Evidence suggests that eating breakfast really does help kids learn. After fasting all night, a developing body (and brain) needs a fresh supply of glucose — or blood sugar. That's the brain's basic fuel.
"Without glucose," explains Terrill Bravender, professor of pediatrics at Duke University, "our brain simply doesn't operate as well. People have difficulty understanding new information, [they have a] problem with visual and spatial understanding, and they don't remember things as well."
Dozens of studies from as far back as the 1950s have consistently shown that children who eat breakfast perform better academically than those who don't. In a recent study of 4,000 elementary school students, researchers measured the effects of eating breakfast by administering a battery of attention tests. Across the board, Murphy says, the breakfast eaters performed better than those children who had skipped breakfast.¹
Other studies show that children who skip breakfast have slower memory recall, make more errors and are more likely to be absent or tardy. Eating breakfast helps children perform better academically, reduces behavioral problems in class, and sets the stage for healthy eating for life. Research studies find that children who eat breakfast perform better on standardized tests, make fewer mistakes in math, and show a general increase in math and reading scores. They also have fewer discipline problems and visit school nurses’ offices less often.
So now that we know breakfast is important, here’s the next question:
DOES IT MATTER WHAT KIDS EAT FOR BREAKFAST?
The answer? Most definitely YES!
Foods with a high sugar content, simple carbohydrates and processed foods are absorbed quickly and cause a peak in blood sugar. But the levels then fall dramatically in a few hours. So the kids come into school all bubbly and lively and about 10:30 they “crash.” Whole grains (think oatmeal or whole grain toast) are absorbed slowly so blood sugar rises slowly and gives kids enough energy to last all morning. That’s the goal.
In addition, experts believe that a good breakfast should be packed with protein. The combination of protein and good carbohydrates powers up the brain and keeps kids feeling full until lunch time.
Good nutrition is important for good learning.
WHAT MAKES A GOOD BREAKFAST FOR CHILDREN?
First let’s talk about what foods to avoid at breakfast: things like sugary breakfast cereals, white-flour pancakes and syrup, bagels, donuts, coffee cake, and pop tarts. Fruit juice is okay if it is consumed with a whole-grain carbohydrate source.
Here are several ideas that I like to call the Breakfast of Scholars:
1-2 slices of whole-grain toast or whole-wheat English muffin or toasted whole-grain waffle topped with peanut butter, milk and fresh fruit
Breakfast burrito: whole-wheat tortilla or pita pocket stuffed with scrambled egg mixed with salsa
Whole-grain cereals, hot or cold, with low-fat milk or yogurt and 1-2 tablespoons of slivered nuts on top. If the cereal box label says there are 3 grams of fiber or more a serving, that means there is significant fiber.
Whole-wheat toast, 1 or 2 eggs, milk, fresh fruit
Whole-grain cereal like oatmeal or shredded wheat with low-fat milk, topped with fresh or dried fruit and honey.
And last but not least...One of my favorites is a sliced apple sprinkled with cinnamon, topped with vanilla yogurt, oatmeal (right out of the box - it’s OK to eat it uncooked) and some chopped walnuts...yummy!
It's Your Turn: What do you serve for breakfast? We'd love you to tell us your favorites for a healthy start to the day. Share your ideas in the comments box below.
1. NPR.org: A Better Breakfast Can Boost a Child’s Brain Power by Allison Aubrey