TOMS RIVER, NJ, AUGUST 27, 2010 - It’s long been touted as the “most important meal of the day” but many people, including children, overlook this nutritional jump start in the morning.
“A healthy breakfast refuels your body with nutrients,” says Eileen Keating, a Registered Dietitian at Community Medical Center, “You and your child may not make up the nutrients missed at breakfast, which provides food energy for the morning’s activities.”
Breakfast skippers also have a harder time fitting important nutrients into their diet. Many foods eaten at breakfast contain significant amounts of vitamins C and D, calcium, iron, and fiber.
“Start your day off right by eating a nutritious breakfast and not only will you be less likely to crave fattening snacks during the day, you will also have the energy to accomplish mental and physical tasks, which is especially important for school-aged children,” said Keating.
She notes that the brain and central nervous system run on glucose -- the fuel you need to think, walk, talk, and carry on any and all activities. “If you go long hours without eating, the brain is surely deprived -- and your body has to work extra hard to break down any stored carbohydrate or turn fat or protein into a usable form for your brain to function.”
That's a lot to ask for when you're sitting in a classroom, trying to concentrate on reading, or doing any other work. Breakfast is especially important for children and adolescents. Eating breakfast has been proven to improve concentration, problem solving ability, mental performance, memory, and mood.
According to the American Dietetic Association, children who eat breakfast are more likely to have better concentration, problem-solving skills and eye-hand coordination. They may also be more alert, creative, and less likely to miss days of school.
“Your children will certainly be at a disadvantage if their classmates have eaten breakfast and they've gone without,” comments Keating. “On average, kids who eat breakfast will think faster and clearer, and will have better recall.”
People who eat a healthy breakfast are more likely to:
- Consume more vitamins and minerals and less fat and cholesterol
- Have more strength and endurance
- Have better concentration and productivity throughout the morning
- Control their weight
- Have lower cholesterol, which reduces the risk of heart disease
"Breakfast not only starts your day off right, but also lays the foundation for lifelong health benefits," says Keating.
A healthy breakfast should consist of a variety of foods — whole grains, low-fat protein or dairy sources, and fruit, for example. This provides complex carbohydrates, protein and a small amount of fat — a combination that delays hunger symptoms for hours.
And with today’s variety of healthy options there’s something for everyone’s taste and lifestyle – for even the fussiest eaters, Keating notes. Whether you opt for traditional options, such as yogurt, whole-grain muffins or ready-to-eat cereal, or less typical foods, such as leftover vegetable pizza or a fruit smoothie, you can get the nutrients and energy you need to start your day.
To make a healthy breakfast each day, Keating suggests that you choose one item from at least three of the following four food groups:
- Fruits and vegetables. Fresh fruits and vegetables, 100 percent juice without added sugar
- Grains. Whole-grain rolls, bagels, hot or cold whole-grain cereals, low-fat bran muffins, crackers, or melba toast
- Dairy. Skim milk, low-fat yogurt cups or low-fat cheeses, such as cottage and natural cheeses
- Protein. Hard-boiled eggs, peanut butter, lean slices of meat and poultry, or fish, such as water-packed tuna or slices of salmon
“You can even make healthy breakfast choices at fast-food restaurants,” notes Keating. “Whole-grain bagels, rolls and English muffins are better than fat-filled doughnuts, scones, croissants or biscuits. Skip the oversized breakfast sandwiches, bacon, sausage and full-fat milk.
“Stock your kitchen with quick-to-fix breakfast foods. Consider your child’s needs,” Keating advises. “And remember to give your child time to wake up. Many kids aren’t hungry right away. Rushing puts pressure on breakfast eating.”
If your excuse for missing breakfast is lack of time, figure out what you'll eat the night before and get up 10 minutes earlier to enjoy it. “You can even start making it the night before,” says Keating. “You might mix the juice, slice fruit, or make hard cooked eggs.”
Or pack something that you and the kids can take with you, she suggests. For breakfast on the go, munch dry, ready-to-eat cereal with a banana and drink a small carton of low-fat or skim milk. The best cereals are those that are higher in fiber. If counting calories, choose cereals that are lower in calories.
“Do yourself and your kids a favor by making nutritious breakfast choices that can set you up for healthier eating all day long,” Keating concludes. "The combinations are limited only by your imagination and taste."
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