The impact of breakfast and lunch on learning
By Bronwyn Mandile |
What does your child eat for breakfast before school? Cereal, toast, nothing? Despite over fifty years of evidence supporting the immense importance of a good brekkie to kids’ education, loads of New Zealand kids are still skipping the good stuff.
A study in 2013 (published in something daunting called Frontiers in Human Neuroscience) showed that a lack of brekkie directly impacts on a child’s numeracy and literacy scores – in other words kids who ate breakfast performed significantly better in the classroom. Breakfast makes you smarter? It really does seem to be the case.
It’s not just breakfast. What our kids eat throughout the school day has a huge impact on their ability to pay attention, remember what they’ve learned and, as a result, improve their academic performance. It seems that the better the nutritional quality of the food we pack for them, the better the opportunity we give them to do their best at school.
The great things about breakfast and the school lunch box is that they give us our best chance of controlling what our children eat. Once the breakfast table is set, once the lunch box is packed, there is little chance for pester-power to erode our good judgment. So, what are we waiting for?
Ready to go
Setting things out the night before allows you to simply say, “breakfast is on the table, please help yourself” before they’ve even voiced their first morning “can I have?” Some good choices to have ready are:
Apple and hazelnut bircher muesli – if you make this in small jars, it’s a good ‘on the go’ choice too
Cheese and spinach on toast – have it set up ready to go and just pop under the grill
Breakfast muffins – these freeze beautifully and are the perfect breakfast stand-by
Yoghurt parfait – an overnight siesta in the fridge means all the fruity flavours mingle deliciously with the yoghurt
On the go
Fact is, lots of families simply don’t have time to sit down to a decent breakfast, but get a few things ready the night before and in the morning a portable breakfast takes no time at all.
Strawberry and banana smoothie – get this ready the night before and whizz in a blender right before you go
Cheesy quiche in a cup – have everything ready and just microwave on your way out the door
Breakfast pie – get these ready right up until baking, keep in the fridge overnight and put into the oven when you wake.
This little ‘refuel stop’ at school offers time for a refresh and a little nutritional punch in the morning. This is a great opportunity for us mums to get a good dose of vitamins into little bodies so rather than just one kind of fruit, aim to pack a small portion of mixed fruit each day. A couple of blueberries, raspberries, orange slices and some snow peas and cherry tomatoes make a colour mix that packs the kind of nutritional punch that helps kids feel alert and ready to learn until their next fuel stop. Interval is generally a short break and they will be more likely to eat food that they can munch on the go. Add a small portion of cheese and a few homemade crackers for calcium and carbohydrates that will see them through their busy morning.
When you think about it, kids eat a lot at school. With interval and lunch both falling before 1pm at most schools, kids really don’t need to eat a huge lunch at all. But they do need to eat something and if you find the ‘lunch’ part of the lunch box is frequently coming home uneaten, your child will almost undoubtedly be finding it hard to concentrate on afternoon lessons.
What we need to pack are nutritionally good choices that they’ll look forward to and can eat without fuss. Large apples and uncut wraps or sandwiches feel huge to a small child – make a full sandwich or wrap, serve half one day and freeze the other half for the next. Keep portions small but varied and hopefully you’ll have a clean lunch box coming home in the afternoon.
Good choices for lunch time: