What Foods to Give Children for Breakfast

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breakfastThere is a lot of truth in that old saying 'Breakfast like a king, lunch like a knave and dine like a pauper'. However, up to 17 per cent of school children skip breakfast before school. The first meal of the day is the most important as your child will probably have fasted for up to 12 hours. Our bodies release glucose from our stores shortly before we wake up to help us arise from bed.


Once awake, the glucose needs to be replaced by food in order to give your child's brain a kick start. Improving blood sugar by eating a good breakfast after the night's fast raises blood glucose ('fuel for the brain') and will help to improve your child's performance. Recent research has shown that 'children who eat a nutritionally   balanced   breakfast   worked   faster,   made significantly  fewer  mistakes  on  tasks  requiring  sustained attention,   demonstrated   greater   physical   endurance   and appeared less tired to teachers'. Studies have also shown that children who go to school on a good breakfast will not only concentrate better but will also be better able to remember what they are taught.

Without breakfast, your child will probably suddenly feel hungry later in the morning and he'll start thinking about his rumbling tummy rather than what the teacher is telling him. Breakfast sets the pattern for healthy eating during the day and if your child misses breakfast, he will end up craving sweet foods later in the morning because his body will need glucose fast. Breakfast is the ideal time to make sure that your child gets some healthy energy giving food into his diet as, unlike school lunch, you are in control of what your child eats. My favourite ways of serving delicious breakfasts are given here.

Breakfasts for energy and brain power

Children have high energy and nutrient requirements because they are active and growing rapidly so it is important that their diet is not too high in fibre or low in fat, otherwise your child may feel full before his requirements are met. Choose whole milk and whole milk dairy products and don't give too many high-fibre cereals.

For toddlers, especially, it is important to remember that little people have small stomachs that get full quickly. The food they eat needs to be packed full of as many nutrients as possible. Peanut butter on toast, a yoghurt or some cheese and a glass of fruit juice would provide an excellent breakfast for a toddler.

While children are still growing, it is important that they get a good supply of vital nutrients like calcium and iron. Children who eat a good breakfast are much less likely to suffer nutritional deficiencies. After all, a simple bowl of cereal with milk will supply both iron and calcium.

For maximum energy and brain power to last throughout the morning a good breakfast should ideally include something from each of these groups:

  • Complex carbohydrate: cereal and bread.
  • Protein: dairy products, eggs and nuts.
  • Vitamins and minerals: fruit (occasionally vegetables, as in an omelette).

Calcium

Try to include at least one calcium-rich food each day for breakfast.

A good supply of calcium is essential to ensure the development of strong, healthy bones and this is particularly important during childhood and the teenage years when there is rapid growth. Calcium is also essential for the development of teeth, being a key part of the tooth structure. Milk and dairy products are the main source of calcium in our diet.

Eggs

Eggs are rich in essential nutrients and almost all the nutrients are concentrated in the yolk, which contains protein, fat, vitamins, minerals and folic acid. Eggs are a good source of iron.

Very young children should not eat lightly cooked or raw eggs because of the risk of salmonella. Very fresh eggs contain fewer bacteria than older eggs so try to find eggs that display the date on which they were laid.

The importance of iron

Iron deficiency is the commonest nutritional deficiency in young children and research has shown that a deficiency in iron has a negative effect on academic performance. Two of the main symptoms are tiredness and lack of concentration. Fortified cereals and wholemeal bread are good sources of iron. But to improve the absorption of the iron you will need to include vitamin C-rich fruit like kiwi or berry fruits or vitamin C-rich juice like orange juice or cranberry juice.

Bread and cereals

A bowl of cereal can make a healthy start to the day but you will need to choose carefully. Many of the attractively packaged breakfast cereals designed specifically for children are highly refined and have lost most of their valuable nutrients. Don't be misled by claims that they are fortified with important vitamins and minerals since many more nutrients are taken out than put back. These cereals also tend to be very high in sugar (sometimes nearly 50 per cent sugar). Not only are these bad for children's teeth, but the high level of sugar can cause blood sugar levels to rise quickly and then fall, leaving your child feeling tired and listless.

In an ideal world it would be best for our children to eat wholegrain cereals like muesli and wholegrain or wholemeal bread, but even if your child is hooked on sugary cereals, she's still getting calcium from the milk she adds to the cereal (sugary cereals contain lots of carbohydrate). You might find that mixing sugary cereals with wholegrain cereals makes a good compromise. You can also boost the nutrition in a bowl of cereal by adding fresh or dried fruits or try sprinkling cereals with wheatgerm.

Fruit

Breakfast provides a good opportunity to eat some fresh fruit towards the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables each day. Different fruits contain different vitamins so try to include plenty of variety. Think of different ways of presenting fruit like a two-colour fruit salad, or cut a kiwi in half, serve it in an egg cup and let your child scoop out the flesh with a teaspoon. Fruity milkshakes are another way to encourage your child to consume more fruit, or make fruit smoothies, mango, strawberry, banana and fresh orange juice makes a delicious combination.

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