Singin’ the No-Breakfast Blues?

Each morning when Miss Maclear’s class begins the day she is prepared to deal with some students who will not be able to focus or remember the information covered in class. She can predict which students will ask questions and excel and which will struggle to merely be present in class. Miss Maclear doesn’t just have a teacher’s intuition; she is armed with the knowledge of which children ate breakfast that morning and which did not. And she knows that will make all the difference. We have all heard it before—breakfast is the most important meal of the day. For most people however, it is easier said than done. A 2009 study by the International Food Information Foundation found that 92 percent of Americans agree that breakfast is an important meal for an overall healthy diet, yet only 46 percent report eating breakfast regularly.

There are plenty of compelling reasons to eat breakfast everyday. Study after study has shown the importance of breaking the nightlong fast with a healthy meal. People who regularly eat breakfast have a lower risk of weight gain. Those who eat a protein-rich breakfast feel more satiated and tend to eat less throughout the day, helping to reduce afternoon and evening food cravings. In fact, breakfast is the only meal of the day that actually speeds calorie burning. Additionally, eating a protein-rich breakfast stabilizes blood glucose levels. On the other hand, skipping breakfast raises total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels and increases insulin resistance, the first step toward developing diabetes.[1][2] As if there weren’t enough good health reasons for adults to eat breakfast, consider that the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that parents who eat breakfast are significantly more likely to have children who eat breakfast. So if you want your kids to eat breakfast (and you do, just keep reading!), then you need to eat breakfast!

Anytime you skip a meal, especially breakfast, the body releases chemical messengers to stimulate the release of stored energy; this may include the breakdown of muscle mass for immediate energy. The body perceives this extended fast as starvation and essentially begins to eat itself to survive the “famine.” Non-essential body functions such as bone building and memory are impaired. Additionally, this process induces the release of natural painkillers called endorphins, which mask the discomfort that would otherwise be felt. These endorphins make you feel pretty good, which is why many people think they feel good without breakfast, but really the body is struggling to function.

While skipping breakfast can certainly have negative consequences on an adult’s health, the health effects of skipping breakfast are even more pronounced on a child’s growing brain and body. In a growing child this process is extremely detrimental when it happens regularly. Like adults, children who skip breakfast are more prone to being overweight and obese, and will often see an increase in abdominal fat.[3][4] Research has increasingly focused on the effects skipping breakfast has on cognitive and mental function and the results are dismal. Missing the morning meal sets children up for a reduced ability to learn and pay attention, as well as make healthy food choices for the rest of the day.[5] According to the Arkansas Children’s Nutrition Center, extending overnight fasting resulted in significant changes in brain activity and behavior.[6] A study done by the University of California, Davis found that brain function is altered in children who miss breakfast, specifically their working memory and vocabulary.[7] Some studies have even linked skipping breakfast with health-compromising behaviors like alcohol use, behavioral problems, disordered eating, and distorted body image.[8][9] While it is difficult to know whether skipping breakfast actually causes these behaviors or just leaves the brain with no fuel to think properly, there is little doubt that neglecting to feed a growing brain can have significant long-term consequences.

No matter how important we all say breakfast is it does little good without actually eating breakfast. There are plenty of excuses for not eating breakfast everyday: not enough time, no appetite, etc., but the fact of the matter is that eating breakfast is essential for good health. Make a true commitment to health and take a look at what is holding you and your children back from eating breakfast regularly. Do you need to get up earlier? Does that mean you need to get to bed earlier? How about making sure there are options available? This may involve doing some prep work the night before or making a big batch of something that can be eaten for several days. What about having some quick breakfast options on hand, like the ingredients for breakfast smoothies or leftovers from the night before? If no appetite is the problem try finishing dinner earlier and making it a bit lighter. Once you get into the habit, you’ll find yourself waking up and actually looking forward to breakfast. It may take some adjusting, but in the long run cultivating the habit of eating breakfast will become second nature and a huge step forward in terms of overall health.

