Why eating breakfast before school is non-negotiable

The importance of breakfast.
The importance of breakfast. Photo: Getty

The Dietitians Association in Australia is urging all parents to make eating breakfast 'non-negotiable' for school-aged children, following recent research that highlighted the detrimental effects for students who start school hungry. 

The research, which was released by Foodbank, found teachers noticed that most students who skipped breakfast had low energy levels and difficulty concentrating.

It also showed that three children in every classroom were arriving at school hungry or without breakfast. For many of these students, this happened more than three times a week.

Kate Di Prima, Spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia and accredited practicing dietician, said skipping breakfast makes children feel 'fuzzy' in the head. She also says it will make them lethargic because their brains are being starved of energy.

"The brain requires energy in the form of glucose to function at its best throughout the day. Nutritious breakfast foods such as grainy bread, breakfast cereals, fruit and milk provide healthy sources of glucose."

"A healthy breakfast gives kids the right fuel to start the day, helping them to fully participate in class and achieve the best grades possible," she says.

And this isn't the first time that the importance of school aged children eating breakfast has been highlighted.

Health education research previously conducted showed that eating breakfast was linked with an improvement in literacy and numeracy skills in school children.  

The outcome of this was a potential impact on their long-term employment options.

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'Breakfast should not be optional for school children. To put it simply, their growth and development depends on getting enough of the right nutrients and, without breakfast, they will really struggle to get their daily quota,' says Di Prima.

Louisa Croft, a teacher, has seen firsthand how children who skip breakfast are impacted in the classroom.

"Behaviour can differ depending on the child, but generally they will be unfocused and distracting to both themselves and others. Alternatively, they will be sleepy, sluggish, difficult to motivate and non responsive to class discussion and general interaction."

Croft says that one of the ways in which her school tries to combat this is to offer the children a healthy snack mid morning of fruit or vegetables. This can help those that are particularly struggling to make it through.  

However, Croft says this isn't the answer.

"Breakfast for children is imperative. And a healthy breakfast too," she says. 

She points out that, as well as those children who are skipping breakfast it's also easy to pick out those who have had a sugar filled, unhealthy breakfast.

"These children will come into school super high with 'off the planet' behaviour, but will quickly slump to nothing. Children who are in this situation on a regular basis lose that vital morning learning session everyday when the most quality learning occurs."

So what is the best breakfast that we can give our children?

Di Prima recommends something that is high in fibre, contains low Glycaemic Index options, and includes protein.

Her top recommendations are as follows:

  • Wholegrain cereal with reduced-fat milk, topped with fresh fruit
  • Wholegrain toast (or if time is tight, a sandwich made the night before) with reduced-fat cheese, avocado and tomato, and a piece of fruit
  • Wholemeal muffin or crumpet with baked beans and a low-fat yoghurt
  • Poached or scrambled eggs on wholemeal toast with a glass of reduced-fat milk
  • A smoothie made from reduced-fat milk, fresh fruit and yoghurt