JFS Perspectives

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Nutrition and Its Impact on Mental Health in Children

Nutrition and Its Impact on Mental Health in Children

It’s undeniable there is a connection between a well-balanced meal and mental health. This is especially true for young people. Research found that poorer mental health outcomes in adolescents aged 13 to 15 were associated with a diet consisting of processed and refined foods, fast food, and high levels of sugar. Better mental health outcomes were found in those who had a higher intake of fresh fruits and leafy green vegetables.

The JFS KidSuccess team of school-based counselors is often confronted with food and nutrition issues as we work with parents who struggle to put enough food on the table each night and ensure that it is nutritious. We see parents who share their children’s struggle to focus on school and work when they are hungry.

We know that grades and emotional/behavioral challenges worsen when children face hunger. One principal reported that she believes that her school’s free and reduced-fee lunch participation rate would be close to 100 percent, but that some of the families do not fill out the necessary forms for fear of deportation because their immigration status is in question.

We have seen that connecting families to the Weinberg Food Pantry can increase home stability, especially during the summer months when kids are not at school, which is essential to many of our families who rely on school meals. At many of the schools we serve with the KidSuccess program, the school will provide breakfast, lunch, and two snacks, including a take-home snack for after school. JFS also provides fresh, healthy lunches with the Lunchbox Express program, but the fact remains that many of our families must choose between paying rent and eating healthy meals. We often hear parents express thanks, stating that their kids seem less stressed and happier because food insecurity is no longer an issue.

If we can feed hungry children with healthy, nutritious food, we will see improved physical and mental health outcomes. The Weinberg Food Pantry and Lunchbox Express have been important partners in our work to help kids succeed at school—and in life. 

By Lisa Rincon, School-Based Mental Health Program Manager and Ruby Chavez, Bilingual Case Manager

Lisa RinconLisa Rincon has worked for Jewish Family Service since 2016 as the KidSuccess program manager. She earned her master’s in Social Work from the University of Michigan in 2003. She has been providing mental health services and program management for 15 years in a variety of settings.


Ruby ChavezRuby Chavez has been with JFS since December 2017 as the bilingual case manager for KidSuccess and International KidSuccess. She received her B.A. in Psychology in 2010 and has been working in nonprofit organizations since. Ruby is a native Spanish speaker, and first-generation of immigrant parents.