Eating for teaching
A guide for international educators
Dietitian and international teacher spouse Breanna Baildon knows what it’s like for busy teachers – but that’s why our eating habits have to change.
Is this you?
Does this sound like you? You wake up, get ready quickly, and rush out the door early to answer emails while drinking a mug (or three) of coffee before students start to roll in. Pretty soon it’s time for lunch, but between running to the restroom, lunch duties, and catching up in the hallway, you only have 5 minutes to eat, so that banana sitting on your desk will have to suffice. After the rest of the day flies by, you get home and realize you are famished. There goes a bag of chips, two portions of dinner, and, after a few beers, you’re looking to satisfy a lingering craving for something sweet . . . .
Eating challenge for teachers
Between your busy schedule, long work hours some days, limited time to eat during the day, having to plan around bathroom breaks, and using a ton of energy, teachers have unique challenges when it comes to nutrition and health habits. On top of this, living abroad, you may:
- Feel unfamiliar and confused by the food options available
- Struggle to find convenient, healthy meals
- Eat out and/or drink more at social events (pre-COVID, of course!)
No wonder your eating habits might be suffering. To add even more obstacles, over the past year and a half, there have been significant increases in educators reporting over-eating, changes in appetite, and under-eating as a response to stress. The global pandemic has completely turned healthy habits upside down for many, leading to more takeout and higher alcohol consumption. In 2020 alone, 45% of education professions acknowledged using food or eating as a way to cope with workplace stress or anxiety.
And the result is . . . .
So now, not only are you stressed, exhausted, overwhelmed, and anxious, but not properly fed or fueled. There is a well-established link between nutrition and physical and mental health. Teachers already have higher than normal rates of high-stress, depression, and anxiety. Your diet shouldn’t be making it worse!
What’s the answer?
Luckily, a few small changes can help you revamp your food choices and daily habits. You should embrace these changes as one of the few things you have control over that can directly impact your health in a positive way. Good nutrition should be a priority because it has been shown to provide energy, support a healthy immune system, help your body manage stress, and promote physical and mental health.
Luckily, a few small changes can help you revamp your food choices and daily habits.
Five foodie tips for teachers
Rather than generic advice to eat a balanced diet, cut out sugar, and eat more fruits and vegetables, here are five specific, actionable tips for educators abroad.
1. Start the Day with Breakfast
Trust me on this one, you’ll feel better. The key to eating breakfast is finding a system that works for you. Some people like to eat the same thing every day, prep a few meals for the week, keep ingredients at school, or drink a smoothie. To choose something that is both energizing and filling be sure to include a source of both fiber and protein (see below). My clients’ go-to’s are overnight oats, breakfast wraps, boiled eggs and fruit, and protein smoothies.
2. Focus on fiber
To stay full with lasting energy AND support digestion AND promote mental health, fiber is the most important nutrient for teachers! Fiber is a slow-digesting carbohydrate that is found in plant-based foods. Think seasonal fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, legumes, beans, and whole grains. All cultures have these ingredients as staples, so take advantage of including them in as many meals and snacks that you can.
3. Boost your lunch
Lunch may be the most important meal of the day for teachers. Look at it as an essential opportunity to fill your energy “tank,” and provide nourishment to prevent uncontrollable eating afterschool and in the evening. If you choose to get lunch at school, it can be helpful to bring extra protein and vegetables to balance meals that are often portioned higher in carbohydrates for students. If you pack lunches, batch cooking on the weekends or setting aside dinner leftovers (planned-overs) can make mid-day eating stress free.
4. Progress, not perfection
Approach new eating and nutrition habits as something you’d like to stick with all year long. Make a few (or one) small change at a time, rather than a huge overhaul all at once. You don’t need one more thing to stress about! Not all days will go according to plan, and that’s okay. Continue to evaluate how your eating habits are serving you in and out of the classroom.
5. Delegate when possible
While living in a different country changes our access to certain foods and conveniences, it opens up the door to others. Depending on your budget and schedule, it can be helpful to order ready-to-eat healthy meals, hire someone to cook or prep ingredients, or purchase foods to make quick dinners (frozen and/or pre-cut produce, cooked legumes and proteins and sauces).
As the wife of an international school educator, I see not only the daily challenges when it comes to your health habits, but also understand the larger impact. Eating well is self-care. When you are physically fueled and balanced, you have more capacity to improve all other aspects of wellbeing, and inspire, motivate, and influence both your students and everyone around you.
Breanna Baildon – MS, RDN is a Registered Dietitian currently in South Korea.