Why kids need breakfast

Written by Catherine Saxelby on Monday, 17 December 2012.
Tagged: breakfast, children, guides, health, healthy eating, kids, tips

Why kids need breakfast

Starting the day with a good breakfast gives children the edge. Unfortunately one in four Australian children leaves home without it. US studies dating back to the 1960s (the Iowa Breakfast studies) first established the importance of breakfast and showed that hunger and lack of nutrition have adverse effects on children's learning ability. They reported that children who skipped breakfast felt tired and irritable, had trouble concentrating on the morning's lessons, and found complex mental tasks difficult.

Believe it or not, little has changed since the 60s! It makes me cross when I hear about kids not having eaten before school when it's so obvious they really need to. If you deprive children of breakfast, you may be depriving them of their ability to learn.

When they were little, I used to tell my kids that breakfast is "brain fuel", and recharged their brains as well as their bodies after a night's sleep. Remember that the word breakfast literally means to "break the fast" from the 8 or 12 hours since your last meal the night before. Your brain and muscles are crying out for starter fuel to help them spring into action and face the day ahead. Brain + muscles + food = optimum efficiency. In geek-speak, tell them breakfast enhances:

* working memory

* problem-solving abilities

* accuracy in maths and other complex tasks

* creative thinking

Children need breakfast for maximum nutrition

Breakfast makes a significant contribution to children's overall nutrition intake, according to a whole raft of research papers. Children (and adults) who eat breakfast generally have much healthier diets and are more likely to be consuming their recommended intakes of key nutrients such as iron, calcium, B vitamins and fibre. Children who skip breakfast do not make up the differences at later meals.

Breakfast for fibre

Breakfast is the easiest meal to ensure your kids eat enough fibre. Wholegrain or bran-based breakfast cereals, fruit (but not juice), baked beans and wholemeal or high-fibre bread are all convenient ways for children to reach their fibre goal. Unprocessed bran or psyllium or harsh laxatives should not be necessary, unless prescribed by your doctor for cases of chronic constipation.

Why children skip breakfast

One in four Australian kids leaves home without breakfast. In my experience, most children miss breakfast for two reasons:

  1. lack of time, or
  2. not feeling like eating first thing in the morning.

Here are my solutions

  1. Not enough time means your child has slept-in (which happens) or has stayed up too late and gone to bed too late so they're tired. Fix this problem and I'll bet you'll see a difference in their energy levels.
  2. Not feeling like eating in the morning is not a good sign. Healthy kids usually wake up with an appetite especially if they're playing some sport or are otherwise in good health. Ask yourself – have they eaten too late the night before?
  3. If this sounds like your child, try to get their dinner on the table earlier.
  4. Finally, you need to be realistic – have they always been a slow starter in the morning? Have they always said "No" to food until they're ready later? If that's the case pack something substantial and healthy for mid-morning rather than making them stretch to lunch. See below.

12 quick and healthy breakfast ideas for kids

So, what should they eat? Keep it simple. Breakfast is often the one meal children can prepare by themselves. It doesn't have to be the traditional cooked meal although an egg on toast is a healthy high-protein choice.

Aim for a balance at breakfast of:

Starchy carbohydrate + fibre + protein + fluid

 

When there's time:

  1. Baked beans on toastCereal, fruit and milk – choose a healthy not-overly-sweet cereal
  2. Banana smoothie made by blending milk with yoghurt, sliced banana and oat bran or wheatgerm or some cereal to thicken. A liquid meal is easy to drink and run. Whirl up a big bucket and feed them all.
  3. Porridge oats with milk
  4. Leftovers (mince, stir-fry, curry) on toast or rice or noodles
  5. Microwaved or boiled egg or baked beans on wholemeal toast or muffin
  6. Tub of yoghurt and toasted crumpet (take it easy on the butter)

When they're racing out the door:

If there really is no time to eat in the mornings and he or she has to rush off to catch a bus or train without eating, send them out the door with:

  1. Cheese sandwichA sandwich with a protein filling such as peanut butter or cheese or cold meat (not just jam or vegemite). Make it the night before and have it wrapped and ready to go in the fridge.
  2. Raisin toast with a slice of cheese
  3. A thermos of hot milk with a spoon of Acktavite or Milo - can slurped down quickly.
  4. A breakfast bar and a carton of drinking yoghurt to eat on the way to school
  5. A banana with a flask of milk
  6. Packet of Up-and-Go cereal milk drink (not my favourite but quick and easy for lazy teens to grab)

 

 

The bare minimum

Nobody wants their child to be behind the eight ball when it comes to learning so if all else fails at least give them a glass of milk. That will see them through the morning and is preferable to them arriving at school with nothing in their stomachs.

photo credit: pa.coutarel via photopin cc

Catherine Saxelby

About the Author

Catherine Saxelby knows nutrition! She is an accredited nutritionist, food commentator, blogger and award-winning author. Her latest book Catherine Saxelby's Food and Nutrition Companion answers all those tricky questions on healthy eating, diets and supplements. It draws together a lifetime of advice and gives you all you need to know to eat right! It's a complete A to Z. A handy desk go-to reference.