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Teacher Nutrition 101: Prepping for the Day


Teaching days are long and demanding, both physically and mentally. There is a reason that the expression “There is no tired like teacher tired” is so apt, and that teachers often sleep soundly at night out of sheer exhaustion. No matter how long we’ve been in the classroom, that feeling of being utterly spent doesn’t really go away. However, there are ways to prepare for the day to make life a little easier, and that help keep our batteries charged. Putting aside lifestyle tips like exercise and sleep, nutrition is a huge part of staying energized throughout many hours of hands-on instruction. In addition to knowing essential information about the nutrients that go into our bodies, it is equally important to have effective strategies for ensuring that we have prepared for each school day with food that will see us through.

The Three Macronutrients

While people tend to focus on getting proper micronutrients (i.e., vitamins and minerals), the three big building blocks of nutrition are macronutrients: carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Without a balance of the three, our bodies can have a harder time performing at ideal levels. For example, the complex carbohydrates found in foods like whole grains or fiber-rich fruits and vegetables are digested more slowly and release glucose into our bloodstreams gradually to avoid a quick energy boost and crash. Protein is mainly known for helping to build or repair muscle, but it is also a more consistent energy source that helps keep people fuller for longer periods of time. As for fat, which is often given a bad rap, the body needs a certain amount each day (unsaturated, ideally) to help with immune system function, to process nutrients, and to keep energy from stagnating. 

Teaching is a high-energy job, to say the least. Without having a balanced approach to nutrition, staying upright and “on” all day to work with kids can be so draining that at the end of the day, there is absolutely nothing left in the tank. To be a little more aware of what goes into our bodies, it helps to pay some targeted attention to informed choices. Luckily, there are accessible ways to become more educated about what to eat and to keep track of whether a balanced approach to each day includes vital macronutrients. 

Balancing Food Choices for Success

When I first learned about the importance of balancing nutrition, it seemed too overwhelming to apply better practices each day in my own life. Who wants to spend the day counting macronutrients, especially when life is busy enough with planning lessons, teaching classes and grading papers? Luckily, many free apps do the hard work for us. Chronometer, MyFitnessPal, and MyPlate are all popular options that keep track of the numbers after users log the foods they eat. Personally, I like to eyeball the pie charts that these apps provide, looking to see if each of the three macronutrients is approximately within a comparable percentage of my daily intake. On my birthday, I’ll probably log a lot more fats and carbohydrates with all the cake and ice cream. But on a teaching day, when there is no such thing as sitting down and food must be gobbled up quickly, I aim to see more of an even representation among all three macronutrients, not to mention a good number of micronutrients from fiber-rich fruits and veggies. Not every day will be ideal, of course, but teaching life goes much more smoothly when we plan for success.

Strategies for Prepping and Packing

Unless a school happens to be located next to a shopping center or grocery store, the options for food are limited once anyone gets to work. Except for a reliable and well-stocked vending machine, what teachers pack and bring is usually the only option, unless kind souls have brought snacks or leftovers to the office for communal consumption. With the latter, however, the food people share tends to be less healthy or sustaining. As teachers, we know the value of planning ahead for instruction, and the same skills can be applied to how we prepare for the day ahead. Some people like to cook on Sunday (an ideal “meal prep day”) and divide larger dishes into portions for each day of the week. One teacher I work with cooks one lunch for all five days and puts each serving into leftover containers stacked in her fridge for easy access. For those who are more into the convenience of packaged foods that do not require as much cooking, making a shopping list that includes tasty and nutritious options that can be packed each evening might be a better strategy. Either way, a day that is planned for is significantly less likely to go off the rails. Teaching life is unpredictable enough; having a plan corrects for some of the disasters that occur.

Having said that, it never hurts to invest not just in a system for food planning and preparation, but also for transportation. The right lunch bag (mine is gargantuan), ice packs, and containers that are easy to wash at the end of the day make a huge difference. One year, someone bought me a salad container complete with the dish itself, a lid that stores utensils and salad dressing, and a tightly closing top to avoid spills. Hands-down, that is my favorite and most frequently used teacher gift of all time because it never fails in being useful. 

Knowing what to eat for maximum energy and satisfaction is important, and so is having a plan for making sure we never go hungry. A final (and no less vital) part of being ready for each challenging day is to select food we like. Maybe eating can’t always feel like a birthday party, but it should be a gratifying experience to anticipate. Each school day comes with too few breaks, so making the most of those free minutes helps to ensure that batteries stay charged, and that everyone returns home in the evenings with enough left in the tank to enjoy the time to ourselves.

Written by Miriam Plotinsky, Education World Contributing Writer

Miriam Plotinsky is an instructional specialist with Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland, where she has taught and led for more than 20 years. She is the author of Teach More, Hover Less and Lead Like a Teacher. She is also a National Board-Certified Teacher with additional certification in administration and supervision. She can be reached at or via Twitter: @MirPloMCPS

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