Think outside the (Cereal) Box

While simply eating breakfast is certainly the first step, a note on quality is necessary. The typical American breakfast tends to focus on sugar-laden, highly processed cereals and pastries that supply next to nothing in the way of nutrients. Even those breakfast cereals that claim to be high-fiber and high-protein are generally highly processed and heavy on sugar. Following healthy meal-planning guidelines, breakfast should always consist of a quality protein, a healthy fat, and include at least two to three servings of fruit and/or vegetables. Look to the rest of the world and think outside the cereal box for inspiration. All around the world breakfast is a hearty meal consisting of meat, veggies, soups, and whole grains. In many ways it is not much different from other meals eaten throughout the day. Experiment with some of the following recipes to start your day off and your brain and body will thank you.


Tropical Fruit Smoothie

Serves 2

Adapted from delicious living magazine

  • ½ cup canned coconut milk
  • 1 cup milk, or milk substitute such as almond or rice milk
  • ½ cup pineapple juice
  • 1 cup frozen strawberries
  • 1 banana
  • 2-3 Tbsp whey protein powder

Combine coconut milk, milk (or milk substitute), juice, strawberries, and banana in a blender; purée until smooth. Add whey powder and purée again until blended well. Pour into glasses and serve immediately.

Quick Spinach Pancake with Fried Egg

Serves 1

  • 1 Dr. Praeger’s© frozen spinach pancake
  • 1 tsp coconut oil
  • 1 tsp butter
  • 1 egg
  • Salsa
  • Sea salt and pepper

Heat coconut oil over medium heat in a small skillet; add frozen spinach pancake and sauté, about 4 minutes each side. Meanwhile, melt butter over medium heat in a second small skillet and crack the egg into the pan. Season with sea salt and pepper. Cook the egg sunny-side up, about 4 minutes. Move the spinach pancake to a plate and top with the fried egg. Serve immediately with a generous side of salsa.

Vegetable Quiche with Hash Brown Crust

Serves 6

This is a great make-ahead dish that tastes just as good leftover.

  • 8oz. bag frozen hash browns, thawed and drained; try Alexia© or Cascadian Farms®
  • 3 large eggs
  • ½ cup half-and-half
  • ½ cup milk
  • ¼ cup diced red pepper
  • ¼ cup diced onion
  • ¼ cup chopped broccoli
  • 2-3 slices turkey bacon, cooked and chopped; try Applegate Farms© or Garrett County©

Preheat oven to 450°. Spread defrosted hash browns in bottom and up sides of a buttered pie or quiche dish. Pat hash browns with a paper towel to remove excess moisture. Bake at 450° until potatoes are golden brown, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and lower the temperature to 350°.

While crust bakes, whisk eggs, half-and-half, and milk together. Add veggies and bacon, stirring to incorporate. Pour into potato crust and bake uncovered for 30 minutes at 350°. Cool for 10 minutes before serving. Serve with a fresh fruit salad. Note: For softer veggies, sauté in a bit of olive oil for a few minutes before adding to quiche mixture.


[1] Nutrition Reporter. Jack Challem July 2008 Vol 19 No 7.

[2] Stop Prediabetes Now by Jack Challem

[3] Maddah, M. and Nikooyeh, B. Factors associated with overweight in children in Rasht, Iran: gender, maternal education, skipping breakfast and parental obesity. Public Health Nutr. 2009 Jun 23: 1-5 [Epub ahead of print]

[4] Alexander, KE, et al. Association of Breakfast Skipping with Viceral fat and Insulin Indices in Overweight Latino Youth. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2009 May 7.

[5] Research Australia (2009, March 23). School Kids Skipping Breakfast Are Missing Healthy Brain Fuel. ScienceDaily.

[6] Pivik RT and Dykman RA. Event-related variations in alpha band activity during an attentional task in preadolescents: Effects of morning nutrition. Clin Neurophysiol. 2007 Mar; 118 (3); 615-32.

[7] Pollitt E, Jacoby E, Cueto S. School breakfast and cognition among nutritionally at-risk children in the Peruvian Andes. Nutr Rev. 1996 Apr; 54 (4 Pt 2): S22-6.

[8] Keski-Rahkonen A., et al. Breakfast skipping and health compromising behaviors in adolescent and adults. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2003 Jul; 57(7); 842-53.

[9] Mori K, et al. Relationship between body image and lifestyle factors in Japanese adolescent girls. Pediatr Int. 2009 Feb 2.