September 21, 2022

Nutrition Insights with Elizabeth von Klan

By Giulianne Pate

 

We recently had a chance to connect with Nutrition Expert, Elizabeth von Klan, after learning about our At Risk After School program, which provides federal reimbursement for our school-age after-school programs that are located in lower-income areas.

What is your educational background surrounding nutrition? 

I have my Bachelor of Science degree from UC Davis in Clinical Nutrition. I am currently a Master of Science Candidate in Nutrition, Healthspan, and Longevity at the Leonard Davis School of Gerontology at the University of Southern California.  

What is the importance of having a balanced diet for school-age children? 

As the phrase goes, we are what we eat— and what we eat as children is critical to our development and sets us up for life-long health. Food is energy, and if a child facing food insecurity is not being properly nourished – both in the lack of quality and quantity of food available to them – their academic performance and livelihood can be extremely inhibited.  

  Is there an importance for having a daily routine surrounding nutrition and food for school-age children? 

Absolutely! By consistently fueling throughout the day, your child can stay focused in the classroom and keep up with friends during recess or other activities. Long bouts of not eating could encourage fear around food scarcity, which no child should have to be faced with when they need food to grow and flourish.  

Can you share any information you may have about the impact of poverty and hunger on child development and school performance? 

I like to think of food and calories as the gas we put in our cars, and we are the cars. If a car’s tank is not filled with gas, how do we expect it to drive? When thinking of our children, how can we expect them to perform at their best in the classroom when they are energy and nutrient depleted? This energy is needed so students can absorb information in the classroom and pass their tests. In addition, lack of proper nutrition puts children at increased risk for developmental delays, causing their social and academic skills to suffer. According to Children’s Healthwatch, “food insecure infants and toddlers are two-thirds more likely than food-secure young children to be at risk for developmental delays”. Of course, this has a snowball effect, because this poor performance has implications for future academic success down the line.  

What is the importance of school-provided meals for children and families in low-income areas? 

There’s a common misconception that school meals are subpar or lack nutrients – this is far from the truth. All school meals are required to meet nutritional standards created by the USDA that allow children to meet their dietary needs. For example, whole grains, protein, a variety of vegetables, and more are regulated to ensure that your child is getting the food they need. Even if parents convey pickiness about what is offered at school, food insecure children may not have access to food at all at home – so it is better to eat a meal than have no meal at all.