Given the choice between scrambled eggs and sleep, most students choose to hit snooze – reluctantly rolling out of bed around 6:30am (just in time to finish last night’s homework, fight about clothing and catch the bus by 7:25am). And, as adults, it’s hard to blame them. Exhausted, stressed and pressed for time, many of us are guilty of the same nutritional mistake. But does it really matter? Sure, older generations remind us that a “healthy day starts with a healthy breakfast!” But is there any truth to their wisdom? According to scientists, the answer is: YES.
A 2005 review of 22 research studies found that eating breakfast daily “may enhance students’ cognitive function (particularly memory), academic performance, school attendance rates, psychological function and mood.” An earlier study, involving third- through fifth-graders, supported this conclusion: students who participated in a school breakfast program showed “significant gains in math, reading and vocabulary test scores and reduced rates of tardiness and absenteeism.”
Inspired by similar research, Springfield Local Elementary School in New Middleton, Ohio started the Making the Grade with Diet and Exercise Program (MGDE) in 2000. The MGDE program provides “access to a free breakfast program to facilitate sound nutritional intake for all students,” in addition to increasing physical activity and inverting the order of lunch and recess. The meals (usually cereal, or another carbohydrate, served with milk and juice) are a huge success. Paired with increased physical activity and more effective scheduling, the breakfast program contributed to a 67% decline in nurse visits and 58% decrease in discipline referrals within the first four years of implementation. Students at Springfield Local have also improved from “passing one of the current state indicator proficiency tests (writing) prior to the intervention to passing all three tests during the 2005-2006 school year.”
The AASA Journal of Scholarship and Practice reminds us that “children test better when fed compared to when they are tested on an empty stomach,” and that an “omission of good diet has been associated with poor school performance;” still “as many as 30% of children attend school without having consumed any nutritional foods.” What can you do to make a difference? Start by setting a good example. Dr. Stephanie Peabody, a visiting scholar at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, suggests feeding your children a “nutritious, low-glycemic load breakfast” before they head to school. “Keeping an even blood sugar level is critical, as it will affect concentration.” Quick meals include: whole wheat toast with peanut butter, yogurt with fruit and eggs with juice.
While breakfast may not be the most convenient meal of the day, it is arguably the most important. So start the day off right. Make sure your students eat breakfast, whether at home or at school, and remember: While it may be tempting to just hit snooze, science suggests you make time for those scrambled eggs.
Nemours Foundation. (2009). Healthy students = successful students. Retrieved April 7 2010.
Peabody, S. (2010, April). Emotions, Stress, Social Engagement and MBHE. Lecture given in Mind, Brain, Health, and Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education, Cambridge, MA.
Potteiger, J., Sibley, B., Ward, R., Yazvac, T., Zullig, K. (2008). Making the
grade with diet and exercise. AASA Journal of Scholarship and Practice, 5, 38-45.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Article originally published as “Eat Breakfast: All the Smart Kids Are Doing It” in MBHE Action Magazine (Walters, 2010).