Prioritizing Breakfast: Practical Back-to-School Advice

Featured article in the Summer 2017 Issue of Nutrition Close-Up; written by Chris Barry, PA-C, MMSC

It’s hard to believe, but back-to-school time is already upon us. As parents scramble to obtain all the necessary school supplies, it is important for clinicians to discuss healthy nutritional strategies with our patients. Breakfast, the most overlooked meal, is where I like to start. Many of my patients don’t feel that breakfast is important, and would rather get a few minutes of extra sleep. Studies have repeatedly shown that large numbers of children skip breakfast every day.1

Unfortunately, skipping breakfast can have significant short- and long-term consequences. Children who do not eat breakfast regularly are more likely to be overweight and have more behavior problems in school.2,3,4,5,6 Many children and their parents don’t know that eating a healthy breakfast can improve school performance, memory, and attention.1,6,7,8 In addition, creating a breakfast routine helps to establish healthy eating habits that will carry on throughout life.

Components of a healthy breakfast can include protein, fiber-rich whole grains, and fruit. A breakfast high in protein, specifically, has been shown to promote longer periods of fullness and less snacking during the day.9

The most common reason my patients give for skipping breakfast is lack of time. Many children, especially teenagers, stay up late at night, with homework, extracurricular activities, sports, and social activities. These children often wake up with barely enough time to get dressed and out the door to catch the school bus or ride to school.

I help these breakfast-skippers set their priorities correctly. Everyone has room to spare a few minutes, and with good planning, a healthy and delicious meal can be prepared and eaten in under 10 minutes. I challenge my patients to set their alarm just 10 minutes earlier every day for a week, and use the extra time to eat a healthy breakfast high in protein, fiber-rich whole grains, and fruit. More often than not, the child discovers that a quick, nutritious breakfast can help them feel more alert at school, and prevents them from getting hungry so quickly. Most of my patients who take this challenge report that they now routinely set their alarm a little earlier to ensure time to eat breakfast.

There are several ways to streamline the breakfast process to make it as time efficient as possible. The key to ensuring a good breakfast is planning. There are things that can be done relatively quickly that help save time in the mornings. One thing I like to do for my own children to streamline the morning routine is to boil several eggs on the weekend and peel them. My children then have an easy, quick protein source at breakfast. Another favorite of mine is scrambled eggs in a mug and microwaving them, which takes under 3 minutes to prepare (make sure to use the non-stick spray for easy clean up). Other ideas for a quick breakfast include: breakfast burritos or tacos, egg muffin frittatas that can be made ahead and heated up in the microwave, and breakfast flatbreads. All of these items can be served with fresh fruit (which can be cut the night before, if needed), whole grain toast and/or a glass of milk.

One reason I recommend eggs and serve them to my children is because in addition to protein they contain two nutrients – choline and lutein – that play a critical role in brain development and cognition.10 One large egg contains 147 milligrams of choline (more than half of the choline most 4-8 year old’s need), which is an important nutrient involved in memory, mood and learning.11 Eggs also contain lutein, which plays an important role in brain function for infants and toddlers.12 Quite simply, there are so many benefits to eating breakfast, people must simply prioritize, plan their breakfast the night before, wake up a few minutes earlier… whatever it takes to ensure that children eat an adequate breakfast every day. As we get closer to the start of school, be sure to talk to children about the importance of eating a nutritious breakfast every day. With so many health benefits, breakfast is a meal that kids cannot afford to skip.



1. Rampersaud GC, et al. Breakfast habits, nutritional status, body weight, and academic performance in children and adolescents J Am Diet Assoc. 2005;105:743-60
2. Timlin MT, et al. Breakfast Eating and Weight Change in a 5-Year Prospective Analysis of Adolescents: Project EAT (Eating Among Teens). Pediatrics 2008;121:e638-e645
3. American Dietetic Association.Childhood Overweight Evidence Analysis Project: updated 2006.
4. Dubois L, et al. Breakfast skipping is associated with differences in meal patterns, macronutrient intakes and overweight among pre-school children Public Health Nutr. 2008;18:1-10
5. Benton D, et al. The influence of the glycaemic load of breakfast on the behaviour of children in school. Physiol Behav. 2007 Nov 23;92:717-24.
6. Alaimo K, et al. Food Insufficiency and American School-Aged Children’s Cognitive, Academic and Psychosocial Development. Pediatrics 2001;108:44-53.
7. Murphy JM, et al. The Relationship of School Breakfast to Psychosocial and Academic Functioning: Cross-sectional and longitudinal observations in an inner-city sample. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 1998;152:899-907.
8. Murphy JM. Academics & Breakfast Connection Pilot: Final Report on New York’s Classroom Breakfast Project. Nutrition Consortium of NY State. Albany, NY. July 2005
9. Leidy, H. Beneficial effects of a higher-protein breakfast on the appetitive, hormonal, and neural signals controlling energy intake regulation in overweight/obese, “breakfast-skipping,” late-adolescent girls. Am J Clin Nutr. 2013;97:677-88.
10. US Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Nutrient Data Laboratory. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 28. Full report: 01123
11. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. National Institutes of Health. Office of Dietary Supplements. Choline Fact Sheet for Health Professionals
12. Erdman JW. Lutein and Brain Function. Foods. 2015;4:547-564.


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