Let’s talk about why breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and why it is crucial to start your day right with a nourishing breakfast.
We’ve grown up learning that breakfast is the one meal that should not be skipped.
The reasons are endless. Besides fueling us with the energy to get through our morning and kick-start the day, it boosts our metabolism and helps in maintaining a healthy weight. It helps us focus at work and at school. The right breakfast also provides for a major chunk of our critical nutrients requirements such as calcium, iron and vitamin B, along with protein and fibers. If you miss breakfast, you simply cannot make up for these nutrients later in the day.
During my childhood, breakfast was a simple affair. Since I left for school at 7.30 am, my options were usually two rotis with subzi and a little box packed with salad or fruit to tide me on the long bus journey. In summer, I often ate curd rice with the salad mixed in it and loved it. Without being aware of the science behind eating a good breakfast—except for the proverb “breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper”—all I knew was, after I woke up and had a glass of milk, it was time for breakfast at the start of the day.
We cannot underestimate the effect breakfast has on the various activities we carry out throughout our morning. This is especially true for children, whose behavior and academic performance is strongly linked to the habit of eating a healthy breakfast.
There is research to prove this!
The research by Adolphus, K and associates titled “The effects of breakfast on behavior and academic performance in children and adolescents” highlights the following:
Breakfast has been suggested to positively affect learning in children in terms of behavior, cognitive, and school performance […] The evidence indicated a mainly positive effect of breakfast on on-task behavior in the classroom. There was suggestive evidence that habitual breakfast (frequency and quality) and SBPs have a positive effect on children’s academic performance with clearest effects on mathematic and arithmetic grades in undernourished children. Increased frequency of habitual breakfast was consistently positively associated with academic performance.
The message is clear, both for children and parents. What can be gleaned from this and other research papers is this:
- As I said earlier, you just cannot compensate nutrients skipped at breakfast during the rest of the day.
- Children who eat breakfast perform better at school. Habitual breakfast consumption is positively associated with better learning in children in terms of behavior, cognitive and school performance.
- Regular breakfast consumption helps in managing body weight. Skipping breakfast isn’t a weight loss strategy. In fact, skipping a wholesome breakfast increases the chances of you binging on foods which may not be nourishing. This is especially noteworthy, considering the rising cases of child obesity and sedentary lifestyles.
- Children need to eat a balanced breakfast, which provides up to 20-25% of daily nutritional requirements.
- And a nourishing breakfast gives you a “right start to the day”.
Now let me share the reason behind why children must eat breakfast and why it helps them learn better.
After fasting all night, growing children need energy in the form of glucose (blood sugar) which is the brain’s main fuel. If they don’t get this via breakfast, the brain may not function the way it should. Then they rush to school, anxious about making it on time. When they finally sit in class they may find it tough to understand new information and have problems with attention and comprehension. As if that wasn’t bad enough, they could also find it hard to retain things in their memory since they have been unable to concentrate.
All because they didn’t eat the most essential meal of the day—breakfast!
There are plenty of studies to prove that regular breakfast-eaters are better performers than those who don’t eat breakfast.
So, the question now is this: What kind of breakfast is best? Does it matter what you eat?
The answer, of course, is yes.
To ensure that the brain is fueled up, breakfast should have protein, complex carbohydrates that provide energy and fiber along with key vitamins and minerals. Kids who go to school hungry could be at a risk for health and development issues in the long run as they could be missing important nutrients.
For children, it is important to provide a balanced breakfast that includes cereals that are made with whole grain and are a source of fibre, along with protein foods like dairy (milk/curd) which also provides calcium and a fruit (fresh/dry). If the cereals are fortified, then they could provide some of the key vitamins and minerals that children can benefit from.
At home, we prefer a variety for our breakfast and enjoy the following options:
- Multigrain Rotis and subzi, with curd / milk/buttermilk
- Cornflakes with milk and a fruit and maybe some nuts
- Cereal made with whole wheat along with milk and fruit
- Multigrain dosas with sambhar and chutney
- Whole-grain sandwiches stuffed with vegetables with milk / yoghurt / curds
- Oatmeal with milk and fruit and nuts
- Muesli with fruits and nuts eaten with milk
- Oats, milk / yoghurt fruits, dates and nuts smoothies
Throughout his school life, my son put together his own breakfast of Kellogg’s cereal eaten with milk and fruit. Even now, when he is home on vacation, he enjoys a bowl of it. He realizes the importance of breakfast and does not have the habit of random snacking, which is probably because breakfast he loves is protein+carb+fiber rich.
These days, we choose Kellogg’s Corn Flakes mainly because it is “anaaj ka naashta” made with real corn, enriched with 8 essential vitamins and is fortified with iron. He finds that serving of corn flakes with a glass of milk and fruit can keep him going comfortably in the morning. In fact, they have a range of ready-to-eat cereals made from wheat, oats, ragi, barley, corn/maize and rice.
Of course, homemade meals cooked from scratch were of a wide variety and together with breakfast, we made sure that he got the nutrition he needed to grow up healthy and do well in school.
Finally, this is what I’ve got to say: Make sure your child and you both eat a nourishing breakfast on a regular basis. It is the key to staying healthy and performing well at every sphere of your life. This National Nutrition month, let’s #breakthehabit of skipping breakfast!