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A healthy start to the school day
Education

A healthy start to the school day

The best breakfast ·

Fruit, milk and unsweetened yoghurt, wholemeal bread with olive oil or avocado. With the family and without rushing

Friday, 8 September 2023, 13:34

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With the start of the school year comes the early morning routine, which often includes a rushed breakfast. For the sake of avoiding a fight and getting the kids out of the house on time, parents often opt for the easier, but less healthy option: biscuits, a bun, bottled juice.... This is a widespread nutritional error. Studies carried out by different nutrition societies in Spain agree that only a very small percentage of children, around 10 per cent, have a healthy breakfast: fruit, wholegrain cereals, sugar-free dairy products and healthy fats. Not eating breakfast or eating it badly multiplies the risk of obesity and future health problems and can even lower school performance.

Getting up earlier to prepare breakfast

Taking time to eat breakfast is a giant step towards making this first meal of the day a healthy one. "Get up a little earlier and prepare a good breakfast. Parents should sit down to breakfast, take at least fifteen or twenty minutes and set an example, enjoy it. Don't rush, don't eat standing up and avoid having to shout 'come on, hurry up' between every mouthful. Nobody likes to eat breakfast under pressure. Especially not children," says Dr Lucía Galán, who is known on social media in Spain as 'Lucía mi pediatra'.

A study carried out using a sample of almost 4,000 children and teenagers in Spain has shown that "having breakfast as a family is associated with eating higher quality foods", says José Francisco López-Gil, a researcher at the centre for social and health studies at the University of Castilla-La Mancha. That is, "dairy products, cereals and fruit".

Parents not only need time, they also need nutritional education: to know how to identify unhealthy foods and the consequences for their children's health. "It is important to help families when it comes to choosing breakfast for the little ones: to know exactly what foods they should eat," adds López-Gil.

He offers examples of this nutiritional information that should be available to households: "Eating whole fruit is more advisable than eating it in the form of juice because it activates more mechanisms that promote satiety - by chewing we obtain a greater number of nutrients, we spend more time at breakfast..." There is a big difference between eating a whole grain oat or rye cereal, for example, and an industrial bakery product or breakfast cereal. Sweet cakes and buns are less filling, more palatable and therefore eaten in greater quantities. They are rich in added sugars and 'bad' fats and include flavour enhancers, which "encourage higher calorie intake and obesity", adds the researcher.

No to sweetened dairy products

Dairy products, whole fruit, cereals and healthy fats make up the ideal breakfast menu for children, agrees Dr Galán. As for dairy products, it is important that milk and yoghurt (always natural) are sugar-free. Another good option is white cheese. In the cereal group, we should give priority to wholemeal toast, "no cereals that contain up to 40 per cent sugar, as well as trans fats that are so harmful to our health", says the paediatrician. Extra virgin olive oil and avocado should be spread on toast - no butter or jam. If your child doesn't drink milk, replace it with nuts, which are an excellent source of energy and calcium.

The Spanish association of primary care paediatrics advises "not to force children to eat as soon as they get up if they are not hungry"; they can have a piece of fruit, a banana or a yoghurt, and take a more complete snack for break time. Offer them "any healthy food" for breakfast. "Fruit is much healthier than chocolate milk and biscuits," says the association.

Anxiety and low self-esteem

A balanced breakfast not only improves health and prevents obesity in children, but also benefits academic performance. Research comparing breakfast habits and grades in the international Pisa exam showed this. The study found that 15-year-old students who said they did not eat breakfast before school scored lower in maths and science - the latter encompassing biology, geology, physics, chemistry and technology. However, no relationship was found between eating breakfast and academic performance in reading literacy.

In another recent study, which included almost 4,000 children and teenagers in Spain, "we observed that both children who did not eat breakfast and those who ate breakfast outside the home in an unhealthy way were more likely to suffer from psychosocial health problems, such as low self-esteem, mood and anxiety," says López-Gil.

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