How often have we heard or used the sayings, ‘breakfast is the most important meal of the day’ or ‘you should breakfast like a king’? Are these statements founded in truth or have they simply just been used throughout generations to get children to eat up? Interestingly, there is scientific evidence behind these claims and ensuring children start the day with a nutritious breakfast will have far-reaching benefits.
Breakfast really is a must for everyone but most significantly for children, whose growing bodies and brains need constant refuelling of essential nutrients. There are many reasons why breakfast is so critical, one important reason being that is helps control blood sugar levels. After a night’s sleep, blood sugar levels are likely to be at their lowest point and will rise after eating. To maintain a stable mood and focus we need to choose foods that will support a gradual rise in blood sugar rather than provide a ‘quick spike’. This gradual rise will help to sustain our energy levels and concentration until the next meal-time. Not only does this impact on behaviour and learning, it also affects appetite, cravings for sweet foods and impacts on weight management.
Many people, including children, also complain that they just ‘can’t face breakfast’ first thing in the morning. This feeling can also be closely linked to blood sugar and it is these individuals who can least afford to give breakfast a miss. When blood sugar levels become very low at night their bodies require a kick-start to get going. They can be groggy, lethargic, irritable, unfocused and grumpy first thing until their adrenaline levels rise. By getting up early enough to allow time to be active and stimulated, their bodies can then feel more like eating breakfast. What constitutes breakfast also needs consideration, as choosing the right options may help them to ‘face it’ and begin to feel hungry in the morning.
Research around the importance of breakfast highlights children’s improved focus, concentration, cognition and overall behaviour. The key to blood sugar levels and a ‘healthy’ breakfast is including protein and fibre. Protein and fibre are key to reducing the absorption of the sugar, therefore helping to keep blood sugar levels more even. Some breakfast choices, such as processed cereals and fruit yoghurts can be very high in sugar and contribute to that ‘quick spike’.
Considering the huge benefits, there are plenty of breakfast options available but some great well-balanced options include:
- Wholegrain toast and eggs (scrambled or poached)
- Mini-frittata’s with mushrooms and tomatoes
- Smoked salmon and scrambled eggs
- Fresh fruit salad, natural Greek yoghurt and seeds
- Porridge oats with berries and seeds
- Home made muesli/granola (including nuts, seeds, oats, quinoa flakes, coconut flakes, millet flakes, dried fruit and serve with yoghurt or milk with fresh berries or chopped apple)
- Home made pancakes with yoghurt and berries or scrambled egg and mackerel
- Home made smoothies
- Home made muffins
Sleep is also an important factor when considering breakfast. If children do not have enough sleep and have a diet lacking in certain nutrients, such as magnesium, this can have a knock-on effect to them eating breakfast in the morning. Take a look at ‘Eat and Play for Sleep’ for further information in this area.
Given the importance of fuelling up their bodies and minds for the day ahead it is worth planning for breakfast and making sure you have sufficient time to prepare it and they have time to eat it. If you build a good balanced breakfast into your child’s day you should soon be able to see the benefits in terms of mood, concentration, behaviour, appetite, food choices and learning.
About the author
The Food Teacher, Katharine Tate, is an award winning nutritional therapist, teacher, mum, and entrepreneur who has over 20 years experience working with children and schools in the UK, New Zealand, and Hong Kong.
She has founded The Food Teacher brand that combines her passion for education and nutrition to deliver a healthy childhood, focusing on promoting family health through food and lifestyle.