The Importance of Breakfast

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Harvard Medical School
Chrome 2001
Chrome 2001

The Importance of Breakfast

Mental Health
Growth and Nutrition
The Importance of Breakfast
The Importance of Breakfast
Find out why breakfast is such an important meal for your child.
InteliHealth Medical Content
Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School

The Importance of Breakfast

Everyone knows that breakfast is one of the most important meals of the day. To "break a fast" means to end a long period when someone hasn't taken in any food, such as when they have slept all night. Starting the day without breakfast is like driving a car without stopping to fill up the gas tank. Children who eat breakfast tend to have longer attention spans and to do better in school. In addition, they are less likely to be overweight and less likely to have behavior problems. Unfortunately, many children do not eat breakfast.

It is very important that every child (and adult for that matter) eats breakfast every day. Often-reported reasons for skipping breakfast include not having enough time, not liking traditional breakfast foods, and not feeling like eating early in the morning. Fortunately, you can make time for breakfast, eat nontraditional breakfast foods and eat breakfast later in the morning.

Make time for breakfast

Although mornings can be busy times, there are things you can do to help make everything run more smoothly, so there is enough time for breakfast.

  • Do some of your morning chores the night before, such as selecting clothes to wear, signing permission slips and putting homework in backpacks.
  • Set the table with breakfast dishes and nonperishable food items, such as dry cereal, bread and bagels.
  • If adults in the home drink coffee, get the coffee pot ready to run the night before and then just hit the "on" switch in the morning.
  • Make sure all family members are assigned chores to do in the morning. Do not turn on the television set.

In addition, breakfast does not need much preparation time. There are lots of fast, easy foods that can provide a healthy start to the day. For ideas, see the list of breakfast suggestions below.

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Try a variety of foods for breakfast

Although cereals, pancakes and waffles are felt to be traditional breakfast foods, in fact, any food can be eaten for breakfast, including last night's dinner. Breakfast simply refers to the morning meal after the nighttime fast, and not to specific foods. As part of a well-balanced diet, breakfast should provide a significant portion of the day’s nutrients. Using the food pyramid as a guide to healthy eating, a nutritious breakfast typically includes foods from three or four of the five food groups:

  • One serving of fruit: fresh whole fruit (bananas, apples, oranges, strawberries, grapes), fruit salad, sliced fruit (added to cereal, yogurt, oatmeal), canned fruit, fruit juice
  • One or two servings of grains: whole-grain breads, dry cereal, oatmeal, English muffins, bagels, muffins, pancakes, waffles, flour tortillas, rice, potatoes
  • One serving from the dairy group: reduced-fat or nonfat milk, yogurt, cheese
  • One serving from the protein group: eggs, lean meat, peanut butter, beans, tofu

See the list of breakfast suggestions below for some nutritious traditional and non-traditional ideas.

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Eat later in the morning

Some children say they are not hungry in the morning because their stomachs seem to wake up more slowly than the rest of their bodies. Getting up 10 minutes earlier may give their appetites time to wake up; in some cases, breakfast can be served later. Send breakfast foods that travel well in the car or on the school bus. Purchase breakfast at school, if available.

Some children simply are not hungry for traditional breakfast foods. In this case, try offering a variety of nontraditional foods for breakfast, including leftovers from dinner.

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Breakfast suggestions
  • Whole-grain cereal with fruit and reduced-fat milk
  • Whole-wheat toast, eggs, and juice or reduced-fat milk
  • Fried egg and reduced-fat cheese on whole-wheat toast
  • Oatmeal with raisins and reduced-fat milk
  • Waffles, turkey bacon and juice
  • Low-fat yogurt with fruit and granola
  • Bagel with cheese or peanut butter
  • Fruit smoothie: fruit and milk or yogurt mixed together in a blender
  • Bagel, string cheese and an apple
  • Whole-wheat toast, hard-boiled egg and fruit
  • Turkey sandwich and reduced-fat milk
  • Leftover pizza and juice
  • Breakfast burrito: scrambled eggs, cheese and veggies wrapped in a flour tortilla
  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwich and reduced-fat milk
  • Grilled cheese sandwich and juice


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Last updated August 05, 2014

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