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Fast Food Stunts Kids' Academic Growth

I didn't grow up in a fast food family. Every once in a while, there was a stop for McDonald's or Burger King during long and tiresome family road trips. Other than that, we ate at home. The fact that we lived in suburbia and didn't have a fast food chain around every corner might have played a role. But my mom was big on the home-cooked meal. And I thank her for it.

Four decades later, I wouldn't take my kids to a fast food restaurant if you paid me to do so. During a recent trip, when our hotel, quite literally, couldn't serve all of the people staying there, my husband ran off to a local Denny's in an act of desperation. The kids were starving and food allergies make it difficult to find food in a pinch. Their chicken tenders were deemed "safe." The smell of it alone turned my stomach when I returned to the room, and my daughter was less than impressed.

A necessary quick fix? Yes. One I'm inclined to repeat? No way.

RELATED: Kids Developing a Taste for Fast Food Too Early

Parents hear a lot about the connection between fast food and childhood obesity. Many respond to this with some version of, "Everything in moderation." But what is moderation when it comes to fast food consumption? Where do you draw the line?

If the rates of childhood obesity aren't enough to scare parents away from a life of fast food, perhaps this new development is: a recent nationwide study published in the journal Clinical Pediatrics shows that frequent fast food consumption may slow a child's academic growth.

A team of researchers out of Ohio State University examined the data of a study of over 11,000 students. Results showed that the more frequently students reported eating fast food in 5th grade, the lower their academic growth in reading, math and science in 8th grade. In fact, students who ate the most fast food showed test score gains that were 20 percent lower than those who didn't eat any.

How much is considered too much? Per this study, children who ate fast food four to six times a week showed significantly lower gains in all areas compared to children who did not eat any. But children who ate fast food just one to three times per week only showed lower academic gains in math.

Still, I have to wonder if this quick fix for food is worth it in the long run.

Learn about healthy eating together. Shop together. Cook together. Talk about changes in energy, focus, and happiness.

It's no big secret that school is more intense than it once was. Kids are learning at a faster pace across the board and expectations are high. Research shows that children perform better when they are well nourished with healthy foods.

Healthy eating leads to better academic performance, better memory, better focus/alertness and better health (which translates to fewer sick days). It's important to empower kids to learn about the connections between healthy eating and increased energy and alertness. When kids learn to take control of their eating patterns, they are more likely to make positive choices.

Also, aim for these three healthy eating goals:

Always eat breakfast

Believe me, I know, school mornings can be busy. One minute you're dragging yourself out of bed and the next you're running to the car with one shoe on. Slow down and make time for breakfast anyway.

Skipping breakfast, or eating an unhealthy breakfast on the fly, can negatively impact the school day for your child. Do as much prep as you can in advance to make sure that your child gets a meal (and the time to eat it) filled with protein, fruit and energy.

Pack healthy snacks

Kids don't get a lot of time to eat their snacks during the school day, so it's important to find healthy snacks that they can eat quickly and will help reenergize them after a morning of learning. Fruits and string cheese are always good choices, but home-baked treats high in protein, or hardboiled eggs, are also great.

Eat healthy together

When families commit to ditching the junk food and eating healthy as a family, kids are more likely to embrace healthier eating. Learn about healthy eating together. Shop together. Cook together. Talk about changes in energy, focus and happiness.

RELATED: Why Is Fast Food Bad for Our Kids?

When kids learn to make the connections between healthier eating and a happier lifestyle (less academic stress certainly makes for happier kids), they learn to turn down junk food for the quick hunger fix.

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