Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Breakfast Improves School Performance in Children

' Breakfast is absolutely the most important meal of the day. Breakfast consumption has dramatic effects on the nutritional status and learning abilities of children of all ages. As educators and as parents, we have a responsibility to consider the effect that nutrition has on a child's potential.

The National Child Hunger Survey in 1997 found that Canadians believe that approximately 42% of children are not eating an adequate breakfast. Especially for children, breakfast provides a critical source of calories, fiber, and iron that may not be replaced later on in the day if breakfast is missed. Consuming adequate iron in children is of serious concern because iron deficiency is linked to poor attention span, poor cognitive development, and compromised learning ability. Characteristics of children with poor eating habits and poor nutritional status include low energy, susceptibility to infection, apathetic, irritable or hyperactive, poor concentration, low self-esteem, poor social skills, and poor performance in school.

In terms of the relationship between breakfast and the "school life" of a child, the research is alarming. Children who miss breakfast may be compromised in mathematics, reading ability, late-morning problem solving tasks, and poor behaviour. Skipping breakfast can negatively affect late-morning academic skills and motivation to perform during testing. Students who eat breakfast may perform better on arithmetic tests, continuous performance tasks, endurance, and creativity tests.

Some signs that a child may not be eating a proper breakfast include late-day sugar cravings, irritability, poor performance in school, tiredness, lack of motivation, complaints of hunger, and poor attention span. When a high sugar, low fibre, low protein breakfast is given to a child, it does not provide consistent energy that will last throughout the morning. Breakfast foods such as high sugar children's cereals, danishes, and doughnuts can give children a yo-yo sugar effect - energy levels go down, children get hungry, they want sugar to feel better, but then energy levels go down again, etc….

 Children sometimes say that they are not hungry in the morning or do not like breakfast. Children have small stomachs, so the food that is put in them needs to be full of nutrients with not a lot of extra room for empty calorie foods. Sometimes children (and adults!) do not like breakfast because they have eaten too much the night before and their blood sugar is still processing, so they do not have much of an appetite. To stimulate a breakfast appetite, it is good to cut down on late night snacks and offer cold breakfast foods, such as fruit, juices, or home made breakfast shakes.

A healthy breakfast will include at least 3 of the 4 food groups.

Some examples include:

cereal, milk, banana

toast, peanut butter, orange juice

bagel, yoghurt, apple juice

eggs, cheese, granola

french toast, fruit, milk

Remember….. any food can be a breakfast food! If children prefer to eat left over spaghetti or pizza for breakfast, go for it! If they ask for a sandwich or a bowl of soup, fantastic! There are no real "breakfast" foods. Whatever a child will eat for breakfast that is healthy and full of nutrients, especially iron and fiber, is what makes for a great breakfast. For more information on breakfast and teaching nutrition, contact the Health Action Line at 1-800-660-5853.'