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Why Breakfast is so Important to a Child's Development


I suspect many of us were brought up being told to eat our breakfast because it was the most important meal of the day. And as we become parents ourselves, perhaps we even maintain the maternal mantra out of habit. But is it just an old wives’ tale, or is it in fact, right? The answer is a resounding yes. This particular old saying is backed up by scientific evidence.  And that evidence also suggests that the earlier the routine of eating breakfast is reinforced in a child’s life, the better it is for long term health and wellbeing.

After a lengthy period of sleep – and in the case of babies, perhaps over 12 hours fasting, the first meal of the day is vital to re-supply both the body and brain with necessary nutrients and energy. But it is also what we eat that is important. A breakfast rich in energy-giving cereals, calcium-providing milk and nutrient-laden fruit will get their bodies and minds off to the best start for a day of busy growing, developing and learning.  Breakfast provides almost 20% of our kid’s energy intake, reducing the need for snacking on empty calories.

Most breakfast cereals are high in carbohydrates, low in fat and fortified with essential vitamins and minerals. Today’s breakfast cereals are still based on the range of natural grains – wheat, oats, rice, maize, barley and rye which not only are intense with slow-release energy carbohydrates but also the other essential nutrients protein, fat, minerals, vitamins and fibre.  In fact, a bowl of cereal can provide over 20% of your daily fibre requirement which is important for proper body function.   Importantly for babies and children who are packing a lot of learning and exploring into their busy days, stocking up on a healthy breakfast contributes to cognitive performance, improving concentration and fueling physical activity.

Porridge is a great breakfast fuel, it has slow releasing complex carbohydrates which help us sustain energy levels allowing full concentration to be maintained throughout the morning. It also contains 100% wholegrain and is a good source of vitamins and key nutrients

Research has shown that children who consume a good breakfast have better memories and solve problems more efficiently. And crucially, studies have found that the rate of being overweight and obesity are significantly higher in children who skip breakfast, or eat smaller, less nutritious and filling breakfasts.  So eat more at breakfast, and there is less need for unhealthy snacking.  Research shows that children tend not to make up those missed nutrients during the day.

Importantly many cereals are fortified with additional vitamins and minerals. Many are now fortified with Vitamin D to help boost intake among Ireland’s sun-shy families. Deficiency in Vitamin D has become such a problem, all parents are now advised to give their infant a supplement for the first year of life to make sure enough is absorbed to help absorb the calcium we need for strong bones. According to the National Children’s Food Survey, some cereals could increase a child’s daily intake by 25%. But more than that, breakfast eaters tend to be leaner, have lower cholesterol levels, higher intakes of fibre, minerals and vitamins than those who do not.

So that’s the science. So how do we instil the routine of breakfast in our family life, and give our children the breakfast building blocks they need to make the best use of their day?

1. Start early, and keep it up

As soon as you start the weaning process, introduce a breakfast routine. Initially this will be pureed fruit, and perhaps baby rice, but quickly you can progress onto baby oats and cereals alongside small pieces of chopped fruit. Automatically you will begin to differentiate between the meals that will become the mainstay of your child’s eating routines – breakfast, lunch and dinner.

2. Eat together

Research has shown that children who eat with their parents tend to have a more nutritional breakfast and helps develop good nutritional habits that last a lifetime.  Also, if parents act as a good role model, children are more likely to continue to habit into the teenage years and adulthood.

3. Make it interesting and varied 

There are endless options for a good healthy breakfast – there are over 200 varieties of cereals available corresponding to different tastes, textures and forms. Mix it up so that breakfast is kept interesting. Fruit salads can be made into shapes and faces, and even make up your own cereal combinations. Kids love helping and breakfast is a perfect meal that they can help prepare – filling their bowl with cereal, learning to pour the milk, and as they get old, helping to wash and chop the fruit.

4. Make time for breakfast

 Often busy parents cite lack of time for being unable to ensure a good start to the day for the family. Set the breakfast table the night before, and set the alarm ten minutes earlier. Sitting down together and eating the most important meal for the day will set you all up for the day. 

Make Fruit smoothies. Even if you have to have breakfast on the run, smoothies are a great way to fill up with goodness. And they are easy to make too so they can offer variety in the morning. Most supermarkets sell bags of frozen berries which make it cheaper – add a banana and a yoghurt drink and you have the perfect body booster!

Although the Irish eat more cereal per capita than any other nation in the world, only 12% of Irish families eat breakfast together. The issues surrounding obesity is a real concern for today’s children, with 21% of girls, and 15% of boys living in Ireland being overweight. Breakfast is such an important part of leading a healthy nutritious lifestyle, so start early in their life, by eating their best meal early in the day.




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