Guest Post: Lauren Mozer MPH, RDN, CD

September is right around the corner, and with summer schedules shifting back to school schedules, teens will once again fall into their busy student lives. In order to set them up for success, help your teens eat breakfast every morning.

It’s been long stated that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day,” but why is that? Research shows that teens who don’t eat breakfast take in fewer nutrients (such as iron, fiber, and calcium) throughout the day than their breakfast-eating peers. These nutrients are important for energy production, digestive health and bone development, and are typically not made up for at other meals.

Consistently eating breakfast also increases the brain’s ability to perform, especially with memory and recall. When kids are hungry, they have a harder time focusing on the task at hand (say Algebra), potentially decreasing their academic achievements. A study looking at breakfast consumption and school performance found that students who participated in the school breakfast program more often had higher math scores, better class attendance and a decrease in perceived psychosocial problems compared to students who participated less. However, approximately 12-50% of teens in the United States skip breakfast, with older teens being twice as likely to miss this meal compared to younger teens. Main reasons identified were lack of time, early school activities or lack of appetite. Sound like a teen you know?

Many teens (and adults) don’t feel hunger in the morning, and often wait until lunch or even later for their first meal or snack. Some teens might even try to skip breakfast as a means to help them lose weight, however, this can actually cause unintentional weight gain due to overeating and/or poor food choices later in the day. Studies have even shown that teens who regularly consume breakfast often maintain a healthy weight into adulthood.

Breakfast can be quick, easy, and budget friendly. Yet, every family is different and thinking through how breakfast will fit into your family’s schedule is important for success. Here are some tips for working it into the morning routine:

  • Don’t Hit the Snooze Button! Setting the alarm 10-15 minutes earlier and having these extra minutes in the morning can help teens have the time to eat breakfast before heading out the door.
  • Plan ahead and Keep it Simple:
    • Making your breakfast the night before can save time in the morning. Things like overnight oats, apple wraps, or pancake mix can all be prepped ahead of time. Want more ideas? Here are some other recipes to try.
    • Parents and teens can work together to make a list of breakfast foods they should buy at the store to make sure they are on hand. Involving teens in the decision process can also help to increase interest in the breakfast provided.
  • There is no ‘one size fits all’ for breakfast: While traditional American breakfast foods (eggs, cured meat, bread, cereal) work for some people, these do not have to be the only options. Try mixing your food groups! Have a breakfast that contains a protein (ex., meats, egg, yogurt, nuts, nut butters, cheese), a carbohydrate (bread, grain, fruit), and even a vegetable. Mixing these foods, and especially adding in a protein, can help curb your teen’s hunger for a longer period of time. (Try: dinner leftovers or a chicken tomato hummus wrap with a whole wheat tortilla and a side of grapes)
  • Have a Routine: A routine can help make everything else run a little smoother. It can also help teens who don’t yet feel hungry in the morning to still get in this important meal. Also, the more breakfast becomes a routine, the higher the likelihood that they will start to feel hungry at that time.
  • Pack a To-Go Breakfast: A tight morning routine might mean it’s easier for your teen to eat while on the bus or in the car, instead of seated at the table. A banana, peanut butter sandwich and milk is an easy, low mess option that they can eat on the go.
  • Still don’t have time? Take advantage of the USDA’s School Breakfast Program. If your school participates, they should send out an application at the beginning of the school year to get your teen off to a strong start to the academic year. This is a great option that allows adolescents to eat with peers and removes an extra step in the morning home routine.

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