Building a breakfast habit

Nutrition manager Erin Corrigan shares healthy snacks with children at Miami Children's Hospital Child Care Center.
Nutrition manager Erin Corrigan shares healthy snacks with children at Miami Children’s Hospital Child Care Center.

It has often been said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but is it really?

Some articles have recently stated that perhaps it isn’t, but for kids it could play a critical role in their cognitive skills and basic nutritional needs.

“Breakfast is underrated in kids,” said Marina Chaparro, a registered dietitian and nutrition educator at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood. “A lot of research has shown positive outcomes, especially in school, when kids eat.”

Children tend to remember things better, react quicker, have better math skills and fewer behavioral issues.

“If kids don’t have breakfast, they are not going to be able to concentrate at school and perform to their optimal ability,” said Erin Corrigan, clinical nutrition manager at Miami Children’s Hospital. “They are going to be agitated.”

Breakfast is also a good way to fill nutritional needs for kids. People tend to get the most important nutrients in their breakfast, including calcium, iron, protein, vitamin A and C.

“Skipping breakfast leads to essentially fewer and larger meals,” said Dr. Patricia Feito, a family practice physician at Baptist Health Medical Group. “It also tends to increase weight gain and body fat throughout the day.”

According to the Family Nutrition and Physical Activity Report, the meal that kids skip the most frequently is breakfast. It can be considered the worst meal to skip because after a night’s sleep, energy levels in the body are low.

The report notes that 59 percent of African American children and 42 percent of Anglo and Hispanic children never eat breakfast. Some cite low income, but many of these students would be eligible for free or reduced rate school breakfast programs.

Others blame it on time. With kids being more and more active, breakfast becomes less and less important. Parents, however, need to make it a priority.

“I get that everyday life and this society is difficult,” Feito said. “There are time constraints for everything, but if you miss the most important things in life, you’re going to eventually suffer in the long run.”

Breakfast doesn’t have to be complicated. A little preparation could be the key.

“Were not talking about a super fancy brunch,” said Chaparro, who suggests planning breakfast the night before.

Dr. Wenliang Geng, pediatric chief resident at Miami Children’s Hospital, suggests educating children and parents to incorporate healthy family habits.

“We can educate children to a certain extent,” he said. “But really the change where the most amount of effect is going to be seen is by educating parents.”

“Encourage breakfast, as hard as it is and as obvious as it seems,” he said.

BREAKFAST TIPS

Need some good ideas for breakfast? Nutritional experts from Baptist Hospital, Miami Children’s Hospital and Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital recommend these healthy options.

Be balanced

Aim for three food groups. “You want to make sure you have a well-balanced meal. That way you feel satisfied,” said Erin Corrigan, clinical nutrition manager at Miami Children’s Hospital. “If it’s only carbohydrates, you’re going to be hungry again in an hour, so you want something that has fat and protein so it lasts all the way through lunch time.”

Example: Healthy cereal or yogurt with fruits and nuts

Protein

“Protein is not only going to help our kids grow,” said Marina Chaparro, a registered dietitian and nutrition educator at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital, “but its going to help them feel good throughout the day.”

Example: Eggs, low-fat cheese, peanut butter, salmon

Eggs

Eggs contain a lot of protein and have a lot of variety. You can boil them, scramble or make an omelet. If you don’t have time in the morning, you can make ahead and put it in the fridge and just heat up in the morning.

Example: Omelet with vegetables

Whole grains

Whole grains are full of fiber that will keep you full and help your digestion system.

Example: Cereal with high fiber content and not too much sugar; whole grain breads, oatmeal

Skip the juice; eat fresh fruit

“You’ve already started your day right with some fruit,” said Chapparo. Limit juices, which have high sugar content, and eat whole fruits. They have more fiber, nutrients and vitamins.

Example: Blueberries, strawberries, bananas, oranges

On the go

For those with a busy lifestyle pack a breakfast bar, dried fruit or plain yogurt with fruits and nuts.

Example: Granola bar, yogurt

Don’t like breakfast food?

Eat something else. Leftovers with a side of fruit, for example. “It can be whatever you want to eat. As long as you don’t skip,” Corrigan said. “If you skip completely you go all night without eating. You’re going on 14 hours without eating. That’s not good.”

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