Breakfast for Teens: Is It Really That Important?April 2, 2019
By Dyan Hes, MD, FAAