Why educational institutions should have a comprehensive approach to nutrition and wellness

A holistic approach to nutrition and wellness within educational institutions has the potential to yield long-term health benefits

February 17, 2024 03:07 pm | Updated 03:07 pm IST

Students should be taught the importance of making healthy food choices, understanding nutritional labels, and recognising the impact of diet on their health. 

Students should be taught the importance of making healthy food choices, understanding nutritional labels, and recognising the impact of diet on their health.  | Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockPhoto

The responsibilities of educational institutions should include and prioritise the physical and mental well-being of students. A crucial aspect in this is nutrition. The food that students consume directly impacts their cognitive abilities, concentration, energy levels, and overall well-being. Students who have access to balanced and nutritious meals tend to have better attendance records, improved test scores, and reduced behavioural issues. A well-nourished brain is better equipped to process information, solve problems, and think creatively. What can educational institutions do to help students get access to good food? Here are some answers:

Healthy lunch programme: Provide balanced wholesome meals that include a variety of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains. These should be designed not only to be nutritious but also delicious, making them more appealing to students.

Nutrition Education: Students should be taught the importance of making healthy food choices, understanding nutritional labels, and recognising the impact of diet on their health. This will empower them to make informed decisions about their food, both in the institution and beyond.

Wellness Initiatives: Introduce programmes that encompass physical activity, mental health support, and nutrition awareness to promote the idea that physical health and mental well-being are interconnected.

Collaborate with local farms: Foster partnerships with local food producers to source fresh and seasonal produce for cafeterias. Not only does this support local enterprises and ensure that students have access to unprocessed foods but it also emphasises the importance of sustainable, locally-sourced nutrition.

Holistic approach

Students who consume a healthy diet tend to perform better academically, as they receive the necessary fuel for the brain. This, in turn, results in enhanced cognitive functions, improved memory, heightened focus, and better academic achievements. Nutrition also has a direct influence on behaviour. Diets high in processed foods and sugar often lead to mood swings, irritability, and hyperactivity, none of which is conducive to learning

Furthermore, a holistic approach to nutrition and wellness within educational institutions has the potential to yield long-term health benefits. Not only does it reduce the risk of obesity and associated health issues but also instils lifelong healthy eating habits. By promoting these healthy practices, educational institutions engage with the community and foster a sense of collective responsibility for the well-being of the younger generation.

Challenges

While undeniably transformative, implementing the above measures require certain problems to be addressed. A significant one is budget constraints, which often restrict the institution’s ability to provide nutritious meals. This can be overcome by exploring avenues such as seeking grants, involving the local community and identifying cost-effective means of sourcing fresh ingredients.

Another issue is to gain parental acceptance for which institutions can conduct workshops, seminars and parent-teacher meetings to emphasise the importance of nutrition in the student’s life.

A third issue is food preferences, especially when students are accustomed to processed and fast foods. A linked concern is food insecurity when some students do not have access to food at home due to various problems. Institutions can collaborate with local charities and government programmes to ensure that these students have access to nutritious meals.

Finally, institutions must recognise cultural diversity and its influence on dietary choice. This means providing a diverse range of options that cater to different cultural and dietary backgrounds. Institutions can also educate students about reducing food waste, which is an integral component of sustainable nutrition.

It is imperative that more and more educational institutions embrace these initiatives and work to help their students lead healthier and more productive lives.

The writer is the Principal, Orchids The International School, Perumbakkam, Chennai.

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