We’ve all heard it before: Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Whether from parents, teachers or anyone, really, this phrase is ubiquitously used to get sleepy children to eat before a day of school. But how much truth is there behind this statement?
Well, a lot, actually, according to registered dietitian, Laura Burak who said, “I do think [breakfast] is the most important meal of the day because if you dissect the word, it’s saying break the fast.” Burak said. “When you’re sleeping for sometimes seven, eight, nine hours, [even more for] a child who is closing in on at least ten or eleven hours of sleep, you haven’t had any nourishment at all overnight. Food really is fuel, so to not eat in the morning is for your body to not work to its utmost potential.”
The nutrition expert compared heading into the day without a proper breakfast to heading out for a road trip without a full tank of gas. Things may seem fine at first, but eventually, your lack of fuel will catch up with you.
To combat an empty tank, Burak recommends eating within an hour of waking up to give your metabolism a kick start and escape entering starvation mode. But just as important as the timing of your breakfast is your food selection.
A balanced first meal of the day should include a mix of healthy carbohydrates and protein. For healthy carbohydrates, high-fiber whole grains are a great option as they provide energy when you made need it most. To top it off, pair your morning carbohydrate with a clean protein for a complete meal.
Some quick and easy examples of quality breakfasts are whole-grain toast or oatmeal with a hard-boiled egg or a low-fat dairy product like a yogurt for your morning protein fix.
For children who want a little more flavor, a simple solution is to complement the day’s carbohydrate-of-choice with a jam or fruit. It’s always better to sweeten a plain food yourself than to purchase a pre-packaged sugar-laden version, according to Burak.
She also advised staying away from having a diet that is too carbohydrate-heavy in the morning. For example, a daily regimen of just fruit or juice in the morning contains only carbohydrates and lacks protein and fiber which will lead to overly quick digestion and an incomplete meal. As such, finding protein from foods like nuts, peanut butter, or even turkey can drastically change the long-term effects of your breakfast.
In terms of drinks of choice, “everybody should be drinking water,” Burak emphasized. “We’re all chronically dehydrated. I would recommend first and foremost water, but an unflavored seltzer or herbal tea is just as good. For kids, some of them like milk. That’s fine too if they like milk, but kids should be sticking with water and a low-fat milk.”
Last but certainly not least, how much should we be eating for breakfast? Burak said that, in general, you should trust your body when it comes to this because people often overeat as they try to finish their plates. Rather, the smarter way to eat is by listening to your body. Self-regulation is extremely important, especially for children who are learning to get in touch with their bodies.
“I tell [people] to try to never be starving and never feel too full,” Burak explained. “You want to feel satisfied. If there’s a scale of 1-10, you want to be more like a seven instead of a 10.”
Take these tips to heart and the rest of your day will thank you.