Why breakfast is a crucial meal for children

Dubai: Is it better to have two breakfasts rather than skipping the morning meal altogether? Can having a morning meal arrest the rising epidemic of childhood obesity?

Dubai-based clinical dietician, Mitun Sarkar thinks it is mandatory for children to have a balanced meal after waking up.

“They have a long day of learning and activities ahead of them each day and need all the energy they can get.”

On the theory of two breakfasts, the important point to consider, she said, was the contents of the breakfast.

She recommends a wholesome breakfast of fresh fruit with yogurt or milk or sandwich with cheese and vegetables. ‘As for a second breakfast, a child can have it but it should not be a sugar-laden,” she cautions. Mothers need to keep a check on the consumption of sugar especially hidden sugars in soft drinks, sauces and white processed foods.

Also, parents should divide their children’s daily sugar quota over several smaller meals as this keeps the child satiated and energetic, she advises. “It will enhance their performance, focus and concentration in school,” she says.

Store-bought packed cereals as breakfast options, says Sarkar, are a poor choice. “Most of the popular cereals aimed at kids have a high refined sugar content and also a fair share of processed ingredients.

“A child should consume only 5 per cent of his total daily calories from added sugar, but children today are consuming anywhere between 12-15 per cent of sugar which their body is storing as fat,” she warns.

Children should get their sugar from fruits, milk, yogurt, dates, raisins, wholewheat breads, oats, brown rice, potatoes, etc, which are excellent sources of energy and fibre, and not from biscuits, cakes, doughnuts, croissants, chocolates, chocolate spreads, milk shakes, fizzy drinks and fruit juices.

Breakfast options

All school-going children in age group of 3-16 years need to have a breakfast that balances carbohydrates, protein and fat, says Sarkar. “Apart from these, children have the highest need of calcium, essential fatty acids like omega 3 and 6, iron, magnesium, potassium, vitamin A, Vitamin C, D, E and zinc. Having the right nutrition ensures they fall ill less often and so there is less absenteeism from school.”

Sarkar suggests the following breakfast ideas:

  1. Oatmeal soaked overnight with milk or yogurt, topped with fresh fruits and honey.
  2. Smoothie with yogurt, almond butter, fresh fruits and avocado.
  3. Foul medamus with wholemeal khubz.
  4. Variety of eggs with wholemeal breads or pitas.
  5. Indian-style poha (beaten rice flakes) cooked with veggies.
  6. Oats-batter pancakes cooked on a lightly greased griddle.
  7. Idlis (Indian rice and lentil dumplings) with vegetable toppings and coconut chutney.

Dr Anita Das Gupta, clinical dietician at Burjeel Hospital in Abu Dhabi, says that in addition to a balance of protein, carbohydrates and fat, “Parents should ensure that meals contain fruits and vegetable, be easy to eat and non-messy,” she explained.

Dr Gupta’s tips

For children between 3-7 years of age, peanut butter sandwich with cheese or boiled egg. Opt for unsalted butter. Cucumber and tomato slices, unpeeled bananas, pears, oranges, grapes and berries are good choices.

Involve children early in making healthy food choices.

For children between 7-11 years can eat easily on their own, so sandwiches can be filled with sliced vegetables, cheese, egg, peanut butter. Steer clear from cold meats and chocolate spreads. Portion sizes should be bigger – at least three slices of bread instead of two.

Give uncut fruit so biting helps strengthen their teeth.

For pre-teens and children up to 15 years, provide about two sandwiches plus fruit per meal as they need extra energy for their longer school days.

Keep a close watch on what children eat as childhood obesity is on the rise globally.

What schools say

Wayne McInnis, principal, Raha International School, Abu Dhabi

“Getting children to eat healthy at a young age is very important, especially as proper nutrition aids learning. We often organise workshops for parents, many of whom are new at parenthood and grappling with how to get their children to eat nutritious foods. We encourage them to pack foods with less sugar content, and avoid junk foods. We are also a nut-free school as these can be hazardous to children who are allergic to them.

“A while ago, we also appointed pupils to instruct one another on healthy eating, as children learn better with peers.”

Sreekala Kumar, head of Gems Modern Academy Wellness department, Dubai

“We hold regular talks by our school doctors on the importance of eating breakfast as well on meals children should be eating.

“The school’s science department has incorporated healthy eating into the curriculum so students, particularly in elementary section, do a project that allows them to explore the benefits of healthy eating.

“A pro-active parent body makes annual inspections of the canteen and lunch menu. Fizzy drinks, chips, cookies and junk food are not allowed on campus. Teachers monitor the meals students bring.”

Fatima Al Bastaki, principal, Hamdan Bin Zayed School, Abu Dhabi

“We were facing concerns in the kinds of food children were bringing to school – chocolate, fries, crisps and milk that hadn’t been kept cool. So last September (2015), we contracted an external caterer to provide organic, balanced meals and include one type of fruit, some dairy, and healthy wraps.

“We have had a largely positive response from parents and each meal costs only about Dh10 to Dh15.”

Courtesy: Gulfnews