This article can also be found on Naturopathic Pediatrics.
For a lot of my patients, eating breakfast can be a real challenge. Many people say they aren’t hungry until later in the day. Others say they don’t have time to fit in breakfast on top of getting ready, packing lunches, feeding pets, and getting out the door. Kids – teens especially – are also swept up in the crazy-hectic pace of the morning. Some families can’t afford breakfast for their kids, adding an extra challenge. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, approximately 8-12% of school-aged kids and 20-30% of adolescents and teens skip breakfast (1). But this is a meal kids shouldn’t skip for so many reasons.
When they say breakfast is the most important meal of the day, it’s true! Kids who skip breakfast are more likely to complain of stomach ache, backache, difficulty falling asleep, nervousness, and irritability (2). Kids who do eat breakfast feel more energetic, in a better mood, and have improved concentration and test scores. And eating breakfast, especially a high protein one, has been shown to lower the risk of being overweight and developing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease (3-6). Even eating breakfast twice is beneficial (7-8)! Eating breakfast can make a huge difference in how your child feels now and in the long run, and is a great habit to form while still young.
Breakfast, Blood Sugar, and Metabolism
Breakfast is the meal where we break-the-fast after going all night without eating. Our blood sugar is lowest first thing in the morning and our bodies desperately crave food to boost it. Low blood sugar can make us feel tired, dizzy, hungry, weak, and nauseous. Eating breakfast increases blood sugar and makes us feel full, which decreases hunger and binge eating later in the day. When kids binge eat, they increase their daily intake of calories, which puts them at higher risk of being overweight or obese. And being overweight increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease (4-8).
Breakfast is so important for metabolism and blood sugar balancing that even eating it twice can reduce weight gain in comparison to skipping breakfast. One study showed that kids who ate breakfast twice (at home and at school) showed no more or less weight gain than those who ate just one breakfast, whereas the kids who skipped breakfast or ate it irregularly were twice as likely to be overweight or obese than the double-breakfast eaters (7-8).
Kids who eat high carbohydrate meals also have a tendency to have behavioral issues. For more information see our article: How to improve your child’s behavior with blood sugar control
Eating Protein vs. Carbs
The type of food that’s eaten is also important for maintaining a healthy weight, energy level, and mood. In our society, we tend to eat carbohydrates for breakfast – things like cereal, toast, bagels, and pastries. Carbs raise blood sugar quickly, but result in a crash shortly thereafter. A quick drop in blood sugar will cause a person to crave more carbs to quickly raise the blood sugar again…and then they’ll crash…again. Many people live in a cycle of eating carbs and crashing, on repeat. Thankfully, this cycle can be broken by eating more protein, which balances blood sugar and reduces hunger and binge eating. Studies show that when adolescents eat a high protein breakfast (35 grams) versus a breakfast of cereal (13 grams), they are less hungry and take in fewer total calories per day, and so are less likely to gain weight (9-10). And since protein helps balance blood sugar, they’ll feel more energetic and in a better mood for longer.
More Brain Power!
The body is very smart and has built-in mechanisms to make sure the brain has enough fuel to function, even when we haven’t eaten in a while. But when we have eaten, the brain is able to function with much less effort. Not only do stable blood sugar levels improve energy and mood, but they also improve concentration and academic performance in kids. One study showed that kids who eat breakfast are twice as likely to score better on tests and assessments (3). Wow!
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this article, HEALTHY BREAKFAST IDEAS FOR KIDS, which will talk about protein sources, avoiding coffee and juice, and healthy breakfast recipes.
Dr. Michelle Haff is a Naturopathic Doctor at Lilac Natural Medicine in Manchester, New Hampshire. Her practice focuses on Pediatrics, Women's Medicine, GI, Endocrine, and Mental Health concerns. She is a Primary Care Provider for the whole family and loves treating kids from pre-conception into their teens, as well as adults of all ages. Dr. Haff is a graduate of Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine in Tempe, Arizona and Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. She is licensed to practice medicine in New Hampshire and is the Vice President of the NH Association of Naturopathic Doctors (NHAND). Dr. Haff is also a member of the Pediatric Association of Naturopathic Physicians. She loves yoga, singing, travel, and spending time with her family.
Dr. Michelle Haff (she/her) is a Naturopathic Doctor and Certified Acupuncturist at Lilac Natural Medicine in Bedford, New Hampshire. Her practice focuses on Pediatrics, Women's Medicine, GI, Endocrine, and Mental Health concerns. She is a Primary Care Provider for the whole family and loves treating kids from pre-conception into their teens, as well as adults of all ages.