Breakfast and childhood malnutrition

Breakfast & Childhood Malnutrition

Adapted from: White Paper on Establishing breakfast habits to fight childhood malnutrition in South Africa: opportunities & challenges

Breakfast is the first meal of the day and the most important. Breakfast breaks the fast after the longest period of sleep and should be eaten within 2-3 hours of waking up. It normally consists of a food or beverage from at least one food group and may be consumed at any location.

Children need to be taught to eat breakfast daily because the rate of glucose metabolism (energy production) in a child’s brain increases from birth until the age of four, at which point its twice that of an adult’s and remains elevated until nine to eleven years of age. A continuous glucose (energy) supply via regular meals is more important for children than adults.

The benefits for children who eat breakfast daily include:

  • They have better overall dietary quality
  • They make better food choices throughout the day
  • They eat more vegetables, fruit & milk
  • They drink fewer soft drinks
  • They have a greater intake of fibre, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin C, B vitamins and iron
  • They have a lower intake of fat, cholesterol and sodium(salt)
  • They have a reduced likelihood of being overweight & a lower waist circumference
  • They have less anxiety and depression and greater feelings of contentment
  • They have improved behavior, memory, attention & cognitive performance specifically alertness, attention, memory, problem-solving & arithmetic
  • They have improved school attendance & punctuality as well as less tardiness, disruptive behaviour & hyperactivity

Children who don’t eat breakfast:

  • Have a higher intake of fat, cholesterol, and sodium(salt)
  • They have inadequate diets and tend to snack more
  • They choose higher fat containing snacks
  • They omit other meals during the day
  • They were found to have poorer blood glucose control, more insulin resistance and a higher risk for type 2 diabetes, even after adjusting for BMI, socio-economic status and physical activity levels
  • They are less physically active and more likely to participate in smoking, alcohol use, disordered eating as well as unhealthy weight management behaviors
  • They are more likely to repeat a grade

Breakfast should provide 15-35% of the daily total energy consumed and should include at least three food groups.

These food groups can include:

  • Low Glyceamic or Fiber rich grains – like high fiber bran, original oats, whole wheat pronutro, whole wheat bread
  • Fat free or low fat dairy – like low fat or fat free plain yogurt, fat free or low fat milk, mozzarella cheese, fat free cottage cheese
  • Fruits and/or vegetables
  • Protein rich foods – like peanut butter, beans, hummus, eggs, pilchards, anchovies spread, salmon spread, tuna in brine, nuts
  • May include MUFA-rich fats – like nuts, seeds and avocado
  • May include small amount of added sugar/ jam/ syrup/ honey for improve palatability of whole grains

Avoid the following for breakfast:

  • Foods that provide calories with few nutrients like white bread
  • Foods rich in simple/added sugars, like flavoured or sugar coated cereals (simple/added sugars should not make up more than 5% of the daily intake). One 125ml flavoured yogurt has 2 teaspoons of added sugar and 8 tablespoons of muesli can have between 3-12 teaspoons of added sugar.
  • Foods rich in trans fatty acids and saturated fats (the saturated fat needs to be less than 10g/100g on the nutritional label of the packaged product)

Children normally do what they see and parents need to be good role models and motivate their children by eating breakfast themselves. Studies have shown that children whose families eat together show better food choices, better diet quality and are more likely to eat breakfast.

In adolescents there is a shift in motivators to the friends group; friends who eat breakfast are likely to positively influence peers who may not.

Improve your child’s breakfast habits by providing a supportive home environment, including household rules about eating breakfast and make sure proper breakfast products are available at home.

In some households extra time needs to be created to eat breakfast. Save time by setting out the breakfast dishes and utensils the night before, as well as non perishables like cereals, coffee in mugs etc. Move refrigerated items to the front and group them together for easy, fast access in the morning. Pre- wash fresh fruit. Preboil hard boiled eggs for a quick easy protein option. Precook or slow cook porridge or oats from the night before & simply reheat in the morning.

If you want to find out more about improving your child’s breakfast habits or reading food labels please contact your nearest dietician to get a more personalized approach.

Tanya Alberts Dietician & Associates

About the author:

Tanya has been providing dietary guidance since 2009 as a registered dietician licensed in South Africa. Her goal is to help patients understand the connection between diet and diagnosis for improved nutritional well being.

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