Breakfast helps kids do better in their studies

Harper Corona, 4, makes a face before eating her breakfast. Her mom says she can be moody if she doesn’t eat soon after waking up in the morning.

Breakfast—the most important meal of the day, according to experts and mothers. But what does breakfast mean for school-age children?
Gilroy mom Melanie Corona agrees with the experts. Along with many other parents in the area, she sent two of her children off to school last week for the start of a new school year. And like most families with parents who work outside the home, the Coronas’ morning routine can be pretty hectic with just a 40-minute window between tumbling out of bed and rushing out the door for school.
Although they’re often on a time crunch, Corona always makes sure the kids eat nutritious breakfasts.
“Our children are expected to be ‘on their game’ from the moment they arrive at school,” she said. “They need a great breakfast to start the day off right, with good food that can help them focus until their first snack break of
the day.”
Corona is on the right track. A recent article at healthychildren.org confirmed that eating breakfast helps kids focus and, as a result, has positive ramifications on school performance.
Marcie Beth Schneider, a physician specializing in adolescent medicine and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition, said studies show that kids who eat breakfast function better.
“They do better in school and have better concentration and more energy,” she said.
Corona has seen proof of the difference breakfast makes when the family’s schedule is more relaxed at home on weekends and holidays. She said her kids are more cranky and emotional when they haven’t eaten.
“I can tell when they’re hungry, if they haven’t eaten soon after waking up,” Corona said. “Lots more tears and defiance. It’s not good.”
Although most parents would like to serve their kids hot breakfasts before school, the reality is not many have the time or the resources to do so. What happens when the alarm doesn’t go off and the 40-minute window of time is cut to 10? Well, kids still have to eat, according to Namita Kurdekar, Morgan Hill Unified School District student nutrition services director.
“There are easy ways to work around it if people don’t have time,” she said. “But the last thing to do is to send them to school on empty stomachs.”
Kurdekar, who joined the MHUSD staff over the summer, suggested parents prepare foods in the evenings that can be served quickly to children in the mornings. As the busy working mom of a 5-year-old son, she has experience feeding him on the fly.
“What me and my husband personally do is, if we cook vegetables in the evening with curry, we add a little bit of cheese and give it to him in the morning,” Kurdekar said. “Or one scrambled egg and piece of toast spread with cream cheese or something wholesome gives him carbohydrates and energy. Eggs as a whole, cooked with vegetables or herbs, keep the children going.”
In her current role, Kurdekar is tasked with helping the MHUSD provide nutritional breakfasts and lunches to students. Since children spend most of their time in school, Kurdekar said the schools are responsible for providing nutritional meals to students.
That responsibility takes on an even deeper meaning in the Gilroy and Morgan Hill area, where the majority of students qualify for free and reduced-price meals based on lower family incomes.
“Sometimes it’s the last meal some kids eat, so it becomes essential for us to provide them something wholesome,” Kurdekar said. “We encourage families to participate.
Sixty-nine percent of students qualify for free lunches in Morgan Hill, according to the school district. Nalani Battaglia, child nutrition consultant for the Gilroy Unified School District, said 54 percent of Gilroy students are on the free lunch program.
Regardless of the income status of parents, the breakfast consensus remains the same. Children need to fuel up before heading to class, whether it’s at home, in the car or in the school cafeteria. While school districts are committed to providing healthy meals, Kurdekar urges parents to be good examples of healthy living and eating.
“That’s how we educate the kids,” she said. “It needs to happen at our end first, as parents. We need to get serious about teaching children about the importance of nutritious eating.”
Kurdekar suggested parents check out choosemyplate.org, a United States Department of Agriculture website dedicated to helping people build healthier diets. The website is built around MyPlate, a diagram that illustrates the five food groups using a familiar image—a place setting for a meal.
“Parents should look at MyPlate; it’s a very effective tool,” Kurdekar said. “It helps parents look at the food on the plate in percentages. Put the diagram on the fridge or somewhere noticeable in the kitchen. Help children understand the nutrition forum.”

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