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30/04/2012 21:31:00

The Importance of Breakfast

Interview with Katie Adolphus, researcher on breakfasts for kids.

Everyone knows that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, right? But what should you feed your children for breakfast? Does it really make a difference to the way they behave at school? How much do we actually know about our children's first meal of the day?
We asked Katie Adolphus, a PhD research student at the Human Appetite Research Unit (HARU). She is investigating the effects of breakfast on learning in school children and kindly agreed to answer some of our queries and concerns.

Please note that Katie's work is with school aged children, and while her practical suggestions towards the end of the interview are of general use to all parents, they are not meant as personal nutritional advice. Younger children will need slightly different things than older children. If you would like some more specific suggestions for healthy breakfasts, check out: Great Ormond Street's ideas, or these ideas for very young children.

Hi Katie, you’re currently investigating children’s breakfasts. What are you trying to find out?
I am investigating the effects of breakfast on learning in school children, both at primary and secondary school. This is broken down into specific areas which are called cognitive performance, subjective mood state, in-class learning behaviour and school performance.
Cognitive performance is things like reaction time, memory and the ability to sustain attention. The in class behaviour I am looking at includes things such as time on task, distractibility, disruptive behaviour, motivation and frustration. School performance is normally measured by CATs scores, schools grades such as GCSE grades and SATs grades. Finally, subjective mood state is measured following breakfast to assess the effects of breakfast on children’s own perceived mood such as their ability to focus, their motivation, concentration and energy.

What do we already know about breakfasts for children?
Breakfast is widely acknowledged as the most important meal of the day, and rightly so. People who regularly eat breakfast are more likely to have a more nutritionally balanced diet and better diet quality.
Breakfast makes a large contribution to our daily nutrient intake so people who eat breakfast tend to have a better overall “nutritional profile”. For example, micronutrient intakes of Iron, B vitamins and Vitamin D are approximately 20-60% higher in regular breakfast consumers compared with breakfast skippers. This is why people who eat breakfast are more likely to achieve their “Recommended Daily Allowances” (RDA) of those important micronutrients.
Consuming breakfast can also contribute to maintaining a Body Mass Index (BMI) within the normal range. A recent systematic review reported that those who habitually eat breakfast are less likely to be overweight. Breakfast consumption is also associated with other healthy lifestyle factors.
As far as children are concerned, children who do not consume breakfast are more likely to be less physically active and have lower cardio respiratory fitness levels. Therefore, consuming breakfast is important for multiple positive health outcomes.

What is your research so far telling you about the link between breakfast and cognitive performance?
Children and adolescents who skip breakfast may have reduced cognitive performance during school. This has important implications given that cognitive performance is central for academic achievement during school years.
Adolescents have a higher basal metabolic rate (meaning that they use more energy in a day) than adults, so getting the right nutrition is vital. This, coupled with fact that adolescents usually sleep longer and therefore go without food for longer overnight, means that their stores of energy (glycogen) can be really depleted in the morning. For them, therefore, eating breakfast is vital to provide adequate energy for the morning. Despite this, between 31-34% of adolescents occasionally or never eat breakfast.
Overall, studies that investigate the short term effects of breakfast have demonstrated that eating breakfast has positive effects on cognitive performance, particularly in the domains of memory and attention (Hoyland, Dye and Lawton., 2009).
Eating breakfast has also been found to have positive effects on school performance. When funded School Breakfast Programs (SBP) have been evaluated to see their effects, the evidence has shown beneficial effects on scholastic performance particularly in mathematics and arithmetic. Children’s participation in School Breakfast Programmes is also linked to a decrease in absence from school.
In line with this, The School Food Trust reported an increase in Key stage 2 average point scores in primary schools that provided with a free school breakfast. Similarly, better reasoning scores in the SAT tests have been found in those who habitually consumed an adequate breakfast.
Are there any myths about breakfast that we should bust?
There certainly are. Many people believe that skipping breakfast will help them lose weight by cutting calories. In fact, the complete opposite is found in many scientific studies. There is substantial evidence that those who consume breakfast have a lower BMI. This association has been found in both adults and children.
Moreover, breakfast can aid in appetite regulation as studies report that those who eat breakfast are more likely to consume less calories at lunch. Therefore those who skip breakfast may over compensate for the calories skipped at breakfast.
So skipping breakfast is not an effective way of losing weight or skipping calories as you will normally eat more to make up for it and it may also slow your metabolism because you are extending the overnight fasting period.
Trying to lose weight? Make sure you always have breakfast!

