Someone rightly said, "Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dine like a pauper." Well, this quote may be most relevant for us adults, but the first part of it holds very good for children too. While most of us want to see our children enjoying a sumptuous breakfast, the reality is nowhere near the sentiment. Thanks to our morning scramble, breakfast is more or less a 5-minute ‘break’ to eat something real fast!
According to a recent Indian breakfast habits study, titled 'Nutritional Adequacy of Breakfast: Its Relationship to Daily Nutrient Intake Among Children', lack of time and appetite, and a hectic pace of life, coupled with dining late at night were cited as main reasons for people avoiding the most important meal of the day. The study, which sampled adolescents and adults, was carried out in four metros by Research Centre, College of Home Science, Nirmala Niketan, Mumbai. Shocking as it may sound, the study revealed that 32 per cent of adolescents in the age group of 13-17 years and 24 per cent of children below 12 years tend to skip breakfast. What came as a bigger shocker was the fact that more adolescent girls than boys skipped breakfast due to body image issues.
Parents seem to have forgotten the good old proverb, ‘Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.’ They fail to insist on early bedtimes for their children. This results in children waking up late in the morning, skipping their breakfast and gulping down a glass of milk to compensate for the same.
Anuradha, mother of 8-year-old twins from Mumbai, relates very closely to the messy situation at home. “We live in a ‘city of dreams’ as Mumbai is often referred to.
My children have to board the school van at 6:45 a.m. as the school is at least 20 kms away. My husband and I also need to leave for work no later than 7:30 a.m. Mornings are a mess. No matter how hard I try to make breakfast a good experience, it becomes a hurried affair.”
School timings also pose a problem. Most schools in India still run on snack and lunch breaks, but virtually none have a concept of breakfast break. This is largely because schools expect children to finish their breakfast before boarding the school van. 13-year-old Anshika from Mumbai says, "I generally skip breakfast once or twice a week when I wake up late and have to rush to school. I find it a bit nauseous to have breakfast at an odd hour no matter how well cooked it is. I prefer to have breakfast at 7:30 a.m. Any time before that would be too early for me."
Why Children Should Not Skip Breakfast
Whatever the reason, skipping a rich breakfast is not in the interests of growing children. One of the primary scientific reasons why a good breakfast shouldn’t be missed is the prolonged gap of eleven to twelve hours after the previous meal. A global survey of nutritionists conducted in 2014 and published in a leading British media house has recommended 7:11 a.m. as the optimal breakfast time.
"When children skip breakfast, they miss out on one-third of base nutrients, proteins, vitamins and minerals," says Dr Dharini Krishnan, a renowned dietitian in Chennai. She adds, "No matter what their IQ or potential is, if children skip breakfast, they will not be able to concentrate on what is taught in the class."
A healthy breakfast also ensures children do not snack on fatty or sugary snacks later during the day. A study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health in 2013 concluded that people who skipped breakfast regularly had a 27% higher risk of getting heart attack and other diseases. This is why it is very important that children get into the habit of ‘eating breakfast like a king’ from a very young age.
Apart from inflicting physical damage, skipping breakfast also has an impact on the mental health of a child. "Research has shown that children who do not eat breakfast become more tired, irritable or restless by late morning. This could cause lack of attention or aggressive behaviour that could get the child into trouble at school," states Dr Geetha Suryanarayan, a consultant psychiatrist, and a personal excellence coach and trainer in Pune.
However, children who do have a good morning meal are shown to possess more energy till lunch time. They are likely to sport a better attitude and are less likely to exhibit an aggressive behaviour.
Several studies have shown children who eat a healthy breakfast regularly have significantly higher math test scores and enhanced cognitive performance.
What Parents Can Do
- Lead by example: Children learn by watching their parents. This effectively means you should lead by example and have breakfast at set times every day. This requires you to set home timetables for all activities, not just for your children, but for the whole family.
- Vary the menu for breakfast: Children will get bored if they look at the same dish each day at the breakfast table. Give them options, and, as far as possible, include them in discussions while deciding the menu. World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends eating at least 400 grams of fruits and vegetables per day. This may look like a tall order, especially for our children who usually turn fussy at the sight of greens, but if you can get a bit creative, this can be made exciting.
- Be creative: An appealing dish will certainly make your child sit down to breakfast every day. Using cookie cutters, you can have dosas and sandwiches in different shapes – even smileys! A milkshake or a smoothie with yogurt and fruit makes for a quick drink at the breakfast table. Be careful with sugars though. Too much sugar is again a recipe for disaster in the long run.
- Alternate plans: If the morning hours are too packed for a relaxed family meal, it would be ideal for you to stock up on food items such as cereals,fruits, dry fruits, yogurt and buttermilk. Let your child have any of these ready-to-eat options on her way to school, after reaching school or during the snack period. But, make sure the food items grabbed on-the-go contain healthy carbs, proteins and minerals.
- Watch out for body image chatter: When your children forgo breakfast owing to body image issues, help them understand that they are making themselves vulnerable to conditions such as anorexia nervosa, poor eyesight, memory loss and hair fall. Also, make them aware that if they miss out on the first meal of the day, they will experience drowsiness, headaches, obesity and a general decline in their performance.
Dr Dharini says, "Parents must encourage their children to opt for a nutritionally-balanced breakfast which includes steamed foods with an assortment of accompaniments such as mint and coriander chutney."
She concludes by stating that the traditional Indian favourites such as poha, idli, dosa, phulka and paratha with vegetables and upma make for great breakfast choices among teens and young children. Such dishes also provide a world of opportunities for experimentation.
So, if you want your child to enjoy the host (rather, plateful) of benefits that breakfast has to offer, you must make sure she has her breakfast every morning.
Poem by Mary Lamb
A dinner party, coffee, tea,
Sandwich, or supper, all may be
In their way pleasant. But to me
Not one of these deserves the praise
That welcomer of new-born days,
A breakfast, merits.
Popular Breakfast Choices From Around The World
- South India - Masala Dosa
- Turkey - Sucuk (Beef sausage)
- Vietnam - Pho (rice noodles)
- Brazil - Pão de queijo
- (cheese-flavoured roll)
- France - Crépes (thin pancakes)
- Russia - Oladi (Pancakes)
- USA - Bacon, eggs and toast