Earlier generations typically started the day with parents
and kids eating together. Today, it’s a free-for-all. When my 3 kids were
younger, we could make the breakfast selections. Not so when they were teens.
Somehow in the 5 minutes between rising and heading out, we had to find a
breakfast that worked for them. Milk-based breakfast drinks combined with
carefully chosen cereal bars, or balanced energy bars worked well, along with
fruit or yogurt. If they weren’t hungry right away, which was common, the items
went into their backpack for later in the morning.
Ideally, the first meal of the day should include a mix of
servings chosen from a few of the 5 food groups (fruits, veggies, grains,
dairy, and quality proteins), each high in nutritional value. Carbohydrates provide fuel, while proteins
and fats provide energy and satiety over time.
Breakfast choices, and other snacks and meals a child eats throughout
the day at school, matter. More than 55
million children and teens attend the nation's public schools, where they eat
about 35 percent to 40 percent of their daily calories. It’s important those
calories be healthy ones, especially since an about a third of the calories
kids eat these days are not.
In its “Snacks, Sweetened Beverages, Added Sugars, and Schools" policy, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) encourages
pediatricians to counsel families and local school staff about improving the
quality of foods served or brought into schools. This includes packed lunches
and snacks, fundraisers, sporting events, in-class parties, and school
celebrations. We can get involved as parents, members of the school’s wellness
council, consultants, sports team physicians, members of the school board, and through
AAP state chapter outreach efforts. We also can become nutritional cheerleaders
by encouraging schools to achieve national or state recognition for their
wellness efforts, as exemplified by the USDA’s Healthier US Schools
"Brain scans during prolonged periods without food show activity mainly in the mid-brain, the area associated with anxiety, agitation, irritability, and mood swings. After feeding, the frontal cortex lights up and amygdala activity quiets. The child is ready to learn.”
It’s especially important to protect the school nutrition
programs that, in turn, protect the millions of children at risk for food
insecurity. School breakfasts are served to 15 million kids per day; school
lunches to 32 million. These programs are healthier than ever after the USDA adopted
new standards in 2010 that aligned them closely with the guidance of the
Dietary Guidelines for Americans. More recently, the meals and snacks provided
through the Child and Adult Care Feeding Program (CACFP), aimed at pre-school
children, as well as Women Infant and Children (WIC) packages, have also been
It’s not just the meals themselves that have had a
make-over. Innovations in delivery of school breakfast also help kids get the
nutrition they need. Breakfast in the classroom, grab-and-go options, access
for children arriving late, and other adaptations have increased participation,
and the USDA’s Community Eligibility Provision has been revolutionary. This
rule allows schools with greater than 40 percent free-and-reduced meal participation
to offer free breakfasts to all children at the school, no questions asked.
These critical policies support a child’s nutrition,
classroom behavior, ability to learn and become healthy and productive
citizens. Everybody wins.
The views expressed in this article are those of the authors, and not necessarily those of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Robert Murray, M.D., FAAP, served on the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Council on School Health for 10 years, including 4 as the Chair. He was lead author of the policy statement, "Snacks, Sweetened Beverages, Added Sugars, and Schools" and writes the chapter on school-based nutrition for the AAP's Handbook of Nutrition. Currently, Dr. Murray is the President of the Ohio Chapter of the AAP. He has retired as professor of pediatrics at The Ohio State University.