Boost brainpower: Eat breakfast

September 21, 2005|by LYNN F. LITTLE

What simple practice seems to have one of the greatest effects on how well children do in school? The answer is: Eating breakfast.

Study after study has shown that children and adults students - children and adults - who eat breakfast accomplish more in school and do better work than those who don't. Those who don't eat breakfast tend to tire more quickly, be more irritable and react less quickly than those who do eat breakfast.

Researchers say 'Eat your Wheaties'

Why is breakfast so important? First, breakfast at home or school helps improve the overall nutrient intake for children of all ages. Kids who skip breakfast miss brain food - as well as calcium, iron, zinc and fiber. Even marginal iron deficiency can affect children's behavior and cognition. Iron-enriched cereals and breads are an important source of iron for most children.

Breakfast relieves feelings of hunger. When children are hungry, they have more difficulty concentrating on tasks such as arithmetic and reading retention. Children who eat breakfast are better able to recall information, solve problems, think critically and perform well on standardized tests than those who skip breakfast.


Adults need most of these skills too, so breakfast is just as important for the mature set.

If breakfast is so important, why is it often skipped? The most frequently heard reasons include: "There isn't time," "Food that early makes me sick," "I don't like breakfast foods" and "I'm skipping breakfast for weight control."

Breakfast can be simple or elaborate, cooked or uncooked, sit-down or eaten on the run, low or high in calories, mundane or varied. The main thing to remember is to include it in your children's and your own morning routine.

Eat early to maintain weight

Besides lack of time, saving calories is the most common reason given for skipping breakfast. Eating breakfast can really help weight management. Breakfast skippers tend to eat more later in the day (making up for missed calories) and to weigh more than breakfast eaters.

If your typical breakfast is a soft drink or a couple of doughnuts and coffee with two teaspoons of sugar, you have reason to be concerned about the value of the calories you're taking in for breakfast.

The answer, however, is not to skip breakfast, but to select a breakfast that provides you with the nutrients you need to get you going for the fewest calories. For example, a breakfast of 8 ounces skim milk with 1 ounce dry cereal or toast and 6 ounces fruit juice provides less than 250 calories but enough energy, protein, vitamins and minerals to help you avoid mid-morning fatigue and the subsequent urge to eat anything in sight.

Build a better breakfast

The best breakfast is a combination of three items to sustain energy and concentration for several hours:

1. High-energy carbohydrates: Grains (like cereals, bread and rolls) provide complex carbohydrates along with B-vitamins, fortified iron and fiber.

2. High-quality proteins: A source of lean or low-fat protein like yogurt, cheese, milk, eggs or sliced deli meat is essential for sustained energy and for brain nutrients like zinc and iron.

3. Colorful fruits and vegetables: A vitamin pill or glass of juice cannot replace the nutrient bundle in nature's fast food. So grab an apple, a banana, a kiwi fruit or a bag of baby carrots.

Providing a variety of foods gives everybody the nutrients and energy they need to feel good and do well in school and at work.

Eat outside the box

Busy families need quick breakfast solutions that fit their lifestyles. It's quick and easy to build a balanced breakfast wherever you eat. Try one of these delicious breakfast combos tomorrow and watch your family rise and shine all day long.

  • Breakfast at home: If you have time for a leisurely breakfast, eggs with Canadian bacon or pancakes and fruit are wonderful. If you're rushed, try whole grain cereal with fruit and milk; English muffin pizza with cheese and tomato sauce; or a creamy yogurt smoothie and a muffin.

  • Breakfast-to-go: Need to eat in the car or on a school bus? No problem! Choose a portable yogurt with an apple and a muffin; peanut butter and jelly on whole wheat with a "chug" of milk; a slice of leftover cheese pizza and a banana; a tortilla wrap with a slice of deli meat and cheese.

  • Breakfast at school: Check out the healthy breakfast options served up by the child nutrition professionals at your local school.

Research has repeatedly shown that a balanced breakfast enhances learning, performance and health for both children and adults. Eating breakfast is a simple way to feel better and look better.

Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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