By CATHERINE HOFFMANN, MS, RD | SCHOOL PROGRAMS MANAGER, MAINE DAIRY & NUTRITION COUNCIL | MAINE DAIRY PROMOTION BOARD

I should have known I would end up working in the field of nutrition.  As a kid, I loved sitting at the breakfast table, reading the nutrition information on the outside of the cereal box.  While most people will likely pass on perusing the nutrition facts panel to start their day, one thing they shouldn’t skip is breakfast.

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  While it may sound cliché, it’s true, especially in children. There’s no question that kids are busy.  They use so much energy growing, playing, reading, writing, dreaming, running, and learning.  No wonder they’re tired at the end of the day! It’s important for them to fuel their bodies to help them stay focused on these activities. Growing bodies and developing brains rely heavily on the regular intake of food and nutrients. Breakfast helps kids stay fit, well-nourished, and ready to learn.

However important this meal may be though, we all know from our own experience that breakfast is frequently skipped. A data brief published by the Centers for Disease and Control National Center for Health Statistics in 2020 shows that roughly 20% of school-aged children miss breakfast regularly, with the percentage increasing as children get older.

The reasons for skipping breakfast are many. Students do not eat at home because mornings are often rushed, families may be unable to afford food, some children aren’t hungry early, and some have long bus rides to school.

When kids skip breakfast, it can lead to a host of physical, intellectual, and behavioral problems.  A child who eats dinner at 6 pm and misses breakfast can go 18 hours without food by the time lunch is served the next day.  The result is an inability to pay attention, focus, and concentrate. Ask any school nurse, and you’ll hear stories of students coming to their offices in the morning with nausea, stomach aches, and general malaise.

Research has shown that breakfast consumption not only reduces hunger and the accompanying symptoms but contributes to the nutritional quality of children’s and adolescents’ diets. In contrast, children who skip breakfast generally have lower intakes of nutrients than those who regularly consume breakfast and research shows that these low intakes are not made up at other meals.

The benefits of breakfast continue.  Breakfast eaters are significantly less likely to be overweight. Adolescents who eat breakfast tend to have lower BMIs: Ironically, while many young women skip breakfast in an effort to manage weight, girls who eat breakfast are more likely to have a lower BMI than girls who skip a morning meal.  Breakfast eaters have better nutrient intakes, including calcium, fiber, folate, and protein than skippers.

As a matter of fact, the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs) names four dietary components of public health concern, for both adults and children. Consumption of vitamin D, calcium, potassium, and dietary fiber is so low that it may compromise children’s health today and tomorrow. The DGAs also note how easy it can be for young people to fill their nutrient gaps with popular, nutrient-rich foods. For example, all of the shortfall nutrients can be provided by a simple breakfast of whole-grain cereal, low-fat milk or yogurt, and fruit.

And that’s an important point. Breakfast doesn’t need to be complicated.  In many cases, simple breakfast solutions are successful because they’re appealing to kids. Quick-fix foods like whole-grain cereal with milk, string cheese, bananas, berries, yogurt, whole-wheat toast, mini bagels, and English muffins with peanut butter are nutritious and kids love them.

One of the least complicated ways parents can ensure their child has a healthy start to the day is school breakfast. March 4-8 is National School Breakfast Week, and if your school-aged kids haven’t tried it already, this is the perfect time to dive into the delicious breakfast dishes school nutrition programs serve up free to all students every day. And with so many schools offering grab-and-go breakfast, breakfast in the classroom, and breakfast after the bell, there are options for everyone!

When there’s a little more time at home, try blending up this fun smoothie, perfect for celebrating St. Patrick’s Day or really any morning. Kids enjoy the bright green color and sweetness, but it’s also packed with vitamins A & D, calcium potassium, and fiber. Top o’ the morning to you!