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Education and the Importance of Food

'Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.' We’ve heard it said, I’m sure. Still, only a few seem to have taken it seriously and made breakfast a part of their daily diet. Many students refuse to eat breakfast before going to school for several reasons, the usual ones being 'lack of time' and 'not feeling hungry'. What happens when they don’t eat breakfast, though, can actually hamper their health and can interfere with their study progress. But rather than forcing your child to eat breakfast, it is better if we try to get across the importance of breakfast and the benefits so that they themselves want to eat at this time of day.

It starts with understanding the word 'breakfast': by eating breakfast, we are actually 'breaking the fast' or long gap after dinner the previous night. All our energy is used up by the time we wake up in the morning, so we need new energy at that point. For adults, the tasks of the new day demand quite a bit from us; for students, school on an empty stomach may be just as challenging. Teachers often observe that children who do not have breakfast before going to school can suffer from problems like headaches, sleepiness, stomach pain, muscle fatigue, and so forth, even before they begin the day.

Conversely, students who have had breakfast can be helped much more effectively to spot actual study difficulties when we can eliminate 'lack of physical energy' from the equation.

Why do students need so much energy? Apart from the fact that their bodies are still growing rapidly, students have a busy time in school where they not only learn different subjects -up to six different ones in a day in some cases- but also indulge in extracurricular activities and sport. Children need the energy which comes from the glucose and protein that breakfast can provide.

There is even, apparently, a direct correlation between eating breakfast and test scores -students who have their breakfast regularly score better in their tests than those who avoid eating breakfast. A 1989 Tufts University study found that children who eat breakfast perform better on standardised tests and are late or absent from school less often than children who do not eat breakfast. In addition, a 1996 Hebrew University study found that children who eat breakfast closer to class and test-taking time perform better on standardised tests than those who skip breakfast or eat much earlier.

A healthy breakfast also offers most of the nutrition that the body requires, so there are less chances that children will indulge in 'binge eating' foods which are not good for their health.

So what exactly should be eaten for breakfast? Carbohydrates provide energy to the body and are one of the most important part of breakfast, but it is necessary to make sure that the breakfast is not just a carbohydrate meal. A complete breakfast should include all the necessary nutrients, including proteins, calcium, vitamin B6, vitamin A, zinc and iron. Sodium, salt and sugar should be kept to a minimum.

Here are some healthy breakfast ideas:

• Fresh fruits -oranges, grapes, mangoes, berries, apples, kiwis, etc. They can be served with a cup of yogurt and cereal too.

• Cereals should contain high fibre and can be eaten by adding nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon to them.

• Smoothies for breakfast are normally popular with children.

• A vegetable omelette served with a muffin and low fat milk or orange juice can be a good idea for breakfast.

• Whole grain waffles served with ricotta cheese, peanut butter and fruits are often popular.

• Bacon and eggs -a traditional breakfast which takes about 15 minutes to prepare and 5 minutes to eat, but sets up the young and growing child for a morning without hunger.

Failure to make time for breakfast, no access to the right kind of foods, and lack of appetite first thing in the morning are some reasons given for skipping this important meal.

The composition of the meal makes a difference in how long breakfast will sustain a child throughout the morning. A balanced breakfast consisting of sugar, starch, protein and fat gives a child energy and prevents a drop in blood sugar for several hours. A breakfast of sugar or starch only lasts 1-2 hours by contrast. A balanced breakfast that keeps a child energised until lunch can be a quick and easy meal.

Promoting the importance of eating breakfast will help ensure that your child is prepared for his or her educational day. Consistent, healthy food intake throughout the day and throughout the year helps teachers to bring about the important educational outcomes that you want as parents.

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