By Rebecca Turner, MS, RD, CSSD, LD
Wish you had a dollar for every time you have heard, “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day?” Unfortunately, many of us hear this statement but don’t buy into the importance of a morning meal, because unfortunately breakfast is the meal that is skipped the most! Ever wonder why it is significant?
For starters, breakfast begins your day with the nutrition your body craves. Studies show children who eat breakfast have better attendance in school, improved test scores, superior nutrition and are less likely to be overweight. Whether you are an adult or a child, eating a morning meal improves mood, sharpens the mind and prevents you from getting too hungry before lunch.
Healthy children = better learners.
Action for Healthy Kids, a non-profit organization that provides resouces such as Learn, Act & Transform, to school health leaders and volunteers in schools across the country, purports that the equation is simple, and urges us all to do the math. One-third of our kids are overweight or obese putting them at risk for a variety of health complications and chronic diseases, including heart disease, gallbladder disease, asthma, type 2 diabetes and cancer. Childhood obesity is serious, but it is also preventable. When families work together to make healthier food and exercise choices, children feel, play, and learn better.
Parents, grandparents, educators and guardians everywhere can all play a part to help instill kids with the lifelong habits they’ll need for health and academic success. From feeding the children in our lives a nutritious breakfast each morning, to encouraging them to play actively for 60 minutes every day, each one of us can help improve their health so they can succeed in the classroom, and ultimately in life.
Active bodies = better learners.
Study after study shows kids who get regular physical activity experience improvements not just in their fitness levels but in brain function too. Just walking or biking to school can prime the brain for learning. It makes sense – kids need to move more. When they do, they are better prepared to excell in the classroom.
Kids don’t have to be star athletes to benefit from regular physical activity. Researchers in Georgia, for example, determined that a vigorous afterschool exercise program with time-specific requirements helped overweight children improve executive function (the overall ability to organize thoughts), prioritize tasks, manage time efficiently, and make decisions.
The take home for school administrators and parents is clear: school time spent on physical activity will improve fitness, will not negatively influence academics and may actually boost academic performance.
Quality Calories = better learners.
Research indicates the quality of foods children eat impacts their cognition. As a registered dietitian, I also know that eating more nutrient rich foods is the best way to combat chronic diseases and maintain a healthy weight. For this reason, it is best to focus on healthier choices during the school week and splurge on doughnuts or syrup covered pancakes on some weekends and special occasions. A balanced breakfast includes 3 of the 5 food groups: whole grains, fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy.
Good choices include a bowl of whole grain oatmeal, with a banana. To boost calcium and protein, make the oatmeal with milk instead of water. Serve up a vegetable omelet filled with farmer’s market fresh zucchini, red bell pepper, and mushrooms with low-fat cheese. A peanut butter-banana roll-up is sure to be a hit. Spread a tablespoon of peanut butter on a whole grain tortilla; add banana slices, roll and go. Don’t forget the milk! Whether your child prefers plain white or chocolate milk, they are still getting the same amount of protein, and 8 other vitamins and minerals that help build strong bones and healthy bodies.
What if your household’s morning resembles a circus with mom as the ringleader and getting the kids to school with both shoes on and their teeth brushed is a death-defying act? Then keep your kitchen stocked with grab-n-go options. Older kids can make apple cheddar toast with slices of apples on whole grain bread, topped with low-fat cheddar cheese in the same time it takes to toast pastries with little to no nutritional value. Or send them out the door with a yogurt smoothie and granola bar. Always keep whole grain cereals and granola bars with at least 5 grams of fiber per serving in the pantry or better yet, stashed in their book bag.
School breakfast = better attendance.
Remember, breakfast at school is an option too. Almost all public schools serve a breakfast meal that is required to provide children with ¼ of their daily vitamin and mineral needs. According to a 2013 national report by Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign, done in collaboration with Deloitte, on average students who eat school breakfast have been shown to attend 1.5 more days of school per year and score 17.5 percent higher on standardized math tests. The study, Ending Child Hunger: A Social Impact Analysis highlights the link between breakfast and academic performance with a snapshot of results in Maryland. Here, schools serving breakfast in their classrooms experienced as much as a 7.2% lower rate of chronic absenteeism and students in schools serving breakfast in their classrooms were up to 12.5% more likely to achieve proficiency on standardized math tests.
Good Food + Active Bodies = kids equipped for success!
At school and at home, every adult has a role to play in helping our children become healthy and ready to learn. Make breakfast a priority in your home. Even if it sounds like the proverbial broken record, “Eat Your Breakfast!”
References – Action for Healthy Kids, The Learning Connection: What you need to know to ensure your kids are healthy and ready to learn. 2013.