With the clock ticking, preparing children for school in the morning can turn into a chaotic rush to finish homework, pack bags and prepare for the day ahead. Unfortunately these pressures may be leading to many children running out the door without a nutritious start to the day or worse, without eating breakfast at all. Recent Galaxy Research of Australian parents of primary school children found that the majority (67%) worry that their kids aren’t getting enough to eat to last the morning at school(1), concerns which are warranted given the importance of a nutritious breakfast for growing minds and bodies. Here we look into these recent findings, explore why it’s important to establish a healthy breakfast routine and provide some practical strategies to help win the ‘breakfast battle’.
The research, commissioned by the Australian Breakfast Cereal Manufacturers Forum (ABCMF), conducted on a nationally representative sample of Australian parents of primary school aged children (5-12 years), highlighted the challenge many families face when it comes to breakfast.
The research found that two out of three parents struggle to get their kids to eat breakfast in the mornings, with more than one in three stating that it is a weekly battle. Primary school aged children are increasingly gaining the upper hand, with 200,000 parents admitting that their kids go to school without breakfast almost every morning and 700,000 parents saying that their children miss brekkie at least once a week(1). Parents highlighted that often their kids aren’t hungry in the mornings, or are becoming increasingly fussy and unable to find anything they like, despite parents efforts to provide nutritious breakfast options(1).
The primary school years are a crucial time to establish healthy eating routines, as good dietary habits will ensure kids receive all the nutrients they need to grow, learn and play. As the saying goes, breakfast is no doubt the most important meal of the day, providing kids with the energy and nutrient boost they need to tackle a busy day at school.
Scientific research has shown that a nutritious, low glycemic index (GI) breakfast can improve learning in the classroom(2, 3) and increase performance on numerical and written tasks(4, 5). In addition to this, a study conducted by Foodbank this year found that teachers regularly observe the negative effects of skipping breakfast, estimating that kids who don’t eat before school lose more than 2 hours of learning time per day. To put this into context, a child who skips breakfast once a week will miss out on more than an entire terms worth of learning over the course of the year(6).
When it comes to breakfast choices, just as with every meal, parents should aim to provide their kids with core foods first, such as breakfast cereals, various bread products, fruit, yoghurt and milk or a combination of these. The good news is that in the recent research, parents said that simple, healthy breakfast choices such as a bowl of cereal, slice of toast or piece of fruit were the easiest options for kids on a busy school morning, respectively(1). Discretionary choices at breakfast (as with all meals or snacks) such as croissants, pastries or muffins should be limited at brekkie, as these foods are often high in kilojoules and low in essential nutrients(7).
Tips to winning the ‘breakfast battle’
Parents who skip brekkie are more likely to have children that skip breakfast too(1), and so the first step to helping your kids start the day in the right way is by setting a good example as a parent - so make sure you take five and enjoy the benefits of a wholegrain/high fibre breakfast cereal or bread, calcium-rich milk or yoghurt, juicy fresh fruit or even a boiled egg each day!
Next, it is important for parents to talk to their children and identify simple, healthy core foods or combinations of core foods that they enjoy and would like for breakfast.
Finally, to reduce the morning rush, set time aside each night to prepare for the next morning i.e. put bowls and breakfast boxes out and ensure lunches are ready to go. Follow these three steps and you should be on your way to establishing a healthy routine for your kids and yourself.
For more information to help win the ‘breakfast battle’ and make breakfast part of your family’s morning routine the ABCMF have developed a number of excellent resources, which can be viewed here.
1. Galaxy Research. Survey of n-1000 Australian parents of primary school children aged 5-12 years. Galaxy Research, May 2015.
2. Micha R, Rogers PJ, Nelson M. Glycaemic index and glycaemic load of breakfast predict cognitive function and mood in school children: a randomised controlled trial. The British journal of nutrition. 2011;106(10):1552-61.
3. Ingwersen J, Defeyter MA, Kennedy DO, Wesnes KA, Scholey AB. A low glycaemic index breakfast cereal preferentially prevents children's cognitive performance from declining throughout the morning. Appetite. 2007;49(1):240-4.
4. O'Dea JA, Mugridge AC. Nutritional quality of breakfast and physical activity independently predict the literacy and numeracy scores of children after adjusting for socioeconomic status. Health education research. 2012;27(6):975-85.
5. Hoyland A, Dye L, Lawton CL. A systematic review of the effect of breakfast on the cognitive performance of children and adolescents. Nutrition research reviews. 2009;22(2):220-43.
6. Foodbank. Hunger in the Classroom Report, Galaxy Research Report N-532 primary and secondary school teachers 2015. Available from: http://www.foodbank.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Foodbank-Hunger-in-the-Classroom-Report-May-2015.pdf.
7. NHMRC. Australian Dietary Guidelines Providing the scientific evidence for healthier Australian diets. 2013 Accessed online January 2014.