Nutrition for Learning

How does a mother provide her child with the best possible nutrition for learning?

by Judith G. Cobb, MH, CI, NCPnutrition for learning

Note: More information about the products mentioned can be found at the end of the article.

Moms often have mixed feelings about back-to-school. Some really love having the kids around 24/7 and being busy with family activities. Others need the kids back in school to have some semblance of routine and a schedule. Most are anxious because every mom knows that schools are germ-boxes and no mom wants her kids coming home with snotty noses, sore throats, and coughs. Most moms want their kids to do well in school.

Every mom has seen her child be perfectly healthy and happy during summer vacation, only to get sick within the first two weeks of going back to school. What to do? How can you keep your kids well for the entire school year?

Here’s how!

You need to start now with reducing the sugary summer snacks and treats. Store-bought popsicles, pop, kool-aid, juice, fruit drinks, ice cream, fruit snacks – all are high in sugar. All compromise the immune system. Kids can often handle some of this during the summer when they are active, getting sunshine and fresh air, and can sleep as much as they want. It all changes when they have to get up early for school, are ‘locked’ in a classroom that has little if any natural light, only recycled air, and only 30 – 60 minutes of physical activity per day (if your school allows for even that much phys ed).

Sugar compromises the immune response. Even too much fruit sugar can do this. Remember back to years gone by. When does everyone get sick? Between Hallowe’en and the end of November, and then again after Christmas and Easter. These are the biggest sugar feasts we have.

About two weeks before classes begin, start adjusting bedtimes and waking times. Go back to whatever bedtime rituals have been successful in your home that may have fallen by the wayside with summer – bathtime, snack time, reading bedtime stories, snuggling, prayers. It is easier on the immune system to shift sleep-wake cycles by no more than 15 minutes at a time, once a week. Depending on how much summer vacation has shifted sleep-wake cycles, you may need to start now with getting your children back on track.

Sleep is critical to good health, even for adults.

Start exploring breakfast and lunch options now to avoid stress and arguing when school starts. Clearly, if sugary snacks are not a great idea for the immune system, neither are sugary breakfast cereals, pastries, ‘fruit snacks’ and ‘protein’ or ‘breakfast’ bars. Even fresh fruit and whole grain bread, to the exclusion of proteins, can wreak havoc on blood sugars, the immune system, and one’s ability to concentrate.

Protein shakes or smoothies may be a good option for some students who seem unable to eat before school. Our family’s favorite protein is from Nature’s Sunshine is Nature’s Harvest. This protein powder mixes well into a smoothie, has no artificial sweeteners is loaded with superfoods, is dairy-free, lactose-free, soy-free and gluten-free.

Homemade gluten-free granola or nut-butter cookies, like recipes found on are more great choices. Rather than using cow milk consider using hemp milk. Hemp milk is an excellent source of calcium and does not create the mucous build-up we often see in milk-drinking children.

We know that children do better mentally and emotionally when they have a nutrient-dense, low sugar breakfast. You can google ‘effects of skipping breakfast on learning’ and ‘effects of high-sugar breakfasts on learning’ and come up with study after study that underscore the importance of a nutritious breakfast.

Recess snacks and lunches can be another problematic area. Often, as moms, we think, “I’d love to put a treat in Joey’s lunch. That will be nice.” (smile sweetly) Would Joey get a treat every day at home with lunch or for a snack? Likely not. I’m willing to bet that at home Mom says “grab a carrot” or “have an apple.” Somehow, maybe because we feel guilty for not being able to give them a home-cooked lunch, we find it necessary to be a ‘nice mom’ and give them horrid, sugary junk in their lunches.

What to do about recess snacks, then, especially when so many schools don’t allow nuts and nut products? The Yummy (Uncooked) Protein Snacks recipe on this site is a great one. It is very forgiving. Use hemp butter instead of almond butter and add hemp hearts in place of chopped nuts. Another great idea – our Best Ever, Super Healthy Nut Butter Cookies, because you can substitute hemp butter in these, too. Hemp provides excellent protein and omega 3 fatty acids – both of which are important for children’s health and brain function.

Next, we have lunches to deal with. Experiment with options like hummus and veggie sticks and whole grain wraps.

Younger children often like finger foods – so pieces of cut-up chicken with veggies and dip can be fun. Cut-up fruit is more fun than a whole apple. Sandwiches cut with a cookie-cutter are more interesting than boring old squares of bread. Even interesting containers to pack the food in can help kids eat more and better.

We’ve had fun experimenting with naturally flavored water this year. Our favorites are strawberry and mint. This is so easy to do! To 2 quarts of water add 1 – 2 cups of cut-up strawberries or a handful of fresh mint that has been coarsely chopped. Let the concoctions ‘steep’ in the fridge or at room temperature for an hour or longer. There is no need to strain it. The water will be delicately flavored and very refreshing. We’ve also enjoyed watermelon, cucumber, orange, and lemon water.

Ideally, at the end of the day, your child’s nutrition needs to look like the following for optimal immune response and learning, based on bodyweight and hand size:

5 – 6 servings of protein the size of half your child’s palm

4 fist-sized servings of veggies, minimum. If your child weighs more than 100 lbs the rule is one fist-sized serving for each 25 pounds of body weight

1 – 2 fist-sized servings of local fruit

1 – 2 fist-sized servings of grains/grain products per 25 lbs of body weight

½ oz water per pound of bodyweight

1 Tbsp of healthy fats and oils per 50 lbs of body weight

You’ll notice that white flour, sugar, and dairy products are obviously missing. They don’t play any kind of important role in maintaining good health or learning. Even the calcium in commercially pasteurized dairy is not bioavailable for humans.

Something I have learned from 33 years of parenting is – if there’s junk food in the house the kids will find it and eat it. Now, if we’re having an ‘event’ like a family gathering or a celebration, I buy just enough of the particular ‘junk food’ for the specific event. We have a favorite bakery that makes very tasty (and pretty pricey) birthday cakes. I always buy at least one size smaller than what they recommend for our group because I will, do, and have thrown away the leftovers after the party, amidst cries of anguish from children (even adult children) who were watching.

Instead of keeping junk food in the house I strive to keep healthier, homemade treats – like the nut butter cookies – readily available. That, and a fridge well-stocked with munchable veggies, goes a long way to making healthy eating, better immune function, and easier learning a reality.

If you are having challenges or just don’t know where to begin making improvements and would like some help, please contact me, Judith Cobb, to book an appointment. Skype, phone, webinar, and face-to-face appointments are available. I also invite you to Follow my website ( and Like us on Facebook (Cobblestone Health Ltd).

Products mentioned above:

Nature’s Sunshine Products CANADANature’s Sunshine Products USA
Nature's HarvestNature's Harvest

Copyright © 2015 by Judith Cobb, Cobblestone Health Ltd. All rights reserved. Please respect the time it takes to write and publish articles. If you will link to this article and give proper attribution, you are encouraged to quote sections (though not the entire article).

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