LEBANON, Ohio (July 17, 2015) – A child’s school attendance and academic performance may be closely linked with what is on their breakfast plate or in their lunch bag, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
A healthy, balanced breakfast, lunch and dinner is essential for a child who is still growing and changing both physically and psychologically. Studies say breakfast, in particular, plays a powerful part in a child’s school day. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), feeding a child a healthy breakfast before school has been linked to better memory, better tests scores, better attention span, healthier body weights and improved overall nutrition.
However, researchers have found that it is relatively common for American children to skip breakfast, according to the Journal of Current Nutrition and Food Science. What may seem like a small lifestyle choice to some families may actually carry significant consequences for a child’s academic and mental health functioning, the study said.
Lisa Wright, a certified nurse practitioner practicing with Premier HealthNet in Lebanon, said the obstacle may not just lie in educating parents on the importance of nutrition as much as providing the resources and tools they need to help make it easier.
“Implementing a healthy diet for children is very difficult for many parents, especially when you are busy and preparing a meal is just one more thing on your list,” Ms. Wright said. “Parents really have to plan ahead and, more importantly, choose to start children out on the right foot. A child who begins life eating meals high in saturated fats, sugar and high caloric foods will have a much harder time making a shift to a healthier palate when their health becomes problematic.”
Children receive the most nutrients when they are not eating processed foods, Ms. Wright said. Parents can quickly learn to pick healthier foods by remembering that a food carries more nutrients when it is greener in color. When preparing a meal, parents should know that the largest portion of a child’s plate should be filled with vegetables. Fruits, whole grains and protein can account for the rest of the space. Proteins that are consumed should be focused on fish, beans and hummus. And any calcium-filled products such as milk, which are good for bone growth, should be lower in fat, Ms. Wright said.
Healthy eating has to be a whole family effort, she said. Parents can’t try to implement change with their children when they are modeling something different.
“It has to be something that is seen throughout the entire home,” Ms. Wright said. “Children watch their parent’s habits. If good nutrition and exercise are being practiced then that is something that children are going to copy.”
The AAP said parents can begin modeling change with breakfast – the most important meal of the day, but often the most neglected. Parents can make the change by following some of these simple steps outlined by the AAP:
Make breakfast part of the schedule – Breakfast can often be seen as another obstacle when trying to get school children out the door on time. More often than not, breakfast can be skipped because no one schedules it into their morning. Think through how long it will take children to eat without feeling pressured, and this includes young ones who need a parent’s assistance and older ones who prepare their meal on their own.
Prepare breakfast the night before – Take time to make things such as hardboiled eggs or fruit salad the night before so that they can be easily taken out of the refrigerator and eaten. Put cereal bowls and boxes on the kitchen table so that all that is needed is milk. Consider offering items that can be grabbed on the way out the door if enough time is not allotted. This can include muffins, bagels or pre-sliced apples.
Make sleep a priority – Children who are well-rested are more likely to sit down for breakfast. Make sure they are getting the required amount of sleep according to their age.
Look for support at school – The link between nutrition and learning is an important issue throughout education. Many schools provide breakfast on-site. This may not only help with a family’s budget and schedule, but may be more appealing to a child who wishes to eat alongside friends.
For more information on nutrition and learning or to find a Premier HealthNet physician near you, visit www.premierhealthnet.com/doctor
ABOUT PREMIER HEALTHNET: Premier HealthNet is one of the largest groups of pediatrics, family medicine, internal medicine, and urgent care practices in Southwest Ohio. More than 150 physicians, physician assistants and advanced practice nurses are located at more than 60 centers throughout Greater Dayton and Northern Cincinnati, reaching communities as far north as Versailles, Ohio and as far south as West Chester, Ohio. Premier HealthNet is part of Premier Health, which includes Miami Valley Hospital, Good Samaritan Hospital Dayton, Atrium Medical Center and Upper Valley Medical Center. For more information, visit http://www.premierhealthnet.com/news.