The effect of lunch on the cognitive behaviour of children

Many adults suffer from an ‘after noon dip’, it is that time just after lunch and one of the worst timeslots to get if you have to give a presentation to an audience. It makes you wonder that if your children come home with a near full lunch box they might have done themselves a favour, no lunch means no afternoon dip, right? Wrong.

Interestingly where adults may suffer from a dip after lunch children do not exhibit such slump after eating lunch. On the contrary, a German study has shown that the children not only do not suffer from such a dip, but having lunch meant that they had increased functioning of the working memory (1). A Danish research showed similar results, a healthy school meal provided sufficient fuel for the children to increase their level of reading (2)

So we as parents know the benefits of a good school lunch. But any one making lunch boxes knows this tough competition called: ‘play’. As a mother I do know the frustration of having composed this nutritious yet cool looking lunch to only find it in their lunch box untouched because they had to play or they ‘forgot’ where they put their lunch box!

Years of making lunch boxes (…) I found that for my children the following rules apply:
– Make every bite count! Everything should be nutrient dense; No empty calories or simple fillers like crackers, cookies or juices;
– Not too much choice, 3-4 different items is more than enough; Too much choice can be overwhelming;
– Before our goodbyes I tell them what is in their lunch box, and yes, I am ‘selling’ the content… I tell them what they can look forward to!

Savoury muffins tick a lot of boxes, they are healthy, filling, and quick to eat and they freeze easily. Here is a basic recipe which you can adapt to whatever you have in your fridge or what your children like:

Savoury zucchini muffins
2 cups of plain wholemeal flour, substitute some of the plain flour with a cup of buckwheat, half a cup of rolled oats, or half a cup of almond meal for some variety;
Baking powder (aluminium free)
2 grated zucchinis, pressed to get rid of excess liquid
1 small grated carrot
¾ cup of grated cheese
2 eggs
½ cup of olive oil
Pinch of salt
Optional: add some feta cubes or chopped olives for some punch!

Combine all the wet ingredients and in a separate bowl the dry ingredients. Fold the two together and scoop in muffin trays. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown on 180 degrees. This should make 10-12 muffins.

So tell me, what are your ‘golden rules’ for the lunch box?

1. Short-term effects of lunch on children’s executive cognitive functioning: The randomized crossover Cognition Intervention Study Dortmund PLUS (CogniDo PLUS).
2. The effects of Nordic school meals on concentration and school performance in 8- to 11-year-old children in the OPUS School Meal Study: a cluster-randomised, controlled, cross-over trial