PART 1: Why eating breakfast is so important for kids!
For a lot of my patients, eating breakfast can be a real challenge. Many people say they aren’t hungry until later in the day. Others say they don’t have time to fit in breakfast on top of getting ready, packing lunches, feeding pets, and getting out the door. Kids – teens especially – are also swept up in the crazy-hectic pace of the morning. Some families can’t afford breakfast for their kids, adding an extra challenge. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, approximately 8-12% of school-aged kids and 20-30% of adolescents and teens skip breakfast (1). But this is a meal kids shouldn’t skip for so many reasons.
When they say breakfast is the most important meal of the day, it’s true! Kids who skip breakfast are more likely to complain of stomach ache, backache, difficulty falling asleep, nervousness, and irritability (2). Kids who do eat breakfast feel more energetic, in a better mood, and have improved concentration and test scores. And eating breakfast, especially a high protein one, has been shown to lower the risk of being overweight and developing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease (3-6). Even eating breakfast twice is beneficial (7-8)! Eating breakfast can make a huge difference in how your child feels now and in the long run, and is a great habit to form while still young.
Breakfast, Blood Sugar, and Metabolism
Breakfast is the meal where we break-the-fast after going all night without eating. Our blood sugar is lowest first thing in the morning and our bodies desperately crave food to boost it. Low blood sugar can make us feel tired, dizzy, hungry, weak, and nauseous. Eating breakfast increases blood sugar and makes us feel full, which decreases hunger and binge eating later in the day. When kids binge eat, they increase their daily intake of calories, which puts them at higher risk of being overweight or obese. And being overweight increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease (4-8).
Breakfast is so important for metabolism and blood sugar balancing that even eating it twice can reduce weight gain in comparison to skipping breakfast. One study showed that kids who ate breakfast twice (at home and at school) showed no more or less weight gain than those who ate just one breakfast, whereas the kids who skipped breakfast or ate it irregularly were twice as likely to be overweight or obese than the double-breakfast eaters (7-8).
Kids who eat high carbohydrate meals also have a tendency to have behavioral issues. For more information see our article: How to improve your child’s behavior with blood sugar control
If you need some tips to help your inattentive kid check out our e-book Healing your child from ADHD
Eating Protein vs. Carbs
The type of food that’s eaten is also important for maintaining a healthy weight, energy level, and mood. In our society, we tend to eat carbohydrates for breakfast – things like cereal, toast, bagels, and pastries. Carbs raise blood sugar quickly, but result in a crash shortly thereafter. A quick drop in blood sugar will cause a person to crave more carbs to quickly raise the blood sugar again…and then they’ll crash…again. Many people live in a cycle of eating carbs and crashing, on repeat. Thankfully, this cycle can be broken by eating more protein, which balances blood sugar and reduces hunger and binge eating. Studies show that when adolescents eat a high protein breakfast (35 grams) versus a breakfast of cereal (13 grams), they are less hungry and take in fewer total calories per day, and so are less likely to gain weight (9-10). And since protein helps balance blood sugar, they’ll feel more energetic and in a better mood for longer.
More Brain Power!
The body is very smart and has built-in mechanisms to make sure the brain has enough fuel to function, even when we haven’t eaten in a while. But when we have eaten, the brain is able to function with much less effort. Not only do stable blood sugar levels improve energy and mood, but they also improve concentration and academic performance in kids. One study showed that kids who eat breakfast are twice as likely to score better on tests and assessments (3). Wow!
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this article, HEALTHY BREAKFAST IDEAS FOR KIDS, which will talk about protein sources, avoiding coffee and juice, and healthy breakfast recipes.
- The Case for Eating Breakfast. org (2012). Available at: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/nutrition/Pages/The-Case-for-Eating-Breakfast.aspx. (Accessed: 3rd September 2018).
- Azemati, B. et al. Association of meal skipping with subjective health complaints in children and adolescents: the CASPIAN-V study. Eating and Weight Disorders – Studies on Anorexia, Bulimia and Obesity (2018). doi:10.1007/s40519-018-0559-1
- Littlecott, H. J., Moore, G. F., Moore, L., Lyons, R. A. & Murphy, S. Association between breakfast consumption and educational outcomes in 9–11-year-old children – CORRIGENDUM. Public Health Nutrition 19,1575–1582 (2015).
- Jackson, L. W. The Most Important Meal of the Day: Why Children Skip Breakfast and What Can Be Done About It. Pediatric Annals 42,(2013).
- Lazzeri, G. et al. Chapter 8 Overweight Among Students Aged 11–15 Years and Its Relationship with Breakfast, Area of Residence and Parents’ Education: Results from the Italian HBSC 2010 Cross-Sectional Study. Pediatric Behavioral Nutrition Factors 153–168 (2017). doi:10.1201/9781315365732-9
- Donin, A. S. et al. Regular Breakfast Consumption and Type 2 Diabetes Risk Markers in 9- to 10-Year-Old Children in the Child Heart and Health Study in England (CHASE): A Cross-Sectional Analysis. PLoS Medicine 11, (2014).
- Toschke, A. M., Thorsteinsdottir, K. H., Kries, R. V. & Group, F. T. G. S. Meal frequency, breakfast consumption and childhood obesity. International Journal of Pediatric Obesity 4, 242–248 (2009).
- Wang, S. et al. School breakfast and body mass index: a longitudinal observational study of middle school students. Pediatric Obesity 12,213–220 (2016).
- Leidy, H. J., Hoertel, H. A., Douglas, S. M., Higgins, K. A. & Shafer, R. S. A high-protein breakfast prevents body fat gain, through reductions in daily intake and hunger, in “Breakfast skipping” adolescents. Obesity 23,1761–1764 (2015).
- Leidy, H. J., Ortinau, L. C., Douglas, S. M. & Hoertel, H. A. Beneficial effects of a higher-protein breakfast on the appetitive, hormonal, and neural signals controlling energy intake regulation in overweight/obese, “breakfast-skipping,” late-adolescent girls. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 97,677–688 (2013).