Breakfast before school is crucial for kids from preschool to high school


If there's one thing pediatricians, school nurses, teachers and nutritionists can agree on, it is the fact that children need a good breakfast before starting their school day.

Eight to 12 percent of kids in elementary and middle school skip breakfast; by the time they are in high school, up to 30 percent pass it by. Many studies have shown that this is detrimental to students' health and academic progress.

Studies back up healthy breakfasts

  • A University of Pennsylvania Nursing School study says kids who regularly eat breakfast score higher on verbal tests and performance IQ tests.
  • Scans show that kids who have eaten breakfast have more activity in their brains than those who don't.
  • A University of Missouri study has shown that kids who eat a healthy, protein-rich meal before school are less likely to snack on junk food later in the day.
  • University of Cardiff (Wales) researchers found that kids were twice as likely to achieve grades above average if they ate breakfast.
  • A Yale University study showed that kids who ate two breakfasts (one at home, one at school) rather than none were less likely to be obese or overweight than breakfast skippers.
  • A survey of Australian teachers reported that no-breakfast kids showed a lack of concentration and exhibited behavior problems, and that these kids lost two hours of learning per day.
  • The Federal School Breakfast Program has studied children participating in the program and the long-term effects of having breakfast. The kids miss fewer school days (1.5 days a year), they do better in math (17.5 percent higher grades), they are 20 percent more likely to graduate from high school and they are less likely to experience hunger as an adult.

Teens are especially prone to skipping breakfast

Teens have so much going on. They stay up late doing homework, doing part-time jobs, participating in extracurricular activities and conducting social lives. They are in perpetual motion, rushing out in the morning and not slowing down enough to eat. Their body clocks are geared to sleep later. Many girls are reluctant to eat in the morning because of fear of gaining weight. However, it has been shown that skipping breakfast can actually lead to weight gain. A 2008 study in the journal Pediatrics showed that regular breakfast eaters actually have lower Body Mass Indexes (BMIs) than non-eaters.

"We know the biggest predicter of overeating is undereating. Many of these kids skip breakfast and lunch but then go home and don't stop eating," says Marcie Beth Schneider, MD, of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition. "Study after study shows that kids who eat breakfast function better. They do better in school and have better concentration and more energy."

What makes a good breakfast

Eating a pre-sweetened cereal and sugary breakfast bars may lead to a blood sugar crash later in the day. That may lead to lowered performance and loss of energy and concentration.

A good breakfast should consist of protein and carbohydrates. The physical and mental benefits-less hunger, fewer blood sugar ups and downs, better concentration, better problem solving-should last all day. And more generally, they should lead to better long-term health.

A few suggestions

  • Good high protein foods are eggs, lean meats and tofu.
  • Good carbs would be oatmeal, whole-wheat toast and whole-grain cereal with little or no sugar added.
  • Vegetables and fruits and 100 percent juice are good additions.
  • Calcium-rich foods like yogurt and milk are good for growing bones.
  • For the teen in a hurry, a supply of healthy breakfast bars or a homemade nutritious smoothie can be on hand as the teen heads toward the door.
  • Eating meals together as a family encourages kids to eat more healthfully. If the family can eat breakfast as a unit, so much the better.

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