School is back in session and, for some parents, that means learning how to get a quick and nutritious breakfast into their children's stomachs before they head out the door.
I don't have school-aged kids anymore, but I sure remember how difficult it was after getting them dressed, readying their backpacks and making them brush their teeth to get them to eat something, anything! (Please!) And it only got harder as they entered their teens and timed rolling out of bed, pulling on clean clothes and running out the door to the last possible second.
A quick bowl of whole-grain Cheerios or banana slices smeared with peanut butter — my granddaughter Greta's favorite preschool breakfast — are two easy solutions, but they come with a catch as the kids grow older: You have to actually get them to sit down to eat it.
Sadly, breakfast skipping among children and adolescents is more prevalent than you might hope. The latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show about 14% of kids ages 6-11 and 17% of adolescents aged 12-19 regularly head to class on an empty stomach.
And it only gets worse as they grow older. The CDC found that 75% of teens surveyed in the fall of 2021 said they were not eating breakfast daily, up from 66.9% in 2019.
The plain truth is that kids who eat breakfast do better in school. Studies show that breakfast eaters tend to have higher attendance, are less frequently tardy and experience fewer hunger-induced stomach aches.
"It is very hard to concentrate, retain knowledge and really learn when you are hungry," says Judy Siebert, a dietitian with West Virginia University's Medical Weight Management Clinic at J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital. "The brain only uses glucose for energy, so if that is low, it's very hard to learn and retain new concepts."
Behaviors are a concern also. All of us are more likely to act out when hungry (hangry!), says Siebert, who is also a consultant dietitian for Head Start.
It's also important what you break the fast with. You want all macro nutrients (proteins, fats and carbohydrates) at each meal, she says. Sugary cereals — which light up the reward center in our brains — are no longer considered a good start to the day. Any cereal with more than 6 grams of sugar per ounce falls into the "candy " category.
So what's a plan for success?
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