Breakfast for kids – why is it so important?
We have all experienced the effects of not eating at some point, particularly breakfast. Feelings of tiredness, brain fog and irritability come to mind! In general, kids and teens who eat breakfast have more energy, concentration, eat healthier throughout the day and overall do better in school. Without breakfast, what fuel are they running on??
Why is breakfast so important?
Each day our body requires a broad range of essential nutrients, iron, calcium, vitamins B and C, omega fatty acids, all essential for growth, brain development, immunity and overall good health. Children who eat regular meals, including breakfast are more likely to meet these daily nutritional requirements.
Blood sugar balancing is another very important part of eating breakfast, the drops of these blood sugar levels are what contribute to the uncomfortable feelings mentioned above, brain fog, irritability and fatigue.
Blood sugar (blood glucose) transports via the blood stream to the cells in the body to supply us energy. The body is always trying to regulate these levels. High sugar/high carbohydrate foods spike the glucose levels then rapidly drops them. After not eating for extended periods of time blood glucose levels will also drop.
Levels are at their lowest point first thing in the morning making breakfast a very crucial start to the day.
Keeping blood sugars balanced not only helps with sustained energy and focus, but also helps with healthy weight control and prevention of disease states such as diabetes. By creating healthy eating patterns many other disease states can also be avoided.
How do you keep blood sugars balanced?
• Eat a balanced breakfast preferably within an hour of waking.
• Eat regular balanced meals and snacks 3-4 hrs apart through out the day.
• Minimise processed carbohydrate and sugar food sources.
• Balance each snack and meal with protein and fibre, this helps slow the blood sugar impact giving a longer running smoother energy release.
How can breakfast affect children while at school?
Studies show that when children have eaten a balanced breakfast, they have better concentration and learning outcomes, they have improved social interactions, and have increased energy enhancing physical performance. Overall breakfast provides an essential platform for a child to feel well mind and body, they deserve this start to the day!
Benefits in a snap shot that breakfast and breakfast programs provide.
• Provides essential nutrients for children and adolescents growth and development.
• Increases attention span and learning ability.
• Positively affects on-task behaviour in classrooms.
• Improves social interactions and relationships.
• Improved engagement in school activities.
• Increased energy to meet physical demands through out the day.
• Increased mental wellbeing.
• Healthy eating practices that carry through to adult hood.
So what should we eat for breakfast?
A balanced breakfast really can be both quick and simple to prepare, often one of the reasons we skip it in our busy morning rush or opt for an option that may be lacking in nutrients and not a sustainable form of energy to get us through.
• Aim to fit in as many nutrients as possible with any meal. If you can add in a piece of fruit or vegetable do it! Example: making a chocolate smoothie – sneak in a handful of baby spinach or avocado (it hides well)!
• Fibre, good essential fatty acids and an added source of protein can all help ensure a longer lasting, balanced energy source to help sustain them through out the morning.
Some ideas to try:
• Rolled oats made into a porridge, add a source of protein such as some whole yoghurt or handful of crushed or ground nuts/nut/seed butters. Make it fun by adding some cacao, choc oats yum!
• Wholemeal bread with eggs in any way, pre boiled (to save time, also great for lunch box snacks),
• Easy just egg omelettes with a piece of fruit.
• Natural whole yogurt or kefir with fruit and nuts.
• Smoothies with fruit, berries, cacao (healthy chocolate alternative) and some natural whole yoghurt or nuts/nut/seed butters for protein.
• Pancakes, substitute flour for oats, add banana instead of sugar and you have a balanced quick yummy breakfast.
• Sugar is hidden in many products children consume through out the day such as flavoured yoghurts, cereals, muesli and fruit bars (even seemingly healthy alternatives). Fruit juices also often contain high amounts of sugar, instead opt for fresh fruit and offer water instead!
• Monkey see monkey do, role model eating breakfast with your children, when there is time perhaps on a weekend, involve them in the cooking process.
• Making anything a little fun in life can help inspire us, try a funny face using some pieces of fruit, eggs or toast!
• To help incorporate breakfast into children’s before-school routines:
• Pre-prepare breakfast the night before along with the next day’s clothes, lunch and backpack.
• Set the alarm for 15 minutes earlier to allow more time for breakfast.
• Say no to TV, video games and computers in the morning.
National Institute of Health (2016). Added sugar intake and metabolic syndrome in US adolescents: cross-sectional analysis of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2005-2012. Last accessed 17th May 17 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26932353.
National Institute of Health (2013). The effects of breakfast on behaviour and academic performance in children and adolescents. Last accessed 17th May 17 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3737458/.
National Institute of Health (2013). The most important meal of the day: why children skip breakfast and what can be done about it. Last accessed 17th May 17 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23992210.
National Institute of Health (2013). What is metabolic syndrome, and why are children getting it? Last accessed 17th May 17 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3715098/.