Caitlin Kownacki / Community Wellness: Breakfast supports child achievement, health

Caitlin Kownacki / Community Wellness: Breakfast supports child achievement, health

By CAITLIN KOWNACKI

It's that time of year again when families fall back into familiar routines or adapt to new ones after a summer's worth of late nights.

Kids are quickly re-acquainted with 7 a.m. on weekday mornings after weeks of sleeping in. It's back to school, homework, after-school activities, sports, music, clubs and everything else in between.

Some days, the morning hustle barely allows time for a quick bite to eat before everyone's out the door. But for your young child or adolescent, breakfast could mean the difference between the start of a good school day or a bad one.

In Illinois, three out of four teachers see children come to school hungry at least once per month, according to No Kid Hungry, a national nonprofit working to end childhood hunger in America. Morning feelings of hunger can lead to increased visits to the office or school nurse due to stomachaches and headaches.

In fact, research has proven that skipping breakfast and experiencing hunger impair children's ability to learn in a negative way and that students who skip breakfast are less able to differentiate among visual images, show increased errors and have slower memory recall. On the flip side, children who eat breakfast show improved cognitive function, attention and memory. (Food Research & Action Center, Research Brief: Breakfast for Learning)

So if we know that breakfast is good for our kids, what can we do to make sure they get it and it's healthy? For starters, make a plan.

Consider what your family's mornings are usually like. Can mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, big sister or big brother help make breakfast while someone else helps the little ones out of bed? If not, make a list of a few easy, quick breakfasts that can become your family's "go to."

For this, whole-grain cereal with milk and a piece of fruit are a great option. Or maybe a more versatile "on the go" item that can be eaten on the bus or in the car is a better option. Try a granola bar and string cheese with a piece of fruit. Check out the list below for more easy breakfast ideas!

You can also consider sending your child to school for breakfast. The Action For Healthy Kids 2015 School Impact Report showed that students who participate in school breakfast are more likely to consume diets adequate or better in key vitamins and minerals, have decreased behavioral problems and tardiness, improved cognitive performance, better academic achievement and reduced chronic food insecurity.

Keep in mind that foods offered through the school breakfast program must meet child nutrition guidelines. The products provided to schools are often reformulated to meet strict nutrition standards so that all kids participating in the program can enjoy a healthy breakfast.

Whatever your family's breakfast preference, get everyone started on the right foot this year by making breakfast a daily habit.

More ideas for quick-and-easy breakfasts

— Keep yogurt on hand. Look for brands lower in sugar. Have kids add raisins, dried cranberries or nuts!

— Peanut butter and jelly on whole grain bread.

— Make a big batch of oatmeal early in the week to keep in the refrigerator. Throughout the week, kids can add their favorite toppings to make different flavored oatmeal (apples, cinnamon, raisins, dried fruit, nuts, etc.).

— Keep fresh fruit on hand that can be eaten anywhere like apples, oranges, bananas, pears, plums, nectarines and peaches with relatively little mess.

— Make a scrambled egg in a coffee mug in 45 to 60 seconds in the microwave. Add chopped veggies, ham or cheese for a quick breakfast scramble. Or put it on an English muffin with a slice of cheese for a quick breakfast sandwich.

You can also find healthy recipes on the Extension website at https://web.extension.illinois.edu/INEP/recipes-new/index.php and can follow us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/IllinoisNEP for more recipes.

Caitlin Kownacki is an educator for University of Illinois Extension serving Champaign, Ford, Iroquois and Vermilion counties. Contact her at 217-353-0740 or caitlink@illinois.edu.

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