Breakfast is vital for kids

BREAKFAST is essential for your children because it helps restore blood-sugar levels after a long fast of about eight hours sleeping.

Linda Dell, a registered dietician at the Kellogg Company of South Africa, says skipping breakfast is one of the biggest nutritional mistakes that many people make.

She says that people who eat breakfast are more likely to have healthier body weights, greater vitamin and mineral intakes and better memory skills.

She says that people skip breakfast for a number of reasons, including rushing off to school or work or just poor eating habits.

Dell adds that breakfast is an important element in one's daily diet, whatever type of diet one prefers.

"South African families are often told about the importance of eating a healthy breakfast, but many parents aren't sure what a balanced breakfast should consist of.

"Many children simply don't like eating breakfast and this results in a daily struggle between parents and kids before school. This can even result in children skipping breakfast and going to school with empty stomachs," Dell says.

So just why is breakfast so important and how should you go about getting your children off to a good start to their day?

Dell says breakfast is important for your children when it comes to education and learning because a healthy breakfast can help them perform better at school with improved concentration levels.

She adds that the key to eating a healthy breakfast is a balanced approach.

"Breakfast should be made up of carbohydrates (for energy), protein (to build children's growing bodies) and fruit (for vitamins, minerals and fibre). An ideal example of this is a bowl of cereal with milk and a piece of fruit, such as an apple with the skin on," she says.

Dell says the benefits of eating breakfast are well documented. She says studies have shown that children who eat breakfast on a consistent basis tend to have superior nutritional profiles than their breakfast-skipping peers.

Evidence, Dell says, also suggests that breakfast consumption improves cognitive and physical functions in children and decreases the number of days absent from school.

"Children who eat ready-to-eat-breakfast cereals including kids cereals regularly tend to have a lower body mass index and are less likely to be overweight than those who eat breakfast cereals infrequently. It is important to give children cereal that is rich in carbohydrate, low in fat and which contains essential vitamins and iron, no preservatives or colourants for a great start to the school day," says Dell.

According to Alice Gray, an independent nutritionist, research shows that children who eat breakfast may have a distinct advantage over children who do not, in the following ways:

Better brain power, particularly when it comes to memory;

Better test scores, school attendance and moods;

Longer attention spans in school;

Better overall nutrition;

Healthier body weights, even for breakfast-eaters who end up eating more overall calories than those who routinely skip the first meal of the day.

Here are some ideas of foods from the different groups for you to choose from when putting together the most important meal of the day:

Carbohydrates : Cereal or porridge; whole wheat muffins; toasted whole wheat bread;

Protein : Low-fat milk or yoghurt; low-fat cheese; eggs (boiled, poached or scrambled); fish (haddock, tuna, salmon);

Fruit : Sliced fresh fruit; mixed berries; dried fruit such as raisins.

Fat : (optional) Peanut butter, avocados; nuts, seeds or soft margarine.