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Children's Health Author: Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN - Food and Nutrition Columnist - Last Updated: Sep 7, 2017 - 10:06:33 PM

Want Your Children To Get Better Grades – Feed Them Breakfast

By Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN - Food and Nutrition Columnist -
Aug 19, 2013 - 12:03:22 AM

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( - As a working mother of two daughters I know what school mornings are like. Do you have your books and your homework? Are you serious about the outfit? It's getting late and the bus is coming. Breakfast? Sit-down and eat? Getting kids to eat in the morning is no easy chore.

Toddlers, preschoolers and young children are most likely to eat breakfast but by middle school only 50% of children eat breakfast, even less in high school. I know what parents are up against. But breakfast, is still the most important meal of the day. Children who eat breakfast are slimmer and do better in school. They demonstrate better memory, get better test scores, are absent from school fewer days, and have better moods. Breakfast skippers weigh more and eat more sweets and soft drinks and fewer fruits and vegetables during the rest of the day.

Nutrients found in breakfast foods - calcium (milk), potassium (milk), vitamin C (orange juice), fiber, iron and folic acid (bread or cereal) - are rarely made up during the rest of the day when breakfast is missed. And, most breakfast foods are inexpensive. A serving of cereal plus milk costs as little as 50 cents.

Parents are often concerned about their child's sugar intake and many children demand presweetened cereals. And, so the battle rages. As parents, you should know that kids that eat cereal for breakfast, even the presweetened kind, are slimmer than kids who skip breakfast. A good compromise is to mix cereal. One cup is a standard cereal portion. Put a ¾ cup measure in the healthy cereal choice and a ¼ cup measure in the presweetened choice to top off and sweetened the bowl. Most kids will go for this compromise. Or use the sweet cereal as a snack side to go with a healthier choice like a container of yogurt.

Cereal companies have heard parents, loud and clear, and the amount of sugar in ready-to-eat cereals has been slowly declining since 2005. Cereal companies can't cut the sugar too sharply, too quickly, or your smart little folks will quickly switch to another sweeter brand. A small incremental reduction in sugar lets the child accommodate to a slightly less sweet taste over time. Ready-to-eat presweetened cereals contribute only 4% of the daily sugar intake for most children. Soda and sugary fruit drinks contribute 40%.

A study from the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing showed that children who regularly have breakfast have higher IQs. After a whole night of fasting, breakfast supplies fuel to the brain. In early childhood, a child's cognitive ability in both verbal and performance domains is developing rapidly. Teachers with a classroom of hungry kids in the morning know how hard it is to get them to focus on learning.

Here are some breakfast ideas to try. Keep in mind it doesn't matter if the food is eaten at the kitchen table, in the car or on the school bus. Your goal is to get your kids to eat that first, most important, meal of the day.

  • Dry cereal in a snack bag with a box drink of milk
  • Pancake wrapped around a scrambled egg
  • Toast and melted cheese
  • Waffle topped with peanut butter or any other nut butter
  • Cheese stick, whole wheat crackers and box drink of 100% juice
  • Yogurt plus granola
  • Hard cooked egg, whole wheat pretzels and raisins
  • Whole wheat English muffin sandwich with a hard cooked egg and ham
  • Homemade trail mix with cereal, nuts, seeds and dry fruit
  • Whole wheat breadsticks to dip in goat cheese spread plus a fresh fruit
  • Nuts, squeezie fruit sauce package and drinkable yogurt
  • Dinner leftovers
  • Macaroni and cheese
  • English muffin pizza
  • Scrambled eggs and cheese wrapped in a tortilla
  • Pita pocket stuffed with salad and topped with a protein choice (hard cooked egg, grilled chicken, grated cheese, nuts or seeds)
  • Grape tomatoes and a cold chicken leg

Though some of these suggestions may not appeal to you, they are all good, healthy breakfast choices. Your child's stomach doesn't know if it is morning or night. It simply knows it has been without food for many hours and needs to be fed. Ask your child what they would like for breakfast. The key is to get kids to eat in the morning, you can slowly move toward better and better choices.

© NRH Nutrition Consultants, Inc.
Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN is a registered dietitian and the author of the nutrition counter series for Pocket Books with sales of more than 8.5 million books.

Look for:

The Most Complete Food Counter, 3rd ed., 2013

The Calorie Counter, 6th Ed., 2013

The Complete Food Counter, 4th ed., 2012

The Diabetes Counter, 4th Ed., 2011

The Protein Counter, 3rd Ed., 2011

The Ultimate Carbohydrate Counter, 3rd Ed., 2010

The Fat Counter, 7th ed., 2009

The Healthy Wholefoods Counter, 2008

The Cholesterol Counter, 7th Ed., 2008

Your Complete Food Counter App:

For more information on Jo-Ann and her books, go to:


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