Breakfast is the most important meal of the day and the meal most often skipped. This article explains the importance of breakfast for children and offers information on healthy breakfasts.
Adults skip breakfast for a wide range of reasons, including not feeling hungry, lack of time, and a dislike of “breakfast foods”.
Establishing the habit of eating breakfast in childhood is very important. A good example should be set by the whole family in order for our kids to develop good habits, just like any other behaviour. (You can’t expect your child to develop the breakfast habit if you don’t eat breakfast yourself).
Have you heard the expression:
Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper (Adelle Davis)
Why is breakfast so important?
There are many reasons why we promote breakfast as being the most important meal of the day:
- Generally there is a long break between the evening meal and breakfast. The name of this meal comes from the long period without food – i.e. you are “breaking your fast” from dinner the night before. At this time it is important to refuel your body to kick-start the day. Overnight glucose (sugar) stores tend to be depleted and to ensure your energy levels are back on track it is important to eat breakfast. Children need to refuel to help them cope with their energetic day ahead.
- Studies show that breakfast helps with weight control. Eating breakfast means you are more likely to snack less during the day. Children who don’t eat breakfast may graze during the morning, eating more energy than they need. Also at school they may be more inclined to eat all of their lunch at morning break leaving them with nothing to eat at lunch time, leading to hunger and more snacking after school.
- It is also a well documented fact that breakfast is important for concentration and mental performance. We all want our children to be able to concentrate and perform to the best of their abilities at school.
- Breakfast is also one of our three main meals each day. If you skip this meal then you are at higher risk of not getting adequate nutrients from your diet. Breakfast foods typically tend to be a great source of fibre, carbohydrate, and a wide range of vitamins and minerals.
Helpful hints to encourage a good breakfast
What can you do if your child doesn’t eat breakfast? Remember new habits do not always happen overnight, so don’t give up if this is proving difficult.
- Always make breakfast part of the morning routine – if you miss it sometimes, then it will not seem important.
- Avoid distractions – DON’T turn on the TV!
- If you have the time it may help to sit at the table while your child is eating – they are less likely to get distracted if they have your company.
- Some children may need some time between getting up and having breakfast – don’t rush them straight to the table. It can actually be more relaxing for them to have got dressed and organised, then to sit and enjoy the meal.
- Encourage eating something small – the important thing is to eat something at this time, perhaps a piece of fruit. Once the routine is established it is easier to increase the range or volume of foods eaten.
- If your child only eats a small amount of food at breakfast they may need an early morning tea – choose a filling, satisfying food (such as a small sandwich, a pottle of yoghurt, fruit, crackers and cheese) rather than something like sweet biscuits.
- If you are really struggling to get your child to eat before school, try a fruit smoothie or consider giving them something to eat on the way to school, such as an extra sandwich or breakfast bar and a piece of fruit.
Breakfast choices can include a wide range of things. Using foods that are quick and easy to prepare helps with the morning routine – it also encourages older children to prepare their own breakfast.
Breakfast cereal is a great option as milk is usually added to a breakfast cereal, so this becomes a good balanced choice –
- the cereal gives some energy in the form of carbohydrate and can also be a source of fibre
- the milk adds both protein and calcium
- some breakfast cereals also have extra iron, calcium and/or vitamins added.
You can add yoghurt and/or fruit to the cereal as well, to add some natural sweetness. (Remember sugar does not need to be added, as often the breakfast cereal, yoghurt or fruit has more than enough sugar content already).
Suitable Breakfast menu choices include:
Porridge, weetbix, cornflakes (whole grain ones are available and suitable for children under 5), fruit bix, rice bubbles, natural muesli (for over 5 year olds, as the fibre content is too high for younger children).
Save the sweet cereals such as Coco Pops, Nutragrain or Fruit Loops for treat type choices – no more than once a week.
Bread-based choices at breakfast time
Again there is a wide range of choices. If your child does not like the wholemeal or wholegrain options consider using fibre-enhanced white bread. Make sure that any fat spread, such as margarine or butter, is spread thinly, or avoided entirely.
Suitable choices include:
Bread, toast, fruit toast, crumpets, bagels, English muffins.
Top with a spread of your choice, or consider:
- chopped or mashed banana,
- sliced tomato,
- liverwurst, or
- a thin slice of cheese.
Fruit for breakfast
This can be raw or canned (look for the ones canned in natural juice to keep sugar levels down) and don’t forget about the lovely range of frozen berries available all year round from the supermarket.
Fruit on its own may not provide very long lasting energy, therefore consider serving it with a breakfast cereal, piece of toast, or with a pottle of yoghurt.
This is a great source of calcium and protein. For a quick and easy breakfast turn it into a smoothie with some fresh, frozen or canned fruit added to it.
Cooked Breakfast options
Great if you have the time and also great on cold winter mornings. Fast, economic options include:
- Baked beans or spaghetti on toast
- Egg – scrambled, poached or boiled
- Creamed corn on toast
- Pancakes – can be made ahead of time and heated through (also available ready-made at the supermarket). Top with fruit and yoghurt, or add a little maple syrup for a treat (no need for extra butter / margarine).
Don’t forget a drink in the morning
Such as milk, water or diluted fruit juice.
Now that you know why breakfast is the most important meal of the day, it’s time to check out some healthy breakfast ideas for kids.