Breakfast is the most important meal of the day… or so they say.
Children’s bodies are growing and developing. This means they need the right nutrients and fuel in the right amounts to become the best they can be. Lunch and dinner just can’t provide all the vitamins and minerals most kids need.
Scientific studies have shown that children who eat a healthy, protein-based breakfast have improved memory, behavior, and test scores. They may also be cranky or restless. As an extra bonus, they nod off in class less.
Jill Castle, R.D., mother, and author of Fearless Feeding – How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School, confirmed that kids need a morning boost:
“Kids aren’t like adults. They’re not able to tell themselves that they can hold off to eat until after school. It affects their behaviors. They just get tired and can’t focus. And for a child in school, that’s one of the worst things that could happen. Adults have this mind over matter thing that kids don’t have.”
Another key difference between age groups is that children sleep more. Therefore, they fast longer between meals than adults.
Breakfast helps kids pay better attention in school and is another chance for kids to consume key nutrients they need to grow, like calcium and complex carbohydrates and healthy fats.”
Protein is an important part of every cell in the body which uses it to build and repair tissues, manufacture enzymes, hormones, and other body chemicals, and build bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood. Hair and nails are made mostly of protein.
Fat and carbohydrates join protein as three macronutrients the body needs in relatively large amounts. Unlike the first two, the body can’t store protein. With no protein reserves, the body can run out if the macronutrient isn’t replenished daily.
Protein is filling because, as it digests, it stimulates a stomach hormone that signals the brain that you’ve had enough to eat.
Nurse Castle advised including a good source of protein in every child’s first meal of the day:
“Eggs, yogurt, milk, deli meat – whatever your kids like best.”
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says children aged 2 to 6 need seven ounces of protein in two daily servings. Older children and teen girls are advised to consume a total of six ounces in two daily servings.
Another nurse and mom recommended passing on serving kids baked goods for breakfast. Natalia Stasenko, R.D., said:
“I cannot think of any disadvantages of a balanced and nutritious breakfast. But eating croissants with butter every morning worth 700 calories can compromise quality of diet, so what you eat for breakfast is very important.”
Castle added this tip: keep breakfast interesting for the small fry by mixing it up:
“Always rotate the meals. An egg-based breakfast on Monday, fruit and yogurt-based breakfast on Tuesday.”
But sometimes busy schedules get in the way of regular healthy nutrition. The goal is to get your kids to eat at least 5 grams of protein each morning. Consider tempting them with these foods:
- Boiled eggs
- Peanut butter
- Protein bar
- Fruit (orange, banana or apple)
Here’s a tip for times when it’s a mad rush to get to school: pack something proteinous (fruit, nuts, or half a peanut butter and banana sandwich) to munch on the way to school or between classes.
Studies have shown that children who skip breakfast are more likely to eat junk food during the day and be overweight. Teenage research participants who ate a daily breakfast had a lower body mass index (BMI – a measure of body fat derived from height and weight) than those who either never ate breakfast or sometimes did.
Don’t think you’re the first parent whose kid shies away from the breakfast table. Creative recipes abound online, from Breakfast Banana Pops and fruit-filled popsicles to an open-face egg and tomato sandwich and Egg-in-a-Pepper (this one I’m going to try).
Best of all, these breakfasts are quick and easy to prepare.
So fill up your offspring with protein before they set off to conquer the world. If all goes as planned, they won’t need a nap before the final bell rings.