary advancement.