childhood obesity

Why Students Need Brain Breaks & How You Can Help by Real Mom Nutrition

Kids sit an awful lot in school these days. With some schools in the country limiting recess, reducing or even cutting PE classes, and placing a bigger focus on test scores (and test prep), children spend serious time being sedentary.

Why Movement Matters

Being seated for long periods of time has some major drawbacks for kids. Not only does it make it tough for them to get enough physical activity in the day, but it also makes it harder to actually pay attention and learn.

Angela Hanscom, a pediatric occupational therapist, writes in the Washington Post:

Children naturally start fidgeting in order to get the movement their body so desperately needs and is not getting enough of to “turn their brain on.” What happens when the children start fidgeting? We ask them to sit still and pay attention; therefore, their brain goes back to “sleep.”

In order for children to learn, they need to be able to pay attention. In order to pay attention, we need to let them move.

Movement actually does “turn on” the brain. Look how activity can literally light up areas of a child’s brain that allow for better learning:

Why Kids Need "Brain Breaks" by Real Mom Nutrition

How Brain Breaks Can Help

It may not be realistic for schools to add in more time for recess or extra PE. But students can easily be given “Brain Breaks” throughout the day. Brain Breaks are short, energizing bursts of activity that boost blood flow, send oxygen to the brain, and help kids better retain information. It can be as simple as taking five minutes to stand up, stretch, and run in place next to the desk. My son’s first grade teacher takes the class on a short walk around the building every day. Research has shown that Brain Breaks increase students’ on-task behavior AND the amount of physical activity they get every day so it’s a win-win. (Read more here.)

Ideally, students should get multiple Brain Breaks in the day and be active in other ways as well. Here’s an ideal schedule for students, compliments of fellow dietitian Dayle Hayes, who presented the information at a workshop I attended at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo:

  • Walk to school
  • Classroom learning with hourly energizers
  • Recess*
  • Classroom learning with hourly energizers
  • Recess
  • Classroom learning with hourly energizers

*It’s been shown that kids waste less food, eat more fruits and vegetables, and have better behavior when they have recess BEFORE lunch versus after lunch. (Read more here.)

What You Can Do

If you’re a teacher, consider incorporating Brain Breaks into the day. If you’re a parent, talk to your child’s teacher about the idea. Here are some resources and videos that make Brain Breaks easy and fun to do. And they’re FREE!

Move to Learn Fitness Energizers: More than 30 fitness videos for students K-8 with routines kids can do alongside their desks.

Energizers for Grades K-2: Ideas for incorporating academic concepts into physical activity, such as games that mix jumping and running in place with learning letters and numbers.

Go Noodle Brain Breaks: Tons of free, short videos to get kids moving in the classroom, including short Zumba routines (my son’s teacher uses these when they have indoor recess and he loves it!).

Time for 10: Free 10-minute fitness videos featuring fitness experts and kids, with themes like kickboxing, core, and flexibility.

Adventure to Fitness: Videos that incorporate physical activity and common core-aligned learning, like jogging (in place) through Yellowstone National Park. Free registration gives teachers access to some videos; more are available with a paid subscription.

Teach Train Love: This teacher has compiled several lists of fun Brain Break videos from YouTube.

Action for Healthy Kids: A Pinterest page full of classroom brain break ideas, including some for middle school.

Big thanks to Dayle Hayes for supplying the brain scan graphic and ideal school schedule. Check out Dayle’s blog School Meals That Rock and her School Meals That Rock Facebook page for ideas, inspiration, and photos of school meals from across the country that celebrate “what is RIGHT with school nutrition in America”.


Why Knowing Your Number is Important--especially when it comes to restaurant food.

I don’t count calories. Though I know calorie-tracking apps are hugely helpful for some people, I tend to veer down an unhealthy path of food fixation when I use them.

But I know my number: 1,600.

That’s roughly the number of calories I need daily to maintain my weight. Because I’m a woman, just over five feet tall, and not exactly 25 years old or as active as I’d like to be, that number is lower than the general 2,000 calorie guideline listed on food labels. Which is good to know, because if I ate 2,000 calories a day–even if it was “clean”, high-quality food–I would probably gain weight. I know this because it has happened to me. (Read: Too Much of a Good Thing: Why Calories Still Count.)

I don’t think too much about my number, but knowing it helps put things into perspective–like calories in restaurant food. I’m thrilled about the new FDA rules that will put calorie counts on menu boards and menus by December 2015. The new rules cover restaurants and food establishments with 20 or more locations, including popcorn at movie theaters, take-out pizza, and baked goods at coffee shops.

Thanks in part to mega-sized portions, restaurant food is notoriously higher in calories than what you’d cook at home. So high that most people grossly underestimate the calories in their order (because who would assume that a plate of seemingly harmless pasta could pack more than 1,000 of them?).

Because some chains have started posting this information, it’s already making a difference for me. Out to lunch recently at Noodles & Company with my six year old, I was about to order the regular Pad Thai. Until I saw the posted info: 800 calories was half my day! I opted for the small size instead, and guess what? I was totally satisfied.

Looking at posted calories is a good way to learn that the Egg & Cheese on Ciabatta at Panera has fewer calories than a basic bagel with cream cheese. And that a Starbucks Grande Eggnog Latte is the calorie equivalent of a slice of Iced Lemon Pound Cake.

Considering that Americans eat one-third of their calories away from home and that two out of three Americans are overweight or obese, posting calories on menus and menu boards has the potential to be hugely helpful. Not everyone will use this information–but some people will. And even if you don’t frequent any chain restaurants (and prefer to BYOP–bring your own popcorn–when you go to the movies), most of us can probably agree that giving consumers more information about what they’re eating is a good thing.

Want to find out YOUR number? Use this equation from the Mayo Clinic.

What are your thoughts about restaurants posting calories on menus? Will you use this information?


Want To Improve Camp Food? Now Is The Time To Act!

August 27, 2014

You may be in back-to-school mode, but if you were unhappy with the snacks or meals your child received at summer camp this year, now is the time to speak up. Why now? Because camps are sending out end-of-summer evaluations and surveys–and there’s plenty of time to look at parent feedback and make improvements for next summer. This summer, […]

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Ambushed by Big Soda on the Soccer Field

April 19, 2013

Something happened on the soccer fields last weekend that made cupcakes seem tame by comparison: A rep from 7 Up worked the crowd, offering free diet soda to parents and kids. When I found out about this through some friends–and confirmed it with a call to our rec center–I felt my blood pressure rise about […]

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Why Are We Afraid Of Telling Parents What To Do?

April 13, 2013

Lately I’ve gotten a lot of success stories from parents who have joined the ranks of “That Mom”. They’ve spoken up and changed the snack culture in their child’s class or sports team (read “Change the Snack Culture: 3 Steps to Take Now” and  “Be Bold. Take Action. Make Change.“). But occasionally, I hear from […]

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Change The Snack Culture: 3 Steps to Take Now

April 4, 2013

Two years ago, I had a “light bulb moment” about snacking when I saw a mom and her child on the playground one day (read: “Snacking Insanity“). Since that moment, I’ve become much more aware of the snacks my kids are getting–and what I see isn’t good. It’s a problem, and not just in my […]

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Why I’m Worried About Chocolate Milk

March 4, 2013

It’s not for the obvious reasons. Though I get passionate about junk at school parties and junk at school breakfasts (read: “I Have No Love for Candy Valentines” and “The Trouble with School Breakfast“), I haven’t gotten fired up about chocolate milk. I know lots of people disagree–and I totally get why they do. I’d love […]

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We Ate Junk Food And Turned Out Just Fine…Right?

February 25, 2013

When I talk to people about soccer snacks or class parties or more recently, candy Valentines (read: “I Have No Love for Candy Valentines“), the discussion invariably turns to how how things were when we were kids: “But we had class parties, ate candy, and washed down birthday cupcakes with cherry Kool-Aid. And we turned […]

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The Trouble With School Breakfast

February 22, 2013

Seven words I never thought I’d hear my 8-year-old son say: “Mommy, I’m getting sick of Cocoa Puffs.” I don’t buy Cocoa Puffs. My son has been eating them at school as part of the free breakfast program. I am not happy about this. For months, I have wrestled with what to do about school […]

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Be Bold. Take Action. Make Change.

January 5, 2013

I meet a lot of parents who are angry about how their kids are being fed. They’re mad about school lunches and cookie dough fundraisers, about sugary snacks at preschool, about doughnuts on the soccer sidelines. But only a few of these parents act on their anger. Some don’t want to rock the boat or […]

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