Healthful Breakfast Important for School Performance

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Anecdotally, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But the old saying holds some merit, especially to children and teens headed back to school.

“Breakfast literally ‘breaks the fast’ and allows the brain and body to get a fresh supply of nutrients and glucose, the cells’ fuel,” said Mary Jo Parker, registered dietitian offering nutrition and counseling services in Williamsville. “Young children’s brains use approximately half of the body’s fuel. Studies show breakfast is linked with improved academic performance, improved memory and concentration, better test scores, increased energy level, and healthier body weight.”

What children eat is just as important, since a breakfast of simple carbohydrates such as a white flour bagel, sugary breakfast cereal, cereal bar, toaster pastry or white toast won’t stick with them.

“Good breakfasts are based on healthy balance,” Parker said.

She recommends whole grain products with fruit and vegetables and nuts or nut butters, a natural source of fiber, along with a lean source of protein “to stabilize blood glucose and supply a variety of nutrients to start the day.”

Some examples include:

• whole grain toast, English muffin or tortilla with low fat cheese, nut butter, or eggs

• cottage cheese and fruit or trail mix

• low-fat or non-fat yogurt (lower sugar varieties) with fruit and/or cereal, nuts.

• smoothies with low-fat or non-fat milk or yogurt, fruit, nut butters, and vegetables like spinach, kale or carrots

• meal supplements like instant breakfasts – milk and protein powder from whey, soy, nuts and/or legumes

• wholegrain pancakes or waffles with nut butter or fruit or a little real maple syrup.

• healthful cereal, milk, and fruit.

If you lack time to prepare much on busy school mornings, you have options. Debra Stacey, psychiatric nurse practitioner affiliated with WNY Medical, PC in Buffalo, has also been trained as a diabetes educator. She suggests making an egg in the microwave in a coffee cup. Or have instant oatmeal or granola and yogurt.

“Celery and peanut butter or an apple and peanut butter offers a carb and a protein source. That will last them longer.”

Try preparing food in advance, like baking egg muffins (see sidebar) to supply the entire week. Or check your slow cooker’s recipe booklet or online for overnight hot cereal options.

Stacey said to portion whole grain breakfast cereal and granola into individual servings, a strategy that helps with portion control and offering healthful grab-and-go options for mornings when sitting at the table for a meal won’t happen.

“Eating something wholesome from home will last them longer,” Stacey said. “The problem is we put off eating so by lunch, they’re starving.”

That’s when children and teens may make poor choices in lunchroom.