Snack Smarter: A guide to after-school eating and homework routines

We know that a nutritious breakfast and lunch are key to keeping your kids full and focused throughout the school day. But what happens when they get home, drained and drowsy after a long day of learning and still have their homework to do? Dietitian Eloise Turner and Cluey Chief Learning Officer, Dr Selina Samuels, share their advice on when and what to eat for effective learning.

guide to after-school eating snacks
Cluey Learning Wednesday, 8 March 2023

Food is Fuel

Giving children nutritious food helps to support healthy growth and development. We all know that.

But Eloise Turner, dietitian from healthy snack food company Fodbods, says that what’s commonly missed is how diet can also improve mental health, academic performance, and actually enhance cognitive skills (like concentration and memory).

“Nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, iron, and vitamins B6, B12, and D are all vital for cognitive function”, she says.

“A diet high in added fats, sugars and salt (such as lollies, chips, soft drinks, and fried foods) has been connected to emotional and behavioural problems whilst a balanced and nutrient-rich diet (full of lean protein, healthy fats and low-GI carbohydrates) can positively impact a child’s mood and overall well-being.”

The importance of the afterschool snack

As the name suggests, afterschool snacks should be eaten after school and be significant enough to hold kids over until dinner time. This helps to replenish energy levels and maintain focus during homework.

“Snacks like cheese and crackers, yoghurt, fruit, popcorn, nuts, veggie sticks and hummus or Fodbod Buddies are all great options,” Eloise says. “I’d recommend eating before or after homework, depending on the individual child and their specific needs but never during as this can be distracting and encourage mindless eating.”

Dr Samuels, Chief Learning Officer at Cluey Learning, says that as well as a snack, students should always take a break when they get home from school.

“Something that involves movement outside, like taking the dog for a walk or playing outside with their siblings,” she says. “Then, they can get to tackling some of their homework”.  

When is the best time for homework?

Dr Samuels notes that the ideal timing of homework depends on the individual student and the family dynamic. “For some kids, and particularly those who come from large families, doing homework at home is very difficult,” she says.

“For them, it may be more beneficial to stay at school and do their homework in the library, if possible, or at the local library after school. Other kids can find school so exhausting that they need to relax and even have a quick nap when they get home before they tackle their homework.”

“Teenagers are better than younger children at concentrating in the evening and more likely to do homework after dinner. For those who have a large amount of homework each night, it may be best to do some before and some after dinner. Whatever the homework load or age of the student, it is extremely important for parents to prioritise sleep as tired brains find it much harder to learn.”

When is the best time for dinner?

Eloise says that to maintain a stable sleep-wake cycle and support your child’s overall health dinner should be eaten at a consistent time each evening (depending on your family’s schedule).

“Some good dinner choices include lean protein sources (such as chicken, fish or tofu) whole grain or low-GI carbohydrates (such as brown rice or whole wheat pasta), and a variety of colourful vegetables for nutrients and fibre,” she says. 

“It’s important to avoid heavy or high-fat meals close to bedtime, as these can cause discomfort and interfere with sleep.”

How much homework should my child be doing?  

For students in early primary school – such as Year 3 – homework may consist of half an hour of reading each night or a set of times tables to learn and apply.

“I would not expect primary students to receive much in the way of homework on the weekend, although in Year 5 and 6, students are often given longer pieces of work to complete on a project basis, to teach them planning, presentation and time management skills,” Dr Samuels says.

“So, in the senior primary years there may well be an expectation for students to spend a few hours on the weekend working on these projects.”

Students and parents should expect homework to increase in Year 7. “Students in Years 7 and 8 should expect to do, on average, around one hour of homework each night, not including reading for pleasure.

This will increase slightly in Years 9 and 10 to between one and two hours most nights, with around four hours of homework on the weekend. There will also be the expectation that students are reading longer and more complex books.”

In Years 11 and 12, expectations around homework increase again, with most students expecting to do at least two hours each night, sometimes three, and approximately six hours on the weekend, increasing inevitably as the final exams approach.

The takeaway

Feeling hungry and tired after school can lead to decreased focus, motivation, attention, and energy, essentially making it difficult to complete tasks effectively.

A balanced diet along with adequate rest is essential for children to perform at their best and support overall well-being.

Cluey Newsletter

Our expert tips. Your inbox.

Follow us on Facebook