Last week, educators came together at the Robertson Center to conquer one of the universal challenges of the workplace: what to eat between the first bell and the last. Though we have a general idea of what we should eat to feel our best during the school day, making it happen in the midst of grading, planning, and teaching can feel next to impossible. So we brought in Tracy Lockwood Beckerman, a registered dietitian and nutrition expert, to share her top tips for teachers on how to plan your meals and snacks so that you can feel healthy, stay energized, and treat yourself to the type of food that fuels your body and your soul.
The rumors are true — breakfast really is the most important meal of the day. “The first thing you eat in the morning catapults your metabolism,” Beckerman explained. “One study found that adults who never ate breakfast had an 87% higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease or stroke. That’s huge.” To lower your risk, prep something quick and easy, like overnight oats with greek yogurt, chia seed pudding, or hard boiled eggs with a banana, to grab on your way to the subway.
This rumor is also true — dark chocolate really is good for you. “There is more antioxidant activity in one serving of dark chocolate than there is in one serving of blueberries or acai berries,” Beckerman said to a visibly pleased audience. So don’t be afraid to treat yourself to a couple of pieces of dark chocolate — brands with 70% cacao or more are best.
The foods you eat can reduce your stress. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, try a quick grain bowl with healthy complex carbs like brown rice or farro topped with sweet potatoes, lentils, or beans to up your serotonin levels. Add in almonds and leafy greens like broccoli, Swiss chard, spinach, or kale for some folate and dopamine to keep you calm and lower your stress.
Tart cherry juice works wonders for sleep. If your mind is racing long after lights out, a glass of tart cherry juice will flood your brain with melatonin and help you knock out. And if the juice is too tart for your taste? “Regular cherries, yogurt, walnuts, and chickpeas all work, too,” Beckerman said.
You don’t have to exercise for long to reap the benefits. Good news — even if you only have ten minutes to squeeze a workout in, you’re still doing wonders for your body. And you don’t have to fork over the cost of a gym membership. Simple moves like always taking the stairs, using water bottles or seltzer cans as weights when you walk, and sneaking in jumping jacks just before your kids come back from specials all count.
If you’re bloated, dehydration might be the culprit. If you’re constantly feeling bloated, that might be a sign that you need to drink more water. Be sure to bring a reusable bottle to school with you each day. Swell, BKR, Healthy Human, and infuser water bottles are all brands Beckerman recommends. “Hidrate Spark is another cool one,” she said. “It syncs to your phone and the bottle lights up when it’s time to drink more water.
You’re probably overspending on snacks. According to Beckerman, the average American spends around $3,300 on snack foods. If you might be one of them, she suggests keeping a price diary to keep track of your snack spending each month and looking for places to cut. Beckerman recommends aiming for a protein and a carb in every snack. “Fruits and nuts, cheese and crackers, and greek yogurt and seeds are all affordable, healthy snack options,” she said.
Probiotics are your friend. They’ll help you feel better all around, improving digestion, immunity, nutrient absorption, mood, sleep, and hormonal balance. And they’re not only found in yogurt — fermented or pickled foods like kimchi, pickles, and sauerkraut, apple cider vinegar, miso, kombucha, tempeh, quark, and kefir are all great sources of probiotics.
The rumor is not true — eating dinner after 8 pm will not cause automatic weight gain. “Your metabolism doesn’t shut down at 8:01 pm,” Beckerman said. You should feel free to eat dinner when it makes sense for your schedule and hunger levels. As long as you’re not consuming more calories than your body needs, your waistline will be just fine.
Your avocado toast is safe. You may have heard that avocados are rich in fats, and they are. But it’s healthy fat that your body needs, and Beckerman said you can eat an avocado a day if you’d like. “Try an avocado with a little honey and a pinch of salt,” she said. You won’t regret it.
Of course, there might still be those days when you have chocolate cake or Cheerios for dinner — and that’s perfectly okay. But if you follow these guidelines, you’ll be well on your way to feeling like your best teacher self all day long.