Breakfast: The Most Important Meal of the Day
We lead busy lives, but owe it to ourselves and our families to make good, healthy food choices whenever we can, whether at home, at school or on the go. One of the best ways to make sure that your child gets a great start and can make it through the day is to ensure that they eat a healthy breakfast each morning. Studies show that children who eat breakfast in the morning perform better throughout the school day, and have an easier time paying attention. However, it is not just eating breakfast, but what we choose to eat, that provides staying power for the day. Starting the day with slow-burning complex carbohydrates, protein, and a good source of calcium will help to provide a strong foundation for the rest of the day.
Research has shown that slow-burning complex carbohydrates such as oatmeal are a better breakfast choice than fast-burning carbohydrates like sugary dry cereals. Our brains run on glucose, the product of carbohydrate digestion, and are able to work a lot longer with a slow-releasing supply of energy. Instead of getting a fast burst of energy and then feeling run down, the carbohydrates in 100% whole grain foods take longer to digest and their energy is available longer. Look for cereal and bread products that state they are made from 100% whole grains for the most nutritious choices. Last night’s leftover brown rice reheated with a little milk would be a great whole grain breakfast choice. Fiber rich fruits, such as whole apples or pears, are also a better choice for filling up and slower release of energy than a glass of fruit juice, even 100% juice. The fiber in whole grains and fruits help to keep the stomach feeling full and growling less before lunch time!
Protein is necessary for growth, for building enzymes and hormones, for immunity, and for regulating the chemical balance of the body. Protein takes the longest of all nutrients to digest, so eating it at breakfast time means staying fuller, longer. The average elementary school-aged child requires 22-26 grams of protein per day. A whole egg has 6 grams of protein – 25% of the daily requirement – and you can get 8 grams of protein from a 1 ounce slice of cheese or 8 ounces of low fat milk or yogurt. A scrambled egg wrapped in a whole wheat tortilla with an ounce of shredded cheese makes a quick, portable breakfast that provides a serving of whole grains and over half of a child’s daily protein requirement. Be careful with portions throughout they day, though, as excess protein is stored as fat.
The other benefit of eating dairy foods is calcium. We all know that calcium builds strong bones and teeth, but did you know that calcium helps to regulate the functions of the heart and nervous system? The body needs to store 45% of its supply of calcium in the years of childhood and adolescence but more than 85% of girls and 60% of boys between the ages of 9 and 18 fail to meet the daily requirement of 1300 mg of calcium per day. One cup of low-fat milk or yogurt will provide about 300mg of calcium – about 23% of what they need. You may not be able to guarantee what happens out of the house, but by starting the day with a good source of calcium you are making sure that your child gets a head start on meeting their nutritional needs.
Many parents know the importance of including complex carbohydrates, protein and calcium in a healthy breakfast but are frustrated by children who may not want to eat a traditional breakfast or who rush out the door each day on an empty stomach. Be creative and think outside the box. A slice of left over pizza might be a better overall breakfast choice than a bowl of sugary cereal when it comes to staying power for the day. Last night’s refried beans or a scoop of hummus on whole grain bread will provide the slow burning carbohydrates, fiber and protein your child needs to get though the morning, and a hard boiled egg and a string cheese eaten at the bus stop or in the car is a much better option than a sweet breakfast pastry. With a little creativity and flexibility you can get your kids (and adults, too!) out the door each day with a jump start towards meeting their daily nutritional needs.