It takes more than new school supplies to help kids perform well at school.
Studies demonstrate that eating certain breakfast foods can give kids an academic edge: increasing memory, improving test scores, lessening absenteeism, heightening positive mood and energy levels.
The memory-boosting effect of breakfast is attributed to glucose, a sugar supplied to the brain from carbohydrate-rich foods such as cereal, toast, fruit, milk and yogurt. The brain relies almost exclusively on glucose for fuel and it's also used to make acetylcholine, a brain chemical important for memory.
Some carbohydrate-rich foods do a better job than others at sustaining brainpower. Studies show that children and teenagers who eat a low-glycemic index (GI) breakfast (like oatmeal) score higher on memory tests than those who eat a high GI meal (sugary cereal).
Foods with a low GI provide a slower and more lasting release of glucose, enhancing memory and attention.
Low GI foods include bran cereals, muesli cereal with nuts and fruit, large-flake and steel-cut oats, oat bran, 100-per-cent stone-ground or sourdough bread, apples, bananas, oranges, grapefruit, berries, grapes, pears, dried apricots, milk, yogurt and soy beverages.
The benefits of breakfast go beyond memory. Kids who eat the morning meal have improved nutritional status. They're more likely to meet daily targets for fibre, vitamin C, folate, calcium, iron and zinc – nutrients growing bodies and developing brains rely on.
Breakfast skippers don't usually make up for the nutrients they miss at other meals throughout the day, studies report.
Eating breakfast can also help kids maintain a healthy weight. Numerous studies have found that children and teens – adults too – who skip breakfast are heavier than their peers. Missing breakfast makes you more likely to overeat during the day.
Breakfast foods that are protein- and fibre-rich keep appetite in check and blood sugar stable during the morning. While staving off hunger before lunch helps weight control, it also allows kids to concentrate in class.
Common reasons for skipping breakfast include the morning time crunch, kids squeezing in extra time to sleep, long bus rides to school, lack of parental supervision and not having readily available breakfast foods.
To make busy mornings less hectic, plan for breakfast in advance.
Have your child help set the table the night before. Cut up fruit after dinner so it's ready to throw on cereal or into a smoothie. Cook steel-oats overnight in your crockpot on low setting. (Coat the insert of the crockpot with butter or non-stick cooking spray to prevent oatmeal from sticking.)
On the weekend, make a batch of whole grain muffins or breakfast bars for quick breakfasts during the week.
Whenever possible, be a role model for breakfast behaviour. Eat breakfast with your children so they can follow your lead.
How to fuel your child's mind
At the table:
Scrambled eggs, salsa and grated cheese wrapped in a whole-wheat tortilla, served with fresh fruit.
Whole-wheat toast spread with refried beans, cheese and salsa.
Oatmeal topped with raisins, dried cranberries, sunflower seeds and low-fat Greek yogurt.
Break breakfast boredom by serving leftovers from the night before, even pasta or pizza.
Homemade trail mix made with whole-grain flakes, shredded wheat cereal, dried fruit, sunflower seeds and shredded coconut.
Thermos-ready fruit smoothie made with milk or soy milk.
Granola bar, apple and part skim cheese string. (Choose a granola bar with no more than two grams of saturated fat, zero grams of trans fat and at least two grams of fibre. Choose bars with no more than eight grams of sugar per serving and preferably less.)
Homemade muffin, hard-boiled egg and banana.
Leslie Beck, a registered dietitian, is the national director of nutrition at BodyScience Medical. She can be seen Thursdays at noon on CTV News Channel's Direct. Lesliebeck.com