5 Ways Breakfast Helps Children Thrive

5 Ways Breakfast Helps Children Thrive

You’ve heard it many times before – breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  This is even more true for kids.  Kids are growing and establishing habits that last a lifetime. Yet 2 out of 10 children and 3 out of 10 adolescents skip breakfast every day. 

Here are five ways breakfast helps children thrive in terms of health, well being and success in school, based on the latest research.

1. It breaks the overnight fast: For children, especially between the ages of 3 and 11, the brain has a high metabolic demand for glucose.  Unlike adults, kids have small muscles and aren't able to store carbohydrates in large amounts to be used when intake runs low.  After a long time sleeping -- and kids sleep longer than adults -- children need fuel for their brain and body.

2. Breakfast helps children regulate their intake: While the research on breakfast supporting regulation of intake is mixed in adults, it's more consistent in children and adolescents.  For example, a 2010 review study published in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition revealed that out of 16 studies, 13 found breakfast consumption to protect against excess weight in children.    

Unlike adults, children are growing and that growth is the body’s priority.  When meals are not consistent you better believe the body is going to signal hunger, and overeating may be likely.

3. Breakfast helps kids perform better in school: According to The Wellness Impact: Enhancing Academic Success through Healthy School Environments, created by the National Dairy Council in partnership with the GENYOUth Foundation, American College of Sports Medicine and American School Health Association, breakfast skipping negatively impacts a child’s ability to learn. Research shows children who eat breakfast do better when it comes to memory, attention and test scores, and also have better school attendance in school.

4. Breakfast teaches children that food is a priority: Children are learning important habits that will last a lifetime. Kids may go through stages of not wanting to eat in the morning and that's okay.  But if parents stay true to this ritual, it is extremely likely their child will grow into an adult who plans and eats a well-balanced breakfast.

Bottom line: When families make time for breakfast in their busy schedules, either at home or at school, it teaches kids that feeding oneself is so important it’s worth getting up a little earlier to do so. Also, check with your child’s school to find out if they offer breakfast options in the classroom or the cafeteria.   

5. Breakfast improves daily nutrition: Research shows children who eat breakfast have better intakes of key vitamins and minerals than breakfast skippers. There are many nutritious foods that are served at breakfast, such as whole grains, fruit, dairy and protein sources like eggs. It's also a key opportunity for parents to positively influence their child's diet.

Tackle the obstacles

If breakfast is a challenge in your house, face the barriers head on.  Maybe your child starts school early or both you and your partner work, leaving little time in the morning.  It could also be a child is allowed to graze at night and isn’t physically hungry in the morning. Whatever the reason breakfast isn’t happening, fix the underlying reason for it.

If time is an issue, inquire with your school about breakfast options offered and encourage your cafeteria staff to offer breakfast if they aren’t already doing so.

But most importantly, start by making the commitment to greet every morning with a meal. Seeing your child healthy, happy and thriving will make it well worth the effort.   


 

Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, M.S., R.D. is a family nutrition expert, founding editor of Raise Healthy Eaters and co-author of Fearless Feeding: how to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School

References:

1. Hoyland A, Dye L, Lawton CL. A systematic review of the effect of breakfast on cognitive performance of children and adolescents. Nutrition Research Reviews. 2009;22: 220-243.

2. Szajewska H, Ruszczyrnski M. Systematic review demonstrating that breakfast consumption influences body weight outcomes in children and adolescents in Europe. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. 2010; 50(2): 113-119.

3. Rampersaud GC, Pereira MA, Girard BL, Adams J, Metzi JD. Breakfast habits, nutritional status, body weight, and academic performance in children and adolescents. J of Am Diet Assoc. 2005;105(5):743-760.

4. Deshmukh-Taskar 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 of Am Diet Assoc. 2010;110(6):869-878.

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