Breakfast can make or break your child’s day in school.
Research suggests a strong relationship between reducing childhood obesity, improving academic performance, as well as shaping your kid’s eating habits as an adult.
Recent research shows that kids who leave home without something in their belly are more inclined and distracted at school. Something as simple as a slice of whole wheat toast can greatly improve your child’s learning ability as well as prevent chronic illnesses as an adult.
Dr Ruth Chan, research assistant professor of the Department of Medicine and Therapeutics at The Chinese University of Hong Kong, agrees but stresses the importance of particular foods. “What you eat is very important, too,” she says. “A mix of complex carbohydrates, protein and fibre is necessary to help with the body’s demands during the day.”
Here are some yummy power breakfast ideas.
Fuelling up on protein is a popular choice among nutritionists to kick-start a child’s day. Dr Han Wee Meng, principal dietitian with the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital, says that a high-protein meal easily ticks off most of the required nutrients for growth and immunity, without the sugar high. “Kids should eat breakfasts that keep them alert, but not buzzing,” he says.
Try: Soft boiled eggs with a warm glass of milk for the perfect combination. Yogurt and eggs are also good, or protein-rich smoothies made up of uncooked oatmeal, strawberries, yogurt and milk.
Your kid’s brain needs a steady supply of carbohydrates, but most processed foods like white bread have too much sugar, which gives him a rush, followed by a slump, even before he reaches school.
According to the Glycemic Index (GI) Foundation in Australia, a steady supply of glucose is necessary for optimum brain function. “One-third of our bodies’ daily glucose requirements is used by the brain,“ explains Dr Alan Barclay, chief scientific officer at the GI Foundation. Given that GI measures the rise of blood sugar levels after a meal, a low GI diet is much better for appetite control from morning to the next meal.“The latest research confirms that children eating low GI breakfasts are able to perform harder cognitive tasks,” he adds. Further research from the Department of Pediatrics, University of Milan in Italy, proved this theory with sugary breakfasts causing a reduction in concentration, as well as triggering an appetite for fattier snacks during the day.
Try: Baked beans on low-GI bread; wholegrain bread with your child’s favourite spread or poached eggs with barley or oats cooked in milk.
Processed breakfast cereals and fried foods are the backbone of childhood obesity, points out dietitian Letty Shiu from the Youth Health Division of the Health Promotion Board. They are low in fibre, protein and full of artificial sweeteners and fat.
These junk carbs are absorbed more quickly in the stomach, leaving your kid hungry. Plus, most junk food is also high-GI and can play havoc with his appetite later in the day.
Try: Rather than buying ready-made pancake mixes in the morning, make your own dry pancake mix. Simply add milk and eggs in the morning for a quick and easy meal.
A full sit-down spread isn’t always possible when you’re rushing for time. Still, breakfast-on-the-go can help your kids stay focused and engaged during school hours.
Try: Homemade curry puffs are delicious and easy. Make these tiny parcels the night before and reheat in a low oven to fill growling stomachs on the way to school. Fillings can be anything from minced meat with potatoes, scrambled eggs and ham, to Mediterranean flavours of feta cheese and spinach. Use ready-made pastry for convenience.
With over 25 per cent of the day’s nutrients consumed in the morning, you should sneak more than just a handful of raisins in your kids’ bowl to meet their daily requirements. Fruits have lots of fibre, vitamins and minerals that are normally left out of children’s diets.
“Include banana, apple, papaya and plum, with a mix of complex carbohydrates,” says Dr Chan. “The addition of complex carbs like wholegrain bread increases satiety and also helps keep you kids fuller for longer.”
Try: Adding steamed sweet potatoes into congee for extra nutrients.
Rather than turning on the TV set and distracting your child from eating her meal, make breakfast the entertainment in the morning. Create breakfast art with her food or give her incentives to eat more coloured super foods, which are jam-packed full of nutrients. Also, work with her interests by keeping her breakfast themed to what she’s learning in school.
Try: Use dried fruits and other fresh vegetables to create funny faces, or use interesting bowls to capture their imagination.
Eating toast, oats and eggs can be boring even for adults. So rather than serving up boring ideas that you know your child will hate, try different recipes to encourage more excitement at the table.
Try: Although a little unconventional, quick and easy noodles tossed in peanut sauce – either store bought, or simply mix two tablespoons of peanut butter with a splash of hot water to make a loose dressing – is a great way to start the day.
Full of fibre and protein, peanut butter is a great option for breakfast and fun, too. Peanut butter toast, cut into sticks – known as toy soldiers – can be created into an entertaining breakfast for kids. They’re delicious dunked in soft boiled eggs. Or use cookie cutters to cut out kueh or toast before serving them to your child.
It’s not a sin to re-create breakfast from dinner leftovers. An extra cup of rice stored in the refrigerator from last night’s meal can easily become egg and spring onion fried rice. Soups, stews and casseroles are also great to get your little ones to eat more vegetables full of nutrients like iron, magnesium and fibre.
Try: If your kids like to eat with their hands, reheat leftover rice in the microwave for 30 seconds before moulding it into her favourite cartoon character for a Japanese-style brekkie.
You know the benefits of eating good fat to help improve cholesterol, but your kids should also be eating more fish to help improve their learning ability. Research shows a diet rich in omega-3 fats, such as those found in salmon improve hand-eye coordination.
Try: Japanese-inspired rice balls with grilled salmon, as well as crumbling salmon from last night’s meal into an egg omelette. These can all be prepared the night before.
This article first appeared on Young Parents, August 2019 / Updated February 2020
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