We often hear parents, doctors and other experts say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and yet many children (and even adults) skip breakfast habitually. Studies found that about 8 to 12 percent of all school-aged children skip breakfast. Some eat breakfast occasionally, while others never get their morning meal during schooldays. Research also shows that by the time they become adolescents, up to 30 percent of these kids completely give up their morning meal.
There are various reasons why children often skip breakfast. One of these is that many kids, especially older kids and teens, often stay up late at night doing homework and other activities, including part-time jobs. When they go to bed late, they often snooze to get a few minutes more of sleep in the morning, and then get up in a rush to go to school, without grabbing anything to eat. Some teens, especially girls, skip meals to avoid weight gain, saying that they are not hungry in the morning.
Research provides evidence on the positive effects of eating a healthy breakfast, which does not have to be an elaborate meal.
Why Kids Should Eat Breakfast Every Day
One of the most important reasons why children must be encouraged to eat breakfast daily is that it improves their over-all health. Eating a nutrient-dense meal in the morning provides them the opportunity to consume fiber-rich cereals and whole wheat breads, bone-building, calcium-rich dairy products and various other vitamins and minerals from fruits. This makes it easier for them to meet their nutrient requirements as recommended by dietary guidelines.
According to Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, people who skip breakfast are less likely to meet their daily requirement for nutrients that a simple breakfast could provide. Consuming calcium- and vitamin D-rich foods like milk, yogurt and cheese is important, especially when bone and muscle growth are rapidly taking place. Aside from these, fruits, vegetables, cereals and other grains provide their bodies with the nutrients that help boost immunity against infections, diabetes, autoimmune disease, and other chronic conditions. These include vitamins A, C, D and B-vitamins, including folic acid.
Eating Breakfast Promotes Healthy Weight
Childhood obesity is becoming a significant health problem, which experts believe may improve if more children eat a healthy breakfast daily. Studies show that eating breakfast is important in maintaining a healthy body weight. Children who do not eat in the morning are more likely to experience hunger long before it is time for lunch, and may have a tendency to snack on foods that are high in sugar and fat.
On the other hand, kids who eat breakfast consisting of whole-grains like oatmeal do not experience steep drops in their blood sugar levels later during the day. Experts therefore recommend avoiding sugary cereals, which can cause rapid peaks and falls in blood sugar levels.
Eating Breakfast Promotes Mental Health In Kids
Aside from over-all physical health, eating a healthy breakfast also boosts children’s mental well-being. Johns Hopkins cites that breakfast provides students the energy and nutrients that promotes increased focus and concentration in class. It also boosts alertness and academic performance. One study published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine found that children who ate breakfast had significantly higher math test scores than those who did otherwise. These findings support other studies that found children to perform better in other areas of academics when they ate breakfast consistently, as evidenced by better scores in memory and verbal fluency tests.
A nutritious breakfast improves mood in children while skipping it can make them feel irritable, tired, or sad. Avoiding mid-day hunger can also reduce stress and help children cope with the challenges of school-life.
What Parents Can Do
First of all, parents provide a role model for children’s eating habits and behaviors. Consistently providing healthy breakfast choices and eating with children in the morning can help reinforce healthy eating habits in the morning. Here are some tips to inspire children to begin the day with a healthy breakfast:
- Get up from bed earlier so you can fix a healthy breakfast. This may take only 15 minutes or less, but will mean a whole lot for the family, including you!
- Plan ahead- decide what you are going to prepare for breakfast before going to bed. You can save time in the morning by cutting up fruit and putting out your cereal box the night before.
- Prepare foods from the following food groups:
- Whole wheat bread and grains (such as cereal, muffin, and toast)
- Low-fat milk and milk products (such as yogurt, skim milk, cheese)
- Fruit or vegetables (such as bananas, apples, or carrots)
- Provide handy breakfast items from the grocery store such as fresh fruit, dried fruit, whole grain breakfast bars, granola bars and low-fat yogurt for mornings when they have to rush and eat breakfast on the go.
- Make omelets with chopped vegetables ahead of time.
- Be creative and provide a variety of choices from each food group. This can include fruit smoothies, cottage cheese, boiled eggs, celery sticks, sliced apples, string cheese, left-over chicken, or peanut butter sandwich.
- When you buy breakfast items such as granola bars, be sure to read the nutrition labels and find out what ingredients they contain. Look for products that have smaller quantities of added sugar, fat and salt.
- To add protein to your power breakfast, prepare turkey, Canadian bacon, or eggs. You can also make burrito with scrambled eggs, vegetables and cheese wrapped in a whole wheat tortilla.
- Make a healthy breakfast trail mix consisting of raisins, mixed nuts, almond slivers, and Cheerios. Pair this with a banana or a glass of fortified orange juice.
Breakfast does not have to be elaborate, but on weekends, you can treat the kids to their favorite pancakes and waffles, topped with fruits and maple syrup. If you are feeling lazy, just warm-up some left-over vegetable and cheese pizza or whole wheat bagel with peanut butter. If you run out of good breakfast ideas, look up your recipe books or the internet, which provides a rich source of ideas.