Boosting kids' performance could start with breakfast

By Dave Benton |

Published 11/20 2013 04:28PM

Updated 11/21 2013 09:48AM

CENTRAL ILLINOIS -- Every parent wants their child to do well in school, but when there's trouble, we probably push for less time with friends, more studying and even extra credit. But, there's something else a lot of us have forgotten about. WCIA-3's Dave Benton finds out how eating breakfast could be the boost our kids need.

It's an organized start to the day for these students at Unity West Elementary in Tolono. They'll head to the gym before classes start. About 60 of them will eat breakfast.

Lily eats at school a couple times a week. Otherwise, she eats at home because her parents know what it's like when they skip breakfast.

"If you skip breakfast in the morning and you go to work, it's a lot harder to focus. You're hungry. You're thinking, 'I need something to eat.' It's the same thing for kids."

Abigayl and her brother, Lucas, also eat at school. Their mom hopes breakfast will always be part of their morning routine.

"On the weekends, the kids want breakfast when they get up. That's what they want because they get it throughout the week, which is good."

Experts say it's an important lesson at any age, but it's losing out. 75% of elementary students eat breakfast. But, the same study by Kellogg's found a huge shift among older students. In middle school, only 50% eat before class and it drops to just 36% in high school.

"We have, maybe, 15% in our high school that eat breakfast."

Mary Davis is the food service director for Unit 4 schools. She's not surprised at the number of teenagers who don't eat, at school or at home.

"As they get older, they become more independent. Their parent's voice quiets down in their head and they just make choices that sometimes aren't the healthiest for them."

Unhealthy choices they pay for in class. Research published in Physiology and Behavior found kids who eat do better in reading, math and problem-solving. Murdock University also found a direct link to learning, plus better attendance, behavior and creativity in class.

"I used to be at the high school and saw those kids coming in with bottles of pop and bags of chips for breakfast and thinking, 'you're done by 10 o'clock. You've got no fuel, you've got nothing left.'"

Now, as principal at Carrie Busey Elementary in Savoy, Jeff Scott pushes the benefits of breakfast. Students learn which foods fuel the body and brain and which ones don't.

Unity West does the same with classroom projects like this. Experts say you want whole grains, protein and fruit. But, laying the foundation only goes so far.

Scott says schools and parents must do more to re-educate teenagers and make healthy eating cool again. Several groups are helping, but it won't be easy.

"With the morning rush, I think it just gets harder and it's going to be a challenge."

So, what do high school students say? We spoke to 60 of them, off camera, no names, trying to get only honest answers. Half don't eat breakfast. They say they don't have time and it's just not that important.

Experts say kids in school need to eat a healthy breakfast. It helps them concentrate in class but also in terms of their overall health.

They recommend whole grains, protein, fruit or vegetables make up a healthy breakfast. But eating breakfast isn't always easy in today's world, so including two or three of those items is better than not having breakfast at all.

Here is a list of foods and recipes experts recommend. Some can be eaten on the go:

Ready-to-eat, whole grain cereal with low fat milk
Oatmeal with bananas, apples or oranges
Bagel with low-fat cream cheese or peanut butter
A low fat muffin made with fruit and a glass of tomato juice
Fruit and yogurt smoothie
Peanut butter or hummus on whole wheat toast
Cheese pizza
Breakfast quesadilla with low fat cream cheese and sliced fruit
Breakfast burrito or taco
Toasted whole wheat English muffin with lean ham or low-fat cheese
Toasted pita with scrambled egg and low-fat cheese
Low-fat milk with 100% fruit

These ideas come from several sources including, John Hopkins University and Tennessee Coordinated School Health, among others.

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