Kid's Behavior: Only as Good as Their Breakfast

From the WebMD Archives

Sept. 21, 2000 -- Not everyone likes to eat breakfast, even though it has been called the most important meal of the day. When it comes to kids though, that statement takes on an extra ring of truth.

Kids who skip breakfast often have trouble concentrating and are more likely to be described as depressed, anxious, fidgety, or irritable by their teachers, according to experts at Houston's Baylor College of Medicine. What's more, kids who do eat breakfast often make poor food choices.

So how do you provide a healthy breakfast and stay on schedule, too? It's all in how you stock the pantry, dieticians reveal.

"Up to 37% of kids skip breakfast, causing them to get less than two thirds of the Recommended Daily Allowance for many vitamins and minerals," says researcher Theresa Nicklas, DrPH, LDN, a professor of pediatrics at the Children's Nutrition Research Center (CNRC) at Baylor. "And in kids that do eat breakfast, those who eat at home tend to take in more sugar and animal fat than those who eat at school," she tells WebMD.

Fortunately, a nutritious breakfast doesn't have to be boring or time-consuming, according to CNRC dietician Debby Demory-Luce, PhD, RD, the mother of two teen-age boys. "You can give kids almost everything they need with foods that are fast and easy to prepare," she tells WebMD. In fact, you might be surprised by some of her sample menus, such as:

  • One slice of cold pizza and a glass of 100% fruit juice
  • A piece of toast with peanut butter and a glass of low-fat milk

Breakfast is so important that it should have the same priority in a child's daily life as homework, Demory-Luce says. "For some working parents, it's easier to stay on schedule if the kids eat breakfast at school. But even if they just have a doughnut in the car, eating something is better than going without anything," she tells WebMD.

Not only do kids need good nutrition for growth, but for academic performance as well. "Several studies have shown that children do better on tests after they've been fed," says Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, the Atlanta spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. "So look for ways to fit in a quick breakfast on weekdays, reserving eggs, pancakes, and French toast for the weekend. " Here's what she recommends:

  • Set the alarm to allow time for everyone, including mom and dad, to eat breakfast
  • Pour cereal into bowls the night before, adding skim milk in the morning
  • Stock instant breakfast drinks for the kids to prepare themselves
  • Alternate with toaster waffles for a good variety

Portable food is another Zelman strategy, even though it costs a bit more. "Without breakfast, it's hard to get in five daily servings of fruits and vegetables. That's why I'm willing to pay a little extra for single-serving containers. That way, they can just grab them and go," she says. So what does Zelman keep on hand?

  • Calcium-fortified orange juice
  • Unsweetened apple sauce
  • Raisins and bananas
  • Reduced fat or nonfat yogurt
  • Granola bars and whole-grain bagels

Squeezing in a morning meal may even improve the quality of family life. "If you take the lead and allow some extra time to eat, you might find that it offers a whole new opportunity to communicate with your kids," Nicklas says.