Why a high protein breakfast is essential for children’s learning

Now there’s even more proof that breakfast for children – especially a protein-rich one is important. Approximately one in four Australian children skip breakfast each day, and they are missing out on more than just food…

Why is breakfast so important?

Since the 1960’s it’s been pretty well-known and documented that hunger and lack of nutrition have adverse effects on children’s learning ability. Children who skip breakfast are more likely to feel tired and irritable, have trouble concentrating on their morning lessons and find complex mental tasks more difficult.

It does make sense that the brain, as well as the body, needs a recharge after a night of sleep.  Remember that the meaning of breakfast is to “break the fast” from the 8 to 12 hours since the last meal the night before, and there is a reason why we need to do this.  In the morning, the brain and muscles are crying out for much-needed fuel to help them get firing for the day ahead and to provide energy to last until lunchtime.

Several studies are showing strong links between eating breakfast and IQ levels or improved academic performance. For example, a study from Cardiff University involving 5000 participants between the ages of 9 to 11 looked at how eating breakfast affects student outcomes with very positive results. The study concluded:

“Research found that the odds of achieving above-average educational performance were up to twice as high for pupils who ate breakfast, compared to those who did not.”

Comparatively, children that ate unhealthy foods such as sweets or chips for breakfast (reported by one in five of the participants) had no positive impact on educational outcomes.

The study proved that educating children and parents on healthy food and nutrition is important – not just for a child’s immediate health but also for their well-being and academic achievement.

Stressing the importance of nutrition in school is vital, according to researchers in this area, particularly when today, schools are trying to cut budgets and streamline learning – and sometimes do not include education about diet or overall health. Just as reducing break times for children has proven to be counter-productive, ignoring nutrition looks to be an equally short-sighted approach.

The University of Pennsylvania, School of Nursing performed a similar study on breakfast consumption, concluding that not only does a good breakfast improve IQ function, but also helps with social skills and cognitive development when the meal is enjoyed with family or friends. How so?

“… Social interaction at breakfast time with parents may promote brain development. Mealtime discussions may facilitate cognitive development by offering children the opportunity to expand the vocabulary, practice synthesizing and comprehending stories, and acquire general knowledge, noted the authors…”

Why protein at breakfast time?

We already know that eating breakfast is essential. But what children actually eat at breakfast time is important too. Eating carbohydrates like cereal and bread in the morning provides glucose to get the brain going, but eating carbs alone will result in a drop in blood sugar long before lunch time. Including protein in children’s breakfasts will slow down the absorption of carbohydrates and keep blood sugar levels steady throughout the morning.

This doesn’t mean that breakfast has to be a big piece of steak, but it should include some protein, such as an egg, a serve of yoghurt, milk or some cheese. These protein-packed options can all provide kids with quick, tasty sources of protein for breakfast – and stable energy levels until they sit down for lunch.

High protein breakfast for children - Sage Institute of Child Care

While added protein at breakfast time helps nourish the brain, it’s good for children in another way. By focusing on nutrition, rather than diet, parents get to teach their children important messages about healthy eating – essentially that nourishment matters. This can provide a basis for more discussion about food choices and the importance of a balanced diet which can help establish life-long healthy eating.

High-protein breakfast ideas for children

Now that we’ve established why a breakfast that includes protein is so important, let’s take a look at some high-protein breakfast ideas for kids.  These are quick, simple and taste great too (for a comprehensive list, including links to tasty recipes, go to this site).

  • Eggs – an oldie but a “goodie”, this one can’t be overlooked. You can eat them scrambled, poached, fried or boiled – however you please (approximately 12 g of protein for two eggs)
  • Cottage cheese and fruit on toast (approximately 20 g of protein)
  • Milk-based smoothies – mix with your favourite berries or bananas to create a great taste – and fun colours! (approximately 25 g of protein)
  • Home-made muesli and yoghurt ( approximately 30 g of protein)
  • Quinoa breakfast bowl with fruit (approximately 20 g of protein)
  • Pancakes – for example, cottage cheese and banana pancakes (approximately 20 g of protein)
  • Frittata – for example spinach and mushroom egg white frittata (approximately 26 g of protein)

Sage Institute of Child Care – it’s more than a job, it’s a rewarding career.

Vicki Tuchtan

Vicki Tuchtan

Vicki Tuchtan is the Academic Director at Sage Institute of Education. She oversees learning processes, teaching outcomes, resources and course development. A passionate advocate for bettering standards of training in Australia, she is currently writing her PhD thesis on defining quality training in the Australian vocational education sector.
Vicki Tuchtan

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