BACK TO SCHOOL: The key to a good breakkie

25 January 2016
Reading time3 mins

We all know that mornings are busy, and it’s easy to forget the importance of a nutritious breakfast to set your child up for a great start to the day.

However, planning ahead and taking just a few extra minutes when preparing breakfast can have a significant impact on your child’s attention span, concentration, memory and behaviour throughout the school day.

Our brains have limited capacity to store energy, therefore they rely on nutrients and energy from the food we eat daily to develop and function in the best possible way.

Consuming breakfast and snacks that are rich in ‘brain foods’ such as whole grains, fibre and protein while being low in added sugar will give your child a boost during the school day.

Children who eat a nutritious breakfast and snacks are also more likely to consume the level of fibre, calcium and other important nutrients required to fuel the body. 

Why is breakfast so important?

Health practitioners regularly preach that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but why is this so?

Breakfast is the process of breaking the fast after an extended period of rest. When we consume a nutritious breakfast, our bodies are given a fresh supply of glucose, known as blood sugar, which is the brain’s basic fuel. When blood sugar levels are low, adrenaline and cortisol hormones are released which can cause feelings of agitation and irritability. This can affect a child’s concentration and may lead to destructive behavioural outbursts. 

Associate Professor in Social Health Sciences at Flinders University Claire Drummond states, "Eating a good breakfast can lead to better academic performance and a higher enjoyment of school. Also, children who regularly skip breakfast are more likely to be disruptive in class or to be absent from school. Repeatedly eating breakfast can lead to children learning to associate feelings of well-being with feeling less hungry. In the long term, eating breakfast affects a child’s health, which in turn will have a positive effect on brain performance."

There is now overwhelming evidence proving the positive benefits of eating a healthy breakfast for developing children. Consuming a nutritious breakfast has been shown to create a feeling of fullness for longer and improve cognitive functioning and academic performance. From birth, nutrition plays a vital role in the development of our brains and the way in which we focus and learn. School-age children who don’t eat breakfast are likely to struggle to activate enough energy in the morning to cope with the demands of school, consequently affecting learning and interaction with other students.

The importance of quality nutritional sources

It is not only the food source we are consuming that is important, but also the process that the food has gone through to end up on our plate. What is most important is the quality of the food source. With growing demands for mass production, our food has been altered and manipulated by intensive farming methods to cope with demand. Food that was initially a quality source of protein has been changed to contain more harmful chemicals, pesticides, toxins and fewer nutrients than ever before.

We have all been there, reaching for packaged food such as chips, muesli bars, biscuits or roll-ups as a lunchbox snack. The truth is, these items offer little to no vitamins or minerals for your children. Swapping these items for ‘real foods’ as close to their natural state as possible will offer your child a solid foundation for a lifetime of positive food choices. 

Try out some of the following top tips to ensure you are using good quality nutritional food sources.

  • Visit a local farmers market and aim to buy local organic produce, which is pesticide and chemical free. A farmers market is a cost-effective way to purchase fresh produce. Spray-free produce is often available if organic is not available or beyond your budget.
  • Use ‘out of sight, out of mind’ thinking and toss out all the processed packaged snacks in your pantry. Try this for at least two weeks and I guarantee your children will be happy to eat their new fresh food choices.
  • Offer fresh fruit as a snack option. Utilise fruits that are in season, choosing a variety to keep your child interested.
  • Add fresh vegetable sticks with a side of hummus as a snack. Great choices include carrot, celery, capsicum or cucumber.
  • When it comes to dairy products, look for items that are simple and contain only a few main ingredients with no additives. Great snacks include sliced or cubed cheese or natural yoghurt. Try to avoid yoghurts marketed towards children as these contain large amounts of added sugar and possible additives.
  • Create snack sections within your pantry and divide them into segments. Dried fruit, nuts and seeds are excellent snack options. Aim for organic where possible.
  • Dried fruits: Purchase dried fruit that does not include added sugar. Great snacks include apple rings, dates, figs and raisins.
  • Raw nuts: Go for raw nuts as these do not contain added oil or salt. Great snacks include cashews, almonds, walnuts and macadamias.
  • Seeds: Great snacks include pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds.

How do we make sure our children get the best start to the day?

Eating habits formed at an early age generally continue into adulthood. Therefore, poor dietary patterns among young children can have direct implications on their lifelong health and well-being.

Education begins at home with positive parental influences, and encouragement of a regular and nutritious breakfast prior to school is a great way parents can positively influence their child’s eating habits.
The importance of a good breakfast and its direct association with mental alertness among children is being recognised within the education sector.

In addition to a nutritious breakfast, children also need regular small snacks throughout the day to provide them with energy for growth and concentration.

Most primary schools have a short mid-morning break – often called ‘fruit break’ – when students can eat a small healthy fresh snack such as a piece of fruit or vegetable to help them to refuel. Snacks such as this are essential for the brain to develop – to learn, remember, create, solve and to meet the many challenges that children face in school.

A first break snack provides energy for a child's cognitive development and other physical activity.

For more ‘keep it simple’ healthy family food tips, check out our 5 easy (yet healthy) lunch box ideas, 5 secrets to becoming a school lunch ninja, raw avocado chocolate balls recipe, animal face sandwiches, lunchbox pizza muffins recipe and 10 tips to adding variety to lunchboxes.

What do your kids eat for breakkie?

 

Written by

Belinda Brown

Belinda Brown is a food and lifestyle coach with qualifications in food coaching and nutrition. Belinda’s passion lies in child nutrition, the role of nutrition in chronic diseases and healthy weight loss; however, she has an array of clients from all walks of life. Belinda’s mission is to inspire and educate people to learn that quality nutritious food can be delicious. For more information on Belinda, visit www.thephysiomovement.com.au and www.facebook.com/thephysiomovement.

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