COLLEGE STATION — A recent Gallup Poll of more than 400 children indicates that more kids are taking advantage of school lunches but are still skipping breakfast.
In the study, co-sponsored by the American Dietetic Association, two-thirds of the children 9 to 15 years old said they eat school lunches, a 9 percent increase since 1991. The study also revealed that 51 percent of the children do not eat breakfast, and an increasing number skip dinner.
“These figures, which were released in May, demonstrate the continuing need for the nation’s nutrition programs,” said Dr. Dymple Cooksey, professor and nutrition specialist with the Texas Agricultural Extension Service. “School breakfast and school lunch play a vital role in ensuring the health and well-being of children.”
Cafeteria meals usually offer a variety of choices, including a selection of low-fat foods. And economically, school lunches are the best buy in town, she said. But all students do not take advantage of these meals.
Those who do not like cafeteria food usually bring adequate lunches, but what about the breakfast skippers?
“Breakfast provides strength and endurance and prevents children from becoming hungry between meals,” Cooksey said. “Also, children who skip breakfast may have trouble concentrating at school or during play.”
Researchers have found that children who do not eat breakfast become irritable and restless, while those who eat breakfast have better attitudes toward learning and school work, she added.
“Breakfast serves as fuel for energy,” Cooksey said. “When a person wakes in the morning, usually about eight hours have passed since a meal was eaten. Breakfast helps replenish blood glucose levels, which is important since the brain itself has no reserves of glucose, its main energy source.”
Although breakfast programs have been implemented nationwide to ensure that children get off to a good start, where such programs are not available, parents can make sure their children get a nutritious breakfast before they leave home, according to Cooksey.
“Cereal is the No. 1 breakfast favorite and a good choice,” she said. “However, since many are pre-sweetened, check the label to find unsweetened or those with modest amounts of sweeteners from sugar, honey and dried fruits. If your child prefers the sweetened kind, add fresh fruit such as bananas and strawberries to unsweetened cereal.”
Since everyone does not enjoy traditional breakfast foods like cereal and eggs, Cooksey said, parents should try serving nontraditional foods such as these:
* A breakfast shake. Combine milk, fresh fruit (bananas or peaches) and ice in a blender. Add a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg before serving.
* Fruited low-fat yogurt. Pour in popsicle molds and freeze on a stick.
* Sliced apples or crackers served with a dip or peanut butter, cream cheese, honey, raisins and flaked coconut mixed together.
* Leftover spaghetti, chicken or pizza. Serve hot or cold.
* Baked potato topped with grated cheese, steamed vegetables or chili.
* Bagels and English muffins. Spread with cream cheese or peanut butter and top with chopped bananas or crushed pineapple.
* Kabobs. Make with any combination of cheese, fruit, sliced or cubed cooked meat (remove toothpicks before serving).
* Flour tortillas. Sprinkle with grated cheese and broil. Top with yogurt or chili sauce.
“The time parents spend encouraging youngsters to eat a morning meal is time well spent,” Cooksey said. “Breakfast provides the energy needed to carry a child through an active morning and could play an important role in your child’s performance at school.”