Most kids don’t want us to remind them that breakfast is the most important meal of the day as they’re running out the door to get to school on time. But they might be interested in hearing that eating a balanced breakfast will make them feel better, inside and out, contributing to better grades, better performance on the field and better nutrition choices throughout their days.
A significant percentage of elementary and an even greater percentage of middle and high school students skip breakfast daily or a few times a week. On a given day, up to 30 percent of teens in the U.S. skip breakfast. As they get older, homework, jobs, sports teams, the arts and the Internet result in all-too-short nights for students, and the need to catch a few more moments of sleep in the morning.
Breakfast allows students to break the fast of nighttime, reigniting brains and concentration abilities. “It’s everything you’ve heard about in terms of it being a critical meal of the day,” says Sue Moores, a registered dietitian and consultant to schools in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota. “Miss or skip breakfast and you start the day playing catch up.”
According to Moores, many kids already lack important body-strengthening, body “building” nutrients such as calcium, vitamin D, potassium, protein and fiber. Without breakfast, which is a meal that can easily offer all of these, there’s extra pressure to fill the nutritional gaps with snacks and other meals. Including carbohydrates in the morning meal (whole-grain carbs, says Moores) is key, as carbs are the preferred source of energy for the brain. Add in a bit of protein to help distribute the energy carbohydrates offer, and you have the start of a great meal.
Skipping breakfast may not only put students behind the eight-ball for morning nutrition, adds Moores, it may also set them back by way of poor food choices for the rest of the day. Some studies show breakfast-skippers actually crave salty, higher fat, sweet foods throughout the day compared to people who eat a morning meal. What they eat in place of breakfast is far from nutritious fare.
Beginning this school year, school breakfasts are required to meet the United States Department of Agriculture’s new food-based meal pattern, which outlines increased amounts of fruits/vegetables, grains and milk
Amy Harkey, a registered dietitian and director of Child Nutrition Operations with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, North Carolina, says that this fall the Universal School Breakfast Program is being implemented in her district, meaning that more than 140,000 students will receive a balanced morning meal at no charge. Previously, these breakfasts were offered to all students based on their eligibility.
“We want to remove any misperceptions that breakfast is only for those children who are economically disadvantaged,” says Harkey. “It’s important for all students to ‘break the fast’ and get the nutrition they need to begin their busy academic days.”
Harkey explains that they provide a variety of “Quick Bites for Breakfast,” offering both hot and cold options that meet the complete school breakfast requirements. “We learned in our pilot test of the program this spring that the students are reacting positively to our breakfast menus. They enjoy having the menu board outside the cafeteria so that in the afternoons they can see what will be offered the next morning,” says Harkey.
Companies have stepped up to the plate, delivering whole grain and protein-rich options that, when paired with a calcium-rich, low-fat milk, provide a solid start to the day. Schwan’s Food Service offers the new Beacon Street Cafe (TM) 51 percent whole grain Sausage, Egg and Cheese Sliders this fall, with 8 grams of protein, 11 grams of whole grains, 0 grams of trans fat and only 160 calories per serving (two pieces).
“Whether students catch a brain-boosting breakfast at home or at school, it’s important to find a way to fit nutrient-rich foods in for a good day of learning,” says Moores. “It may seem inconsequential to skip a morning meal, but results in the classroom show that breakfast is key.”