It helps you think so you won’t doze off during class.
– Yasmine Donker, 11 years old
Nine-year-old Keri Thompson has always heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, “I don’t know why,” she says, “but they say it a lot.”
Her classmate, Yasmine Donker knows why. When she skips breakfast she can always tell the difference. “I kind of regret it because I’d be so tired and I’d want to go back to bed,” she says.”
Experts say there’s a reason for that. Without breakfast, “The system is almost void of glucose to nourish the brain, they can’t think very well (breakfast is) very important,” says school Nutrition Director Wendy McNamee.
It’s not just how they think. Studies show students who skip breakfast get sick more often, and are more likely to get into fights or disobey their teachers.
“They tend to be more irritable, cranky, and this just causes more discipline problems,” says McNamee.
In fact, another study from the Harvard School of Public Health finds that once students did get a good breakfast they had higher attendance, better test scores, lower class disruptions and fewer trips to the school nurse.
To Donker, that makes perfect sense. “(Breakfast) gets me started and gets my energy worked up.”
Still, according to federal estimates, as many as ten million kids eligible for school breakfasts aren’t getting it. Countless others aren’t eating breakfast at home because parents are so busy or simply don’t understand the importance of that first meal.
“Think about your children,” says McNamee, “Think about why you’re sending them to school. To do well academically, to learn about the social aspects of life, and they need to be well fed to be able to do that.”
Breakfast is Good
We all know that breakfast is the “most important meal of the day.” But American children aren’t eating their breakfast, despite its availability in most schools. According to the anti-hunger organization Project Bread, in the state of Massachusetts, 48 percent of public schools have to offer free breakfast, and another 22 percent choose to give it. Still, only 34 percent of disadvantaged students take advantage of the program.
The school breakfast program was established after Congress enacted the Child Nutrition Act of 1966. The program grew out of research showing children who skipped breakfast had a difficult time concentrating at school and paying attention. Today, nearly 80,000 schools nation-wide offer a breakfast program.
Despite easy access to breakfast programs, children are still not eating breakfast, at school or at home. Statistics show almost half of all girls and one-third of boys do not eat breakfast regularly.
So why is breakfast so important? Ohio State University suggests considering the following before rushing the kids off hungry in the morning:
- The hunger resulting from skipping breakfast may cause children to exhibit nervousness, irritability, disinterest in learning, listlessness and lack of concentration. Students may be fatigued, bored and apathetic.
- Skipping breakfast is linked to behavior problems, attention deficit disorder, poorer language development, slower thinking and memory retrieval, and lower IQs. Calorie deprived children lack fuel to power the brain. They may not explore, play, or interact socially – all of which affect learning. The result can be lower scores on standardized tests, less focus, and higher absentee and tardiness rates.
- One-third of children who do not eat breakfast do not meet their daily protein requirement.
- 75 percent of children who do not eat breakfast fail to meet their recommended daily allowance for calcium.
- A poorly nourished body cannot resist disease and infection. More illness results in more missed school and less learning.
- Poor nutrition can lead to obesity.
Now that you understand the importance of breakfast, what do you do if your child doesn’t like the school breakfast?
Does an apple or banana suffice? Eating something is definitely better than nothing. Ideally, a breakfast consisting of starch, protein, fat and sugar will provide your child with the most energy. The Dairy Council of California suggests these simple breakfasts:
- Juice and cereal with milk.
- Toast with peanut butter and a piece of fruit.
- A fruit smoothie made with yogurt.
- A hard-cooked egg and a bagel.
- A cereal bar or a piece of fresh fruit and string cheese are great portable breakfasts.
- Leftovers can also make a great breakfast.
To make your morning routine run smoother, try these easy tips from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Human Nutrition Information Service:
- No time? Build a breakfast around foods that are ready to eat or take little preparation time. There are plenty that qualify: fresh and canned fruits, milk, yogurt, cheese, cottage cheese, ready-to-eat cold cereals and instant breakfast mixes.
- Take it to go… Try celery stuffed with peanut butter or a meat or cheese spread, dried fruits or vegetable juices.
- Perk up cereals… Top cereals with fruit or stir chopped nuts such as peanuts, pecans and walnuts into cooked cereal.
- Not hungry yet? Drink juice. Something is better than nothing. Have some bread or crackers later in the morning, then drink some milk and eat some cheese, an egg or peanut butter.
- Don’t let your child skip, even if he/she is on a diet. There’s no evidence that skipping meals will help you lose weight. In fact, studies show that most people who skip breakfast tend to eat more later in the day. Some even select more calorically-dense foods than those who eat breakfast.
- Dairy Council of California
- Food Research and Action Center
- Harvard School of Public Health
- International Food Information Council
- Ohio State University
- United States Department of Agriculture