Nutritionally, breakfast is the most important meal of the day, yet few families sit down to eat together and many don’t bother with breakfast at all. Here’s why family breakfast is in need of a comeback!
Family breakfasts were a very different affair 50 years ago. Parents sat down with their children, often to a cooked breakfast. Even when ready-made cereals and breakfast television became commonplace over the next few decades, many families still sat down together.
But now, with more mothers working, greater use of pres-school clubs, and supermarket shelves stacked with ready-to-eat foods, many families eat breakfast on the hoof, or not at all.
Some rather worrying research suggested that that 7 in 10 families never sit down to breakfast together, and more than a third of children in the UK skip breakfast altogether. But parents do understand the importance of breakfast, with 98 per cent saying they believe that it’s the most crucial meal of the day. The problem is often about morning timings, and children who are often simply reluctant to eat, especially first thing.
WHY BREAKFAST MATTERS
Breakfast does exactly what its name suggests – refuel the body by breaking the fast of the night, so it should be the biggest meal of the day, accounting for around 20-25 per cent of a person’s total daily calorie intake. At night, the body uses up glucose so that organs and cells can maintain their normal function. Within the first two hours of getting up, that glucose needs restocking.
Breaking the fast in the morning is particularly important for growing children. Regular breakfast has been associated with a healthier Body Mass Index in children, as well as improved memory, cognitive function, intellectual attainment and even school attendance. It strengthens the immune system too, so that children who don’t eat it are more likely to become ill.
For children who suffer from attention deficit disorder, breakfast can be especially helpful, as it helps them to pay more attention in class, thus cutting down on disruptive behaviour. One of the reasons is that children are prone to low blood-sugar mid-way through the morning if they miss this critical meal. That can leave them feeling hungry – which can also lead to mood swings and inability to concentrate, as well as snacking on rubbish.
WHAT’S IN A BREAKFAST
Traditional breakfast usually contains some slow release food such as toast or cereal, which are sustaining. Fibre helps slow down the absorption of food in the stomach so children have more energy for longer. Wholegrain carbohydrates, such as wholegrain, low-sugar cereals or wholegrain toast, are a good idea.
Also try to include a portion of dairy or calcium-rich foods and some fruit, all of which can help children to stock up on essential nutrients at the beginning of the day.
Proteins and healthy fats are good for keeping children feeling full-up until lunchtime too. Scrambled eggs and granary toast, with a piece of fruit and yoghurt works really well. Porridge, a boiled egg and a homemade smoothie is also ideal.
Sugar is the worst culprit at breakfast. Whilst a bowl of sugary cereal or a croissant might give your child an instant energy boost, their blood sugars will soon take a nosedive, leaving them lacking in energy, or reaching for the next snack to put them back on a sugary high again.
To avoid hidden sugars, you need to carefully check the labels on food packaging. Some cereals and cereal bars which are targeted a children have hidden sugars and are not nutritionally balanced in any way. But you can find good ones out there if you look, and you can always make your own, using nuts, seeds and dried fruit, while avoiding too much butter, oil, syrup or sugar.
Some breakfast products are marketed to be healthy, and save you precious morning time. For instance, some brands of porridge are quick to make. Toast and peanut butter takes no time and baked beans or scrambled egg can be made in a few minutes too. Home-made smoothies can be made quickly if you have a blender to hand and there’s always ready-chopped fruit.
If you must do breakfast-on-the-go, it’s still a lot better than nothing at all. But choose the right things. Fruit or a piece of toast can still be eaten on the hoof.
Some kids (and adults too) insist they’re not hungry first thing. But experts say it’s usually just a bad habit and once someone starts eating breakfast, they don’t look back.
If your mornings are manic, aim to get your children up a little earlier, even just 15 minutes, and encourage them to sit at the table. Alternatively, breakfast clubs offer an opportunity to encourage your little one to have some breakfast a bit later in the morning.
Start with very small portions and build up. Warming things can be more appetising, such as porridge with semi-skimmed milk and a banana, especially on colder days. Offer an array of things: you wouldn’t offer pasta for every dinner or fish fingers for every lunch, yet so many families offer the same breakfast to their children day after day.
BREAKFAST MADE BEAUTIFUL
Alternate layers of low-fat yogurt with your child’s favourite fruit (such as berries, bananas, peaches, mango, or pineapple). Top with granola or a wholegrain, unsweetened cereal for crunch. A colourful and tempting concoction.
Bagel with cream cheese, cucumber and tomato
Toast two wholemeal bagel halves and spread each with cream cheese. Cut a cucumber into rounds and several thin slices to form eyeglasses. Cut a tomato into four wedges and use one on each bagel half to form a smile.
Yoghurt on a stick
Open a small container of fruit yogurt; drain excess liquid, and stir. Add a couple of teaspoons of berries and granola on top, pressing down slightly onto the yoghurt. Cut a slit in the lid, just large enough to insert a lollipop stick. Put lid back on and insert stick halfway into yogurt. Freeze at least five hours. To unmold, dip cup into a bowl of warm water.
Put the following ingredients into a blender and puree until smooth to make two delicious smoothies: one large banana, half a cup of frozen mixed berries, two teaspoons of wheatgerm, half a cup of low-fat milk, half a cup of low-fat strawberry yoghurt and two teaspoons of honey.
Egg through a window
Using a 6.5cm round cutter, cut one round from the centre of two bread slices. Discard the rounds. Spread both sides of the bread slices with spread. Heat a non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Cook one side of the bread slices for two to three minutes or until lightly toasted. Turn. Crack an egg into each hole. Cook for five to six minutes or until egg whites are set and yolks still soft.
Scrambled egg sandwich
Scramble one egg, then layer it with a slice of cheddar and a slice of ham on a toasted whole-grain English muffin — and you’ve got yourself a homemade Egg McMuffin.