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HomeFunFoodBack-to-School Breakfast 101—Fuel kids' brains for success at school

Back-to-School Breakfast 101—Fuel kids’ brains for success at school

We’ve all heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day—kick-starting our metabolism and leading us to eat better throughout the day.

You’ve probably also heard that breakfast is skippable because all that matters is what you eat, regardless of when you eat it. The science is pretty mixed when it comes to adults and breakfast.

However, there’s far less debate about the importance of breakfast for children, who not only need it for proper development and growth but also, as much research suggests, to perform well in school.

According to the USDA Food and Nutrition Service, studies show that students who eat a healthy breakfast do better on standardized tests, pay attention and behave better in class, and are less frequently tardy, absent, or sent to the nurse’s office. Plus they’re more likely to maintain a healthy weight and avoid the many health risks associated with obesity.

Breakfast Frittata with French Toast
Breakfast Frittata with French Toast

According to Samantha Cassetty, MS, RD and weekly NBC News columnist and author of “Sugar Shock,” “Your body and mind will work better if you eat three meals around four or five hours apart, or with a snack in between if you’re going a longer stretch, because when you’re too hungry you’re distracted and it’s impossible to perform at your best.”

Studies also indicate that breakfast eaters specifically may have better memory recall and thinking skills. As for kid-specific benefits, says Cassetty, “Those who eat breakfast are more likely to meet nutrient targets for fiber and calcium, which are nutrients that many kids (and adults) fall short on, and may be more attentive at school… whether in-person or remote.”

“Breakfast meals tend to deliver many of the essential nutrients that other meals might miss—fiber, Vitamin B, iron, folic acid, antioxidants, calcium, potassium, and more—because they usually include a mix of whole or enriched/fortified grains, dairy, and fruits,” says Registered Dietician Sylvia Melendez-Klinger, founder of Hispanic Food Communications and member of the Grain Foods Foundation Scientific Advisory Board. “So while it might not be a kid’s (or an adult’s) most important meal seven days a week, it’s definitely not one to skip.

Picky Eaters

If you have picky eaters or ones who don’t love to eat in the morning, you might wonder whether skipping breakfast altogether is better than eating sugary cereals or donuts. “Kids need nourishment so that they have the energy to do their daily activities, from learning to exercising,” says Melendez-Klinger. “While I’m not suggesting they eat donuts and Pop-Tarts and nothing else every morning, anything counts!”

There’s no rule that you have to eat first thing. “Breakfast can also mean a few hours after waking,” Cassetty says. This can be a big bonus for kids who balk at eating right away. Plus, she adds, “For kids, breakfast can even be a good opportunity to slip in some fruits and vegetables, for example scrambled eggs with salsa or veggie hash.”

So whether you’ll be hustling the kids off to school a few times a week this fall or switching your kitchen table from breakfast spot to homework hub, start it off with a nice breakfast. It will help everyone have a better day.

Kick off your day right with these delicious breakfast ideas from nutritional experts

Samantha Cassetty

  • Smoothie made with fruit and vegetables (like spinach or kale), a protein source (such as Greek yogurt or a plant-based protein powder), a fat source (such as chia seeds, flax seeds, or a nut or seed butter), and a flavor booster (like cinnamon or ginger).
  • Greek yogurt bowl with fruit and nuts or a spoonful of nut butter.
  • Any style eggs with veggies (like mushrooms and zucchini), some avocado slices or a slice of whole grain toast with mashed avocado.

Sylvia Melendez-Klinger

  • 50% white, 50% whole wheat flour chocolate chip pancakes topped with bananas and whipped cream.
  • Scrambled eggs with cheese, avocado, and salsa on whole wheat or white toast.
  • Homemade banana bread, granola, or blueberry muffins, or any whole grain cereal, with peanut butter and Greek yogurt and berries.

Anne Danahy, MS, RDN on Healthline.com

  • Egg and Vegetable Muffins
  • Peanut-butter-banana breakfast cookies
  • Scrambled egg tacos

—Steve Adams


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