Proof Positive: Breakfast Improves Kids' Grades, Mood and Weight
Growing is no easy task. Between the ages of 2 and 18, kids will grow five to six times their starting weight and height1. Where does all this growth come from? Food! Meals! Breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Breakfast, long known as the most important meal of the day, comes after a long night of sleep during which energy stores are used up. Skipping breakfast puts kids at a serious disadvantage in the growing game. Being hungry at school is no good for grades, either.
Ninety-three percent of Americans agree that breakfast is the most important of all meals, but a third of our kids still show up at school with no fuel in the tank2.
The reasons for skipping breakfast are easy to understand: getting to school is hectic and cutting out breakfast might save a few minutes. Kids say they aren't hungry, and teenagers who are watching their weight may believe that skipping a meal will help them shed pounds.
But a recent review of 36 studies comparing kids who eat breakfast to those who don't found that eating breakfast has nearly universal benefits on kids' behavior, school performance and overall health. Grades and test scores were higher among breakfast-eaters, attention was more focused and even body weight benefited, with kids who ate breakfast being more likely to have a normal body weight. Those who skipped breakfast were actually more likely to be overweight3.
And let's not forget about the health benefits that go along with the morning meal. Kids and teens who eat breakfast have between 20 and 60 percent higher levels of iron, B vitamins and vitamin D than those who don't4. These vitamins and minerals are crucial for healthy growth and often aren't made up for during lunch and dinner. In fact, breakfast, with its emphasis on whole grains (cereal, oatmeal), dairy (milk, yogurt), healthy proteins (eggs, milk) and healthy carbohydrates (fruit, oatmeal, toast) tends to be a nutrition-packed meal.
And as far as losing weight, skipping breakfast is the exact opposite of what your teen should do. Going without food until lunch can lead to out-sized hunger and more eating throughout the day, a surefire way to gain weight, not lose it5.
Still worried about the extra time breakfast takes? Don't be. The best breakfast is balanced, with a combination of at least three of the five food groups, but keep in mind that anything is better than nothing. One study showed that something as simple as a cup of low-fat milk in the morning boosted grades in girls6.
While the study didn't show an effect in boys, that doesn't mean they don't benefit, too. Milk offers an irreplaceable package of nutrients including protein, carbohydrates, fat and nine essential vitamins and minerals. Pair it with cereal or a piece of fruit, and you've got a pretty great start to the day.
Other quick breakfast ideas are easy to come up with. A banana and a cup of yogurt sprinkled with granola is a top-notch breakfast, but the banana, yogurt or granola alone will still make a difference for your child. String cheese and a piece of fruit can handed over at the last minute and eaten on the bus.
If your child balks at eating so early in the morning, send him or her with a small carton of milk to sip on and find out if your child's school offers a breakfast program. Whether it's in the kitchen, in the car, on the bus or in the classroom or cafeteria, breakfast fuels learning and healthy kids. Get something in that belly! Find easy and quick breakfast ideas.
When you have time during the week or even on weekend mornings, eat with your kids to emphasize the importance of breakfast. Find more articles, tips, recipes and breakfast ideas.
1. Centers for Disease Control, National Center for Health Statistics
2. Deshmukh-Taskar PR, Nicklas TA, O’Neil CE, Keast DR, et al. The relationship of breakfast skipping and type of breakfast consumption with nutrient intake and weight status in children and adolescents: The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 1999-2006. J. Am. Diet. Assoc. 2010; 110, 869-878
3. Adolphus K, Lawton C, Dye L. The effects of breakfast on behavior and academic performance in children and adolescents. Front Hum Neurosci.2013;7:425
4. Gibson S. Micronutrient intakes, micronutrient status and lipid profiles among young people consuming different amounts of breakfast cereals: further analysis of data from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey of Young People aged 4 to 18 years. Public Health Nutr. 2003; 6, 815-820.
5. de la Hunty A, Gibson S, Ashwell M. Does regular breakfast cereal consumption help children and adolescents stay slimmer? A systematic review and meta-analysis. Obes. Facts. 2013;6 70-85.
6. Rahmani K, Djazayery A, Habibi MI, et al. Effects of daily milk supplementation on improving the physical and mental function as well as school performance among children: results from a school feeding program. J. Res. Med. Sci. 2011; 16, 469-476.