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Breakfast of champions
We've always heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but it's especially true when it comes to your child's developing brain. Studies have shown that children who eat breakfast perform better in attention and memory tests than those who don't.
Why? Food absorbed by our bodies is converted to glucose that powers the body – and the brain. Your child wakes up with an empty tank that needs to be refueled. "Your child's brain needs glucose to function well. Without it, she may have difficulty understanding new information and won't remember things as well," says Terrill Bravender, chief of adolescent medicine at Nationwide Children's Hospital, and professor of clinical pediatrics at the Ohio State University College of Medicine.
Research bears this out. Harvard Medical School psychologist J. Michael Murphy and his colleagues at Massachusetts General Hospital re-analyzed the data of a USDA school breakfast pilot project that examined the impact of a universal free breakfast program of 4,000 elementary school students. Murphy’s analysis found that regular breakfast skipping was associated with poorer school attendance and tardiness, less verbal fluency, and more parent- and teacher-related behavior problems.
Diane Pratt-Heavner, a spokesperson for the School Nutrition Association, agrees with Murphy. "I know principals who keep snacks in their drawers for children with discipline problems. Many times, those kids never ate breakfast," she says.
But don't pull out the sugary cereals just yet. The type of food a child eats is just as important as whether she eats at all. Highly sweetened breakfast cereals can give kids a short-lived sugar high, resulting in the inevitable crash.
Protein- and fiber-rich breakfasts, on the other hand, give the brain sustained go-power. In a study published in the journal Physiology and Behavior, children who ate oatmeal for breakfast performed 20 percent better on a map-memorization test than their sugary-cereal-munching counterparts.
"Eating something with complex carbs and protein gives your child's brain a constant, slow infusion of glucose for better brain function," says Bravender. That said, Bravender stresses that when it comes to breakfast something is better than nothing, so make sure your child gets a morning meal.
What you can do
Here are some great ideas for quick and easy brain-boosting breakfasts that kids love.
- Peanut butter on multigrain bread, whole wheat English muffin, or whole grain waffle
- Whole wheat English muffin with scrambled eggs or melted cheese
- Breakfast burrito: whole grain tortilla stuffed with scrambled eggs and cheese or lowfat refried beans and cheese
- Scrambled eggs in a cup: Mix 1 egg with a little milk, grated cheese, and chopped ham in a mug; cover and cook in microwave.
- Whole grain tortilla with sliced banana and peanut butter
- Whole grain tortilla with sunflower seed butter and honey
- Whole grain, low-sugar cereal with milk and blueberries
- Oatmeal made with milk, topped with raisins, wheat germ, and almonds
- Yogurt, fruit, and granola, parfait-style