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Why is it important for children to eat breakfast?

While it may seem like sugary cereal with milk is the easiest breakfast option, the truth is that it doesn't take long to serve a healthy breakfast -- and the benefits are well worth the effort.

Studies show that kids who eat a healthy breakfast tend to have better school attendance, less tardiness and fewer hunger-induced stomachaches in the morning. Their overall test scores are better, they concentrate better, solve problems more easily and have better muscle coordination. Children who eat breakfast are also less likely to be overweight and more likely to get enough calcium.

But simply eating breakfast is not enough. It has to be a healthy breakfast.
Mary Mullen
Nutrition & Dietetics
Kids who eat breakfast every day have a nutritional advantage over kids who don’t eat it. For starters, breakfast eaters are more likely to meet their daily MyPlate recommendations for food groups such as fruits and vegetables (www.ChooseMyPlate.gov) and get the 40-plus nutrients their growing bodies need. On average, breakfast contributes less than 20 percent of daily calories while delivering more than 30 percent of important nutrients such as calcium, iron, and B vitamins.

In fact, studies show that breakfast skippers fall short on many important nutrients, including vitamins A, E, C, B-6, and B-12; folate; iron; calcium; phosphorus; magnesium; potassium; and dietary fiber. And, to make matters worse, kids rarely make up for nutrients missed at breakfast at other meals or snacks. Eating breakfast also benefits heart health as breakfast eaters tend to consume more fiber but less fat and cholesterol over the course of the day.
Healthy Eating, Healthy Weight for Kids and Teens

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Breakfast is good for a child's mind and waist.

Breakfast can positively benefit mental function (especially memory), academic performance, school attendance rates, psychosocial function, and mood. If a child is hungry during the mid-morning hours, it will impact his or her learning during this time period. Eating breakfast also improves blood glucose levels, which in turn leads to improvements in both comprehension and memory. Studies conducted by the USDA on the school breakfast program have found that children who received a school breakfast did better on standardized tests than children who did not eat breakfast.

Research has also shown that eating breakfast may be associated with healthier body weight in children and adolescents. Breakfast eaters tend to have better overall nutrient intakes and consume less fat, cholesterol and more fiber over the course of the day than non-breakfast eaters.
Your child should eat breakfast because it will help him be able to concentrate better in school and keep his weight in check. Kids who eat breakfast are more likely to eat healthier overall and to exercise regularly. Skipping breakfast can make your child tired or irritable.

Make sure your child's breakfast includes a mix of carbohydrates, protein and fiber; a toaster pastry or sugary cereal won't give him the nutrients and energy he'll need to get through the morning. He can get healthy carbs and fiber from whole-grain cereal and breads, fruits and even veggies, and protein from milk, cheese, yogurt, lean meats, eggs and nuts. If your child balks at "classic" morning foods, think outside the breakfast box. A peanut butter sandwich on whole-grain bread and a glass of low-fat milk can be a perfectly fine breakfast.
In addition to providing the energy needed to start each day focused and ready to learn, a daily morning meal offers many developmental benefits that will follow your children through to adulthood. A morning meal leads to better concentration, better problem-solving skills, and better eye-hand coordination. These skills lead to better performance in school and promote a lifelong love of learning. What’s more, breakfast eaters tend to eat healthier overall, and these eating patterns usually continue into adulthood, helping them maintain a healthy weight and avoid heart disease and other serious health problems in the years ahead.

From Good Kids, Bad Habits: The RealAge Guide to Raising Healthy Children by Jennifer Trachtenberg.
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Breakfast fuels both your child’s body and brain, so it makes good sense to establish a regular habit of starting the day with a nutritious meal, especially when school is in session. With a full stomach, your child is better able to spend their morning classroom time focusing on learning rather than thinking about what’s for lunch.

Need more inspiration? Here are four kid-friendly foods to serve up at breakfast that will help better prepare your child for a morning of active learning and physical activity:

  • Low-fat milk (or yogurt). Protein-rich dairy products provide amino acids that serve as the building blocks for the body’s production of neurotransmitters critical for learning and other brain functions.
  • Whole grain cereals (or breads). Whole grain foods provide both fiber and complex carbohydrates, which results in a slow and steady release of simple sugars into the bloodstream to better fuel the brain.
  • Eggs. Eggs are one of the best food sources of choline, a chemical cousin to the vitamin B family and a building block for acetylcholine, a brain messenger that’s critical for cell-to-cell communication involved in learning, memory and other functions.
  • Walnuts. These nuts are one of the best food sources of ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), an omega-3 fatty acid and building block for DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), which plays an important structural role in the eye and brain.
Children should start their day with a healthy serving of food. Overnight, the body has continued to burn calories while performing necessary functions such as breathing, heart contractions or beating, digestion, and growth and development -- which are particularly important in kids. A regular supply of nutrients is necessary to keep these functions going. 

Can you imagine what the body is feeling when you first wake in the morning without food for 7-8 hours? Mood, attention, and the ability to learn are affected when the brain is starved of nutrients, activities become sluggish, and energy levels fall. Kids need to be recharged every morning with healthy foods and continue to provide their bodies with calories regularly throughout the day. 

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.