Breakfast: The meal that matters most

trail mix

Ensuring happy, healthy children begins with a balanced breakfast

Any parent knows the morning rush begins well before the commute to work. Between dragging the kids out of bed and getting them cleaned and dressed for school, and getting yourself prepped for a day at the office, there’s often precious little time to spare in the morning.

What’s sometimes forgotten in the frenzy is a critical part of a child’s physical and mental development: breakfast. In fact, a nutritious breakfast should always be on the menu for children, says Mara Tache, M.D., an ADC pediatrician.

“The old saying may really be true: Breakfast is arguably the most important meal of the day. While there may be other things competing for your family’s time in the morning—extra sleep, for example—there’s really no substitute for providing children with a healthy breakfast,” says Tache. “Children who eat breakfast every day have more energy, better concentration, and fewer behavioral and social problems.”

Why is breakfast so important?

Breakfast literally means the breaking of the fast after a night’s sleep. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that eating breakfast provides a range of health benefits as well.

According to the CDC, not eating breakfast has been shown to lower academic performance and increase school tardiness compared to children who eat breakfast on a regular basis.

“Breakfast is especially important for the proper growth and development of children,” says Tache. “What’s more, children who eat breakfast are more likely to eat a healthful diet and maintain a healthy weight during their adult life. These benefits have even been shown to prevent health problems later in life, such as iron deficiency, tooth cavities, and osteoporosis.”

Studies have linked regular eating of breakfast to a reduced risk for many other diseases over a lifetime, among them some of the leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes.

No time for breakfast? No problem.

With the hectic schedules many families face today, a time-consuming breakfast with traditional American favorites such as bacon, eggs, and pancakes probably isn’t a realistic option—nor is it the healthiest choice. Tache says there are still a variety of ways to enjoy a nutritious breakfast in a rush or on the go:

  • Make it early.
    Many breakfast foods can be made in advance, including trail mix, whole grain muffins, and fresh fruit. Just put them in your child’s brown bag or lunch boxes the night before.
  • Make it portable.
    Breakfast burritos, bagels and similar breakfast items can be easily held in one hand and consumed in the car or at the bus stop on the way to school.
  • Make it at school.
    Many schools offer breakfast programs which have breakfast menus based on Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines. Parents should inquire with their local schools about breakfast enrollment options.

Breaking bad—for breakfast

In addition to breakfast dos, there are many breakfast don’ts. For one, try to avoid fast food breakfast items unless you are confident they do not contain the high-fat, high-calorie, and high sodium content found in many items, says Tache. Consider other healthier options from the menu instead, such as yogurt parfait, oatmeal, or granola.

And whether breakfast is served at home, school, or in a car, make sure kids drink water or low fat milk instead of sugary fruit juices, energy drinks, or sodas, adds Tache.

The Dietary Guidelines from Americans — published jointly the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) –recommends a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free and low-fat dairy products for people age two and older.

“Especially with National School Breakfast Week being March 5-9, I think this is a very opportune moment for families to reevaluate their breakfast practices,” says Tache. “What a child eats or doesn’t eat for breakfast can have a long-lasting impact on their health and well being.”