Breakfast is usually considered the most important meal of the day, but one-fourth of children ages 6 to 11 miss that meal.
“While the good news is that three out of four children do eat breakfast according to a 2006 survey, it also means that 25 percent of the kids head off to school with an empty fuel tank,” says LSU AgCenter nutritionist Dr. Beth Reames.
Adults fare even worse. The survey also revealed that only 48 percent of adults ages 25 to 54 eat breakfast every day.
“Eating breakfast improves concentration, problem-solving ability, mental performance, memory and mood,” Reames says, adding that students will think faster and more clearly and will have better recall if they eat breakfast.
Breakfast eaters also score higher on tests and have better concentration and muscle coordination. Children who eat breakfast are more alert and perform better on school tests than children who do not eat breakfast. They are also more creative and energetic.
Some people believe that skipping breakfast may help them lose weight. Studies of adolescents, however, indicate that missing breakfast is associated with weight gain. Skipping meals often leads to overeating later in the day. Becoming overly hungry often leads to a lack of control and the inability to determine when you’re full. This often leads to eating more calories than if you had a nutritious breakfast.
Hunger, even short-term hunger, decreases attention span and the ability to concentrate. Hungry children just can't do their best work. They're easily distracted and become fidgety, irritable and tired. On the other hand, children who eat breakfast are less likely to miss class, be tardy or report they are sick.
Teachers shouldn’t forget breakfast, either. Breakfast provides both kids and grown-ups with the energy and nutrients needed to start the day. It's especially important for parents to eat a good breakfast every day, since parents are role models for their children. Children who see their parents eat breakfast are more likely to eat breakfast, too.
If you skip breakfast, your body has gone many hours with nothing in your system. Getting the 40-plus nutrients needed each day is more likely for those who eat a morning meal. Breakfast skippers may never make up the nutrients they miss.
Breakfast should provide children with about a quarter of their daily calories. Children who skip breakfast may not get as much protein, carbohydrates, calcium, iron and vitamin C each day as children who eat breakfast.
Breakfast provides glucose – the fuel you need to think, walk, talk and carry on all activities because your brain and central nervous system run on glucose. Without it you deprive your brain of nutrients, and your body has to work extra hard to break down any stored carbohydrate or turn fat or protein into a usable form for your brain to function. You’ll begin to feel the effects when you're sitting in a classroom, trying to concentrate on reading or doing any other work.
School breakfast is the best option to provide a balanced meal every school morning. School breakfasts provide a balance of nutrients, including carbohydrate, protein and fat. A balanced breakfast such as fruit, cereal and low-fat milk gives a sustained release of energy, which delays symptoms of hunger for several hours.
If there's no time in the morning to eat breakfast, you can bring plenty of items along with you to school or work. For example, carry a re-sealable bag of easy-to-eat whole-grain cereal or bring yogurt or small box of skim milk, juice or fruit.
Even if you just tolerate food in the morning, try to have a little something, such as some juice, and bring along a mid-morning snack. Other good portable items include whole-grain crackers, hard-cooked eggs, cottage cheese, low-fat granola bars or even a peanut butter sandwich. Single-serving hot cereals, such as oatmeal, also are handy because all you have to do is add hot water, which is available at most cafeterias or at the office.
“The rush to school and work each day means some things have to be sacrificed – and often that includes breakfast,” Reames says. “Make eating breakfast a top priority in your and your children's lives.”
Editor: Mark Claesgens