1. Hunger is distracting
Have you ever tried to think when your stomach is gnawing on your spine? Lunch time is approaching, you have a big project due, and the gurgling starts. The first signs that your body is ready for that gas station burrito that you know won’t taste great, but it is only two bucks. You focus in, you can do this. It is only an hour until lunch. You can wait that long, or can you? Soon, your computer screen starts to fuzz out in front of your eyes. That commercial you saw this morning for a McRib is on repeat in your mind and when you finally snap to, you realize that you spent the last 5 minutes staring blankly at the spreadsheet you are supposed to be reviewing.
Now imagine trying to learn something new in that state of mind. Only throw in to the mix that you didn’t have breakfast that morning, or dinner the night before. Your one meal a day is the lunch that you can smell cooking down the hallway, and what was that the teacher just said about the battle of Waterloo. He said it would be on the test, but was it a date? A name of some general? Who knows!
The truth is, when you are hungry, you go into survival mode. Especially when you are in a constant state of insecurity about if, not just what, you will eat next. Hunger is a major distraction for kids who are trying to concentrate on learning. Who really cares about Waterloo anyways when you are not even sure if you will have anything for supper when you get home.
2. Poor Nutrition Leads to delays in development.
The first 1,000 days of life are the most important for the development of a child. From the moment of conception to the second year of life (1,000 days) it is essential that the mother and child have proper nutrition. These 1,000 days set the developmental framework for the rest of the Childs life, and there are some great organizations focused on that, but it doesn’t just end the day the child turns two.
There is a condition called Stunting, and it “is the impaired growth and development that children experience from poor nutrition” (World Health Organization). Children who are stunted have lower cognitive abilities, are shorter than average, and are plagued by chronic illnesses. They tend to earn lower wages as adults and have a shorter life expectancy than children who receive proper nutrition. Stunting is an global issue and has life long, irreversible consequences. The food that a child eats early on in life has a major impact on their ability to learn and thrive in the world as they grow up.
Your brain is an amazing machine, and to keep all the parts of it functioning at peak efficiency, you need to have all the right vitamins and minerals. Your body can produce many of them, but most need to come from an outside source. If you have a good diet and regular meals this normally isn’t a problem, but if you only get one meal a day at school, this meal becomes VERY important.
One thing about The Outreach Program’s meals, they are PACKED with as many essential vitamins and minerals as we can get in to them. All of our meals are formulated with help from the Iowa State University’s Nutrition Science department and have at least 21 vitamins and minerals. In addition, if you have ever packaged meals with us and wondered what that crumbly stuff is, it is Textured Vegetable Protein. It is a healthy, fatless, source of P\protein from soybeans that helps make our meals more balanced.
You know that feeling, and you have seen it in kids: hangry! That point where you are moody, irritable and just plain grouchy. Snickers built an entire campaign around it because it is science. When you get hungry, your glucose levels drop, your brain, which needs that sweet sugar, goes into survival mode. It stops focusing on all the other things that are unnecessary, like social norms and being polite, and starts focusing on getting refueled.Talk to a person before lunch when they are grouchy, and then try them after they have had lunch; they are completely different. Now take that same situation, and instead of using somewhat rational adults, put kids in their place.
When a child is hangry, they aren’t going to learn anything that you try to teach them. Rational thought is completely out the window. When my nine-year-old son is in a foul mood, he is completely incapable of doing even the simplest task like 2 +2.
It seems obvious, but a child has to actually be at school in order to benefit from school. It is a no-brainer, but for many children in developing nations, if they do not get a free meal at school, they are much less likely to attend. It isn’t because they don’t value their education, it is because they are depending on that meal to have something to eat that day, and if the school cannot provide that meal, they have to seek it else where. Children in developing nations are more cognizant of the value of an education because they know it’s their ticket out poverty. The choice for most is this: if there is food at the school, they go to school that day.
Or they spend the day looking and begging for food.