Skipping school is one thing, but skipping lunch is another.
“Lunch is definitely important to provide energy for the day and to fuel learning,” said Taressa Waye, a registered dietitian for Alberta Health Services. “If (students) don’t eat during the day, they’re probably not going to be able to focus.”
On the brink of a new school year, it’s worth noting that many students, especially younger ones, tend to skip lunch when they don’t feel hungry or are less than enamoured with what they find in their lunch bag.
However, lunch serves more than just energy, says Waye.
“If you don’t eat regularly, your metabolism will slow down to adapt to a lower amount of calories,” she said. “And then it’s really hard to get your metabolism to go back up if you do end up skipping meals and letting your metabolism slow down.”
A slower metabolic rate prevents the digestive system from breaking down calories as quickly, which can make unhealthy weight gain more probable in the future and make losing weight effectively more difficult.
Skipping meals can also lead to over-eating later on as the body attempts to compensate for a lack of nutrients throughout the day, which compounds the problem as the excess intake often gets stored as fat.
While lunch is vital, so too is breakfast, says Waye, despite the propensity for some students to skip the morning meal as well.
“You haven’t had any food overnight so you want to kick your metabolism into place for the day by having something to eat,” she said. “It is really important, not only to get your metabolism going in the morning, but also to provide energy for the rest of your day. And then you’re not having a huge lunch to make up for what you missed at breakfast.”
For meals, Waye recommends following the ever-reliable Canada’s Food Guide to maintain a well-balanced diet.
“Have the four food groups included in your lunch - your vegetables and fruit, your grain products, your milk and alternatives and your meat and alternatives.”
Between them, the four groups provide adequate vitamins and fibres, carbohydrates and proteins.
Healthy snacks throughout the day can also be useful, says Waye, who suggests including at least two food groups in each snack.
Lastly, Waye encourages parents to involve their kids in making meals for school, as they’ll be more likely to eat something they’ve helped prepare.