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The importance of a healthy breakfast

Many people underestimate the value of breakfast. They may only have a glass of juice or a cup of coffee and eat nothing at all. However, research has shown that this type of routine is not the best habit to get into. Eating a substantial meal within the first few hours of waking up is much healthier for you and your child.

Breakfast basics

Imagine you are a car. After a long night of sleeping, your fuel tank is empty. Breakfast is the fuel that gets you going so you can hit the road. You need to provide enough new energy for your body to get started and to keep you functioning until lunch. 

A six-year study compared the mental and physical efficiency of a group of adults throughout the day, some of whom ate healthy nutritious breakfasts while others did not.


​When compared to those who ate breakfast, the people who did not became less efficient as the day went on. Their productivity improved after eating lunch, but by the end of the day their work completion was slower than those who had eaten breakfast.

For children, a good breakfast is even more important. Children who do not eat a good breakfast become tired in school and have shorter attention spans, especially late in the morning. In one study, test scores of children who did not eat breakfast were generally lower than those who had eaten a well-balanced morning meal. Another good reason to make sure that children have a balanced breakfast is that four out of five children do not get enough vitamins and minerals from lunch and dinner alone. By adding breakfast, children are more likely to get the vitamins and minerals they need. Also, children who don’t eat a good breakfast tend to eat more junk food during the day -- snacks that are high in fat and sugar and low in nutritional value.

Breakfast improves academic performance and diet

Breakfast helps improve mental performance and concentration during morning activities. Children who skip breakfast will be more sluggish, less attentive, and have less energy to carry out their morning tasks. Teachers observe that children who come to school hungry experience more learning difficulties compared to well-nourished children. Studies show that breakfast eaters perform much better in their school work and show extra energy in sports and other physical activities. Besides assuring optimal development and growth, positive effects on alertness, attention, performance on standardized achievement tests, and other skills important for academic success are enhanced for those who eat breakfast on a daily basis. 

Breakfast and weight loss – what is the connection?

Some teenagers choose to skip breakfast as a means to lose weight. However, skipping breakfast actually makes people more likely to snack throughout the day and eat a larger meal at lunch and dinner. As a result, skipping breakfast may cause weight gain by making them eat excessively later in the day.   

High-fibre, carbohydrate-rich breakfasts help kids feel full longer thus they may snack less. 

Be creative with your breakfast choices

It’s easy to squeeze a good breakfast in, even if your child isn’t that hungry. First, have your child drink a glass of liquid such as water or orange juice. This will help increase his appetite. If he is not used to eating breakfast, you can start by having him eat a small amount at first and then have the rest of the meal mid-morning. As your child gets used to eating breakfast, slowly increase the amount of food he eats in the early morning.

A good breakfast should include nutritious foods from three of the four food groups.

Whole-grain bread or cereal, fruit, milk, yogurt, or eggs are good breakfast options.  For children older than two years, 1% low-fat milk or non-fat milk is a good beverage to include with breakfast. If your child doesn’t enjoy the types of foods generally associated with breakfast, consider a sandwich or a serving of leftovers that may appeal to him more.

Some foods might surprise you. For example, many toaster waffles are actually quite low in fat. Top them with some fresh fruit, add a glass of low-fat milk and you have a quick and easy breakfast that combines good taste and good nutrition. 

The point of breakfast is to feed your child’s body the protein and energy it needs to start the day and to carry him through to lunch. Of course, children often learn most by example, so it's important for parents to set a good example and have a nutritious breakfast each day too.

Suggestions to get your children to eat breakfast each morning:

  • Mixing a variety of healthy cereals, especially those that are lower in sugar, are a good source of carbohydrate and fibre for children. In addition, skim or 1% milk supplies needed calcium and protein. 
  • If pressed for time in the morning, try cutting up fruit the night before, so it’s ready to add to cereal or yogurt
  • Breakfast doesn't have to be limited to cereal or toast. A whole-wheat English muffin with mozzarella and tomato sauce or an omelette with vegetables may seem unconventional to parents, but if a child enjoys it, it can be a healthy choice.

Don’t have time for breakfast?

It takes no more than one minute for your child to put a slice of cheese between two slices of whole grain bread on his way out the door!  

Try these time-saving tips:

  • Keep convenient foods on hand, such as yogurt, fruit, cheese, instant oatmeal, and whole grain bread.
  • Have your child eat ‘breakfast-to-go’ on the bus, in the car, or while walking to school.

Alisa Bar-Dayan is a Registered Dietitian at The Specialty Food Shop located in Sick Kids Hospital, Toronto.

For more information, you can reach Specialty Food Shop dietitians with your nutrition questions by calling 1-800-737-7976 (toll-free line) Monday to Friday or by sending an e-mail to ​