In high school, I ate a big breakfast, a big lunch, then I’d crash in the afternoon. I remember being lethargic, less alert and even prone to nod off.

I wouldn’t have sustained mental focus so to prop it back up, I would look for sugar, usually a soda.

I didn’t know as much about nutrition WAY back then. I came to figure out that, for my metabolism and brain function, I had to eat often, just like my father.

If I don’t eat every two or three hours, I can get ornery, unfocused, and I’m not as effective as a parent or co-worker.

Thankfully, that problem was something my parents and I were able to recognize and rectify.

But how many kids have a similar challenge but don’t have the support network or means to account for their physiology?  Or worse, don’t have access to food at all.

It’s clearly a problem: On an average school day in 2013-14, 136,113 low-income children in Minnesota participated in school breakfast, according to the Food Research and Action Center.

This is an economic issue, a social issue and a health issue. And we struggle with it, trying to get the right amount of food in our kids at the right time.

When you’re hungry, you’re triggering the body to slow down. Then when the metabolism slows down, calories are more likely to be stored as fat, and energy level and mental acuity decreases. Anxiety or stress increase, and fatigue sets in.

All these barriers for the simple fact that a child can’t get enough nutritional food. 

Maybe there are also other stresses in life, so a child shows up with this pretty remarkable deficiency.  It’s not that the child doesn’t have the capacity to perform well, or the potential to excel. But based on these negative factors, they simply can’t be as effective as a child who had a nice, balanced breakfast. Not to mention, as is the case with me personally, a healthy snack to split the difference between breakfast and lunch.

I think about this a lot: My wife and I have active debates about going beyond processed snacks. How do we ensure our children get fruits and vegetables and a more consistent flow of quality calories, so they can avoid the afternoon lull like I did?

The way our system is set up, it’s easy (and cheap) for parents to slip a processed snack that will sustain itself in the backpack. But those snacks generally represent empty calories.

There’s a recent documentary titled Fed Up as well as research studies that discuss, demonstrate and debate that our kids’ propensity to become obese is largely due to excess sugar.

What’s the cheapest food? Fast food, preserved food, food high in sugar content. And if kids aren’t eating for hours or days at a time, they’re craving something with a very fast, energy impact.  Trouble is, that snack provokes a near term crash and plenty of cravings for more of the same.

Thanks to Cargill and chef Marshall O’Brien, the YMCA is trying to tackle this problem by providing young people with a well-balanced meal every day at the Harold Mezile North Community YMCA in Minneapolis.

But the program provides more than a square meal. We’re teaching kids a life lesson around food that’s not only going to impact them in the short term but promote a virtuous cycle. The students at the North Community YMCA are getting a sense for the value of snacking, eating right and the right number of times. That gives them a hope and prayer of doing the right things for their own kids and putting the onus on that as a lifelong value.