Breakfast – The Most Important Meal Of The Day For Children
Time and again,it has been reinforced that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Breakfast gives the body the refueling it needs for the day ahead after going without food for eight to ten hours during the night. The primary fuel for the brain is glucose and it is dependent upon a constant supply in the blood stream.
When one wakes up in the morning, one, in effect, has had an overnight fast, and thus, eating breakfast boosts the levels of glucose in the blood circulation.This specially holds true for children. Without breakfast, our bodies cease to get the jump-start they require to operate at their fullest potential throughout the day.
At school, a hungry child can often lose concentration in class, have no energy for playtime and when famished, snack on unhealthy foods, such as chips or biscuits. A wholesome and healthy breakfast every day is thus, the best way to prevent the same. It also helps with inculcating good and long-term eating habits in all infants. Children who eat a sumptuous breakfast are more likely to meet vitamin and mineral requirements than those who skip breakfast. They also tend to consume more vitamin C, calcium, folic acid, and fibre. When you skip breakfast, you are missing out on your morning dose of essential nutrients. Children who eat breakfast regularly, thus, have more energy, exhibit less aggressive behaviour, and display a better attitude towards school.
The role of breakfast in an improved performance at school has been discussed and debated for decades. Research has found that children who appear for class tests after skipping breakfast tend to make more errors, do not respond fast and have a slower memory recall. Studies also suggest that the functioning of the brain is sensitive to short-term variations in nutrient availability. A short fast may impose greater stress on young children, as opposed to adults. Breakfast also plays an important role in cognitive functions and establishing an eating pattern comprising small regular meals, which is the key to effectively maintaining one’s weight.
Along with timing, what one eats is also important. Choose breakfast foods that are rich in whole grains, fibre and protein, and low in added sugar. Serve a balanced breakfast to young ones that includes some carbohydrates, protein and fibre. Carbohydrates make for a good and immediate source of energy for the body, while energy from proteins tends to kick-in after the carbs are used up. Fibre helps provide a feeling of fullness and therefore, discourages overeating.
Some useful ideas for a healthy breakfast include:
- Vegetable upma, vegetable poha, vermicelli upma (made with whole wheat vermicelli), and idli / dosa with sambhar and chutney
- Bhakri / Thepla / Chapatis with vegetables
- Porridge like ragi, rawa, oats made with milk. These are easy to make, are less time consuming, and light too.
- Multigrain bread with cheese / butter are other convenient options with either an egg preparation, or a vegetable omlette with whole wheat bread
- Cereals served with low fat milk are also healthy breakfast options with some fruit and nuts on the side
With breakfast, it is healthier to have a good energy drink, besides water such as low fat milk or fruit juice low in sugar – this can also be replaced with fruits. One of the reasons for childhood obesity is also attritbuted to the skipping of meals. If a child misses breakfast, he tends to eat more during his next meal and all of it may not necessarily be healthy.
In spite of all the compelling information on the benefits of breakfast, why does one out of eight school children start the day without eating breakfast? Some are not encouraged to do so by their parents, while some commonly argue about the lack of time, absence of hunger and distaste for breakfast foods. No matter what the barrier may be, parents can and should find a way to overcome them. They must set a good example for their children by consuming a sumptuous breakfast themselves. Children tend to imitate the behaviour of adults, so if they dont see their parents eating well, they are likely to deprive themselves of the required nutrition.
To sum up, The Academy of Nutrition has found that children who eat a healthy, and well balanced breakfast are more likely to :
- Meet the daily nutrient requirements
- Concentrate better
- Have better problem solving skills
- Have better hand – eye coordination
- Stay alert
- Be more creative
- Have a better attendance at school
- Be more physically active
It can seem challenging to manage breakfast with one’s hectic schedule, but setting the alarm 15 minutes prior for the child can aid in the parent and child living a long and healthy life.
Priyam Naik is dietician at Saifee Hospital in Mumbai. Being a multi-specialty tertiary care hospital, Saifee Hospital provides medical, surgical, diagnostic and therapeutic services and specialties ranging from simple day-care procedures to complex cardiac surgery, acute care emergency medicine and many more.