Breakfast is often named ‘the most important meal of the day’, yet nearly 1 in 5 South African children skip it before going to school. They may skip it because they aren’t hungry, wake up too late, or because people at home weren’t having breakfast. The benefit of eating breakfast not only lies in eating breakfast itself but also in what we eat for breakfast. Here we highlight the scientifically-proven benefits to give you all the more reason to make time and enjoy a daily balanced breakfast with your children.
Children who eat breakfast regularly tend to make better food choices throughout the day, such as eat more veggies and fruit, drink more milk and less fizzy drinks. In contrast, those who regularly skip breakfast, tend to snack more and often choose high-fat snacks. Enjoying a well-balanced breakfast and feeling satisfied, prevents nibbling on snacks in the morning, especially those that are high in sugar and fat.
Breakfast-eaters have better intakes of important nutrients like dietary fibre, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin C, B vitamins, iron and tend to have a lower intake of fat and salt, compared to breakfast-skippers. Teenagers who skip breakfast often skip other meals too which contributes to an overall poorer diet.
Children and teenagers who regularly eat breakfast have a lower risk of being overweight. Consuming breakfast can contribute towards maintaining a healthy weight and waist circumference, which is an indicator of excess fat around your tummy and a predictor of premature chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. This is particularly relevant to South Africa where we see nearly 1 in 4 children being overweight or obese.
Children who regularly skip breakfast have been found to have poorer blood sugar control, more insulin resistance and a higher risk of type 2 diabetes, than those who do not. Enjoying a high-quality breakfast may be just as important as not skipping it. Regularly enjoying a breakfast made of oats and barley has been linked to a reduced risk of high cholesterol, high blood pressure and heart disease. Whole-grain and high fibre cereals also appear to have protective effects against diabetes.
School children who have access to free school breakfast programmes have been found to make fewer visits to the school nurse whereas those experiencing hunger are more likely to complain of more frequent tummy aches and headaches. Breakfast-eaters have also been found to experience less anxiety and depression and greater feelings of contentment.
Breakfast eating seems to cluster with other healthy lifestyle choices where children and teenagers who skip breakfast are more likely to be less physically active and more likely to participate in smoking, alcohol use, disordered eating and unhealthy weight management practices. This doesn’t mean that skipping breakfast leads to smoking but rather that growing up with good family habits has other benefits too.
Eating breakfast regularly may help children to perform better at school by improving their attention, memory, problem-solving skills, school attendance, and show less hyperactivity and disruptive behaviour in class. The reason behind these brainy-benefits seems to be a combination between the immediate availability of energy and nutrients to perform tasks, as well as long-term effects on growth and brain development.
Try to include at least two food groups in your breakfast to keep you fuller for longer:
To find easy and delicious tips, ideas and recipes for a healthy breakfast, have a look at the Cooking from the Heart 2 recipe book here.