What should moms and dads be trying to feed their children at breakfast, especially on a school day?
I think what’s most important is balance. There is no one particular food for breakfast. Like any other meal, a balanced breakfast should include foods from each of the food groups.
I would aim to keep breakfast varied, balanced and substantial. Breakfast should provide about 20%-25% of your daily calorie needs. Breakfast based on the main food groups will give you an excellent start to the day. It’s also a good time to get at least two servings of fruit. For instance, one small glass of fruit juice, one tbsp of raisins, an apple, 7 strawberries or a sliced banana sprinkled over your cereal. Or have a breakfast smoothie, these normally contain around two of your five a day. If you can tick off two servings at breakfast, reaching your ‘5 a Day’ should be easy.
Ready to eat cereals are also brilliant breakfast choice and often a favourite for children. They are a great source of key B vitamins, iron and calcium (from milk) and often low in fat. Try to have with a glass of orange juice and top with banana and berries to aid the absorption of iron. Wholegrain or high fibre options are also brilliant; they are higher in fibre to keep you fuller and aid in digestive transit, meaning that they help to move food through the digestive system. In addition, wholegrain and high fibre foods tend to digest more slowly, providing longer lasting energy.
Whatever your morning routine, remember that breakfast is an important meal for the family, and doesn’t have to be time consuming!
Lots of families have very little time at breakfast. We’d all ideally like to sit down to breakfast but it isn’t always possible. Have you got any ideas for balanced breakfasts which are quick to prepare and eat or can be taken on the road with you?
Convenience and lack of time are always cited as key barriers to breakfast intake, not just in children and adolescents but also adults. And more often than not, given a choice between the extra 10 minutes in bed over eating breakfast...well, breakfast often loses in this decision!
Many schools now implement a “Grab N Go” breakfast as a convenient, time saving way to increase breakfast consumption in their pupils. Furthermore, many food manufacturers now offer convenience breakfast food options that can be eaten on the go.
Whilst breakfast might seem as a time consuming obstacle during a busy morning, a healthy breakfast doesn’t always mean extra time to prepare. You can still get the benefits of breakfast on the go! Here are some convenient, quick and most importantly healthy breakfasts tips and ideas - so you can still enjoy your extra precious moments of slumber.
· Prepare the night before: Get bowls of cereal ready just to add milk, make a smoothie and leave in the fridge/freezer, put fruit in Tupperware, prepare yoghurt and granola in Tupperware or make a sandwich the night before and wrap in foil, make toast and wrap in tin foil to eat on the go.
· Keep Breakfast Simple: On busy days, get the family going with something as quick as a bowl of cereal with a banana. Put it in some Tupperware with yoghurt and eat on the go.
· Have breakfast on the go: If there’s no time to eat at home, plan a nutritious option to eat in the car or bus.

Can you give us a few ideas for fast breakfasts?
Smoothies – Easy to make a big batch and fridge or freeze it
Milk shake – Milk, banana or any other fruit
Fruit - Easy to grab on the go
Homemade flapjacks – Oats, almonds, fruits and honey, make the night before and wrap in foil
Wholemeal toast – pop it in some foil
Invest in Tupperware to put in yoghurt and granola or porridge
Cereal and milk pots
Cereal bars and fruit
Make hard boiled eggs night before, slice on a sandwich
Grab yoghurt and put cereal or dried fruit in a food bag to add on top to eat at school/work
What should parents avoid like the plague for school day breakfasts?
Confectionary and energy drinks – particularly for children. Any high sugar, high caffeine carbonated drinks should be avoided. These are becoming increasing popular and often a “trendy” breakfast choice. They can be really high in caffeine and sugar and low in vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. They offer a quick hit in the morning followed by an energy slump. Caffeine intake should be monitored in young children so energy drinks are really a no go.
What is your own favourite breakfast?
Hard decision! High fibre cereal such as All Bran, yoghurt and dried fruit or overnight oats (oats mixed with natural yoghurts overnight and I normally add some blended banana, or wholemeal toast topped with yoghurt cinnamon, strawberries and blueberries). On a weekend, poached eggs on toast, or homemade beans on toast, butter beans, tomatoes and onions on wholemeal toast..
As you can see....I enjoy breakfast!
Is there anything else you would like to ask Katie? If you have any queries about breakfast for the children you care for, please post a comment and we’ll try to answer them!

Katie Adolphus is based at the Institute of Psychological Sciences at the University of Leeds and is working under the supervision of Professor Louise Dyer and Dr Clare Lawton, Ms Hilary Asoko (The School of Education, Leeds University) and Mr Paul Hirst (Director of Strategy, The Schools Partnership Trust).The research is in collaboration with The School Partnership Trust (SPT), an educational charity which sponsors six primary and secondary schools consisting over 6000 pupils in Leeds, Doncaster and surrounding areas. You can find out more about her work here or follow her on twitter @KatieAdolphus.



01/05/2012 18:23:00 by Deb Rose

You mention ready made cereals in your list of suitable foods. Lots of them are really sugary. Does it make a difference to their energy if they eat sugary cereals?

04/05/2012 14:37:00 by Katie

Sugar is an important part of our diet and a good source of energy and carbohydrate. Ready- to –eat cereals are not as overloaded in sugar as people think. A typical 30g portion of RTEC contains around 2 teaspoons of sugar, less than a glass of orange juice and probably the same amount as some people would add to tea. So a relatively small amount. For example, the cereals highest in sugar, have around 35 g per 100 g, with a standard 30 g serving providing just over 10 g of added sugars (2 teaspoons). This is just 12% of the Guideline Daily Amounts for total sugars for children aged 5-10years.

Many of them are a great way to get young children to consume breakfast, so most importantly offer an opportunity to get children actually eating breakfast in the first place. Most are fortified with essential micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and are accompanied by milk which is a good source of protein and calcium. Most are also low in fat, particular “bad fat” - saturated fat. Fortified breakfast cereals provide a important source of B vitamins (including folic acid) and iron. And also those rich in whole grains are a good source of fibre too.

Evidence on type of breakfast best for cognitive performance in children is lacking, so recommendations on the best or optimal breakfast for concentration remains unclear.

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