The back-to-school movement is in full swing. As parents scour stores for the year's school supplies, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics encourages them to stock up on healthy breakfast foods, too. August is Kids Eat Right Month, the perfect time to emphasize how a healthy breakfast is crucial in providing children the nutrients and energy they need to succeed in school.
"Studies show that breakfast eaters tend to have higher school attendance, less tardiness and fewer hunger-induced stomachaches in the morning, which means fewer trips to the school nurse," says registered dietitian nutritionist and Academy Spokesperson Toby Smithson. "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 too often and for a variety of reasons, children do not eat this fundamental meal. The Academy's Family Nutrition and Physical Activity Report revealed that breakfast is not eaten all of the time by 42 percent of white and Hispanic children and 59 percent of black children. Additionally, 12 percent of white, 18 percent of black and 12 percent of Hispanic children reported never or rarely having breakfast.
"For most people, time is the biggest obstacle to eating in the morning, but a healthy meal doesn't need to take a lot of time to prepare," Smithson says. "Getting organized the night before, keeping meals simple and even taking breakfast to go are three easy steps parents can take to make sure breakfast is eaten every day."
Smithson offers quick, easy and balanced breakfast ideas for children:
• Cheese slices served on whole-grain toast
• Iron-fortified, whole-grain cereal with low-fat milk and banana slices
• Nut or sunflower butter spread on whole-grain toast or waffles or rolled inside a whole-wheat tortilla
• Fruit like peaches, strawberries or raisins in instant oatmeal made with low-fat milk
• Apple slices and low-fat yogurt topped with crumbled graham crackers
• Lean turkey on a toasted whole-wheat English muffin
"These options are all loaded with protein and carbohydrates, two important nutrients that help energize the body and keep stomachs full for longer," Smithson says.
"While some prepackaged foods may seem convenient, parents should be cautious, as many contain excess sugar and fat. Donuts, toaster pastries, pork bacon or sausage sandwiches, chips, fruit drinks and some cereals can be laden with extra calories and have little nutritional value. Read the nutrition label to find lower-fat items and the ingredients label for products that do not list sugar as one of the first ingredients," Smithson says.
"Most importantly, parents need to be positive role models: Eat breakfast yourselves," Smithson says. "If your children see you making excuses, they are likely to do the same. But if they see you making time to eat a healthy meal, they will follow your good example. Your whole family will be better off."
Visit www.KidsEatRight.org for a library of healthy breakfast ideas and for more information about Kids Eat Right Month, including the Kids Eat Right Month press kit. For help developing a healthful eating plan that fits the needs and tastes of your family, consult a registered dietitian nutritionist in your area.
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics