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Is breakfast really the most important meal of the day for my child?

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For generations, parents and caregivers have told their children that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. In recent years, however, the importance of breakfast has been debated because of competing diet plans and weight-loss strategies, but most experts still agree that a good breakfast is important—especially for children. The energy that breakfast provides not only jump-starts a child’s metabolism, it helps them burn calories throughout the day and also gives kids the energy needed for physical activities while also helping them focus better during school. Many studies also link eating a healthy breakfast to overall improved health including lowering levels of bad LDL cholesterol as well as lowering the chances of getting diabetes, heart disease, and being overweight. 

When a child skips breakfast, the lack of nutrition can cause them to feel tired, restless or, irritable. That’s because skipping a morning meal can throw off a body’s rhythm of fasting and eating. As kids (and adults) wake up in the morning, the blood sugar required to make muscles and the brain work is usually low. A healthy breakfast helps refuel the body for the day ahead and helps enhance mood, energy, and brainpower—especially important for young minds starting the educational process. 

Although it may be tempting to serve easy breakfast items like cereals, toaster pastries, and breakfast bars, parents and caregivers should remember that many of these items are loaded in sugar and provide very little nutritional value. The best bet is to check the nutritional labels on anything you serve to ensure an item is a healthy choice for a child’s breakfast. 

When planning breakfast options, parents and caregivers should consider foods that are not only healthy—but that kids actually want to eat. Best choices include foods that are rich in whole grains, fiber, and protein (and low in added sugar) which may enhance a child’s kids' attention span, concentration, and memory. 

A balanced breakfast should include the following nutrients:

  • Carbohydrates: a good source of immediate energy for the bodyand found inwhole-grain cereal, brown rice, whole-grain breads and muffins, fruits, vegetables;
  • Protein: a source for energy after the carbs are used up and found in low-fat or nonfat dairy products, lean meats, eggs, nuts (including nut butter), seeds, and cooked dried beans; and
  • Fiber: which helps provide a feeling of fullness (and discourages overeating) as well as helping food move through the digestive system, preventing constipation and lowering cholesterol and found in whole-grain bread, waffles, and cereals; brown rice, bran, and other grains; fruits, vegetables, beans, and nuts.

Some ideas for healthy breakfasts include the following: 

  • Whole-grain cereal with low-fat milk topped with fruit

  • Whole-grain waffles topped with peanut butter or ricotta cheese and fruit

  • Whole-wheat pita stuffed with sliced hard-cooked eggs

  • Hot cereal topped with nuts or fruit sprinkled with cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, or cloves

  • Half a whole-grain bagel topped with peanut butter and fresh fruit (banana or apple wedges) and low-fat milk

  • Breakfast smoothie (low-fat milk or yogurt, fruit, and a teaspoon of bran, whirled in a blender)

  • Vegetable omelet with whole-wheat toast

  • Bran muffin and berries

The morning meal doesn't have to be all about traditional breakfast items. You can mix it up to include different foods, even the leftovers from last night's dinner, and still provide the nutrients and energy kids need for the day. Some ideas include:

  • Sliced cucumbers and hummus in a whole-wheat pita

  • Lean turkey and tomato on a toasted English muffinHheated leftover rice with chopped apples, nuts, and cinnamon

  • Low-fat cream cheese and fresh fruit, such as sliced strawberries, on whole-grain bread or half a whole-grain bagel

  • Shredded cheese on a whole-wheat tortilla, folded in half and microwaved for 20 seconds and topped with salsa

If kids aren't hungry first thing in the morning, be sure to pack a breakfast that they can eat a little later on the bus or between classes. Fresh fruit, cereal, nuts, or half a peanut butter and banana sandwich are nutritious, easy to make, and easy for kids to take along.

You also may want to check out the breakfasts available at school or daycare. Some provide them for free or at reduced prices for families with limited incomes. If your kids eat breakfast outside the home, talk with them about how to make healthy selections.

And don't forget how important your good example is. Let your kids see you making time to enjoy breakfast every day. Even if you just wash down some whole-wheat toast and a banana with a glass of juice or milk, you're showing how important it is to face the day only after refueling your brain and body with a healthy morning meal.


By ABC Quality Team on August 25, 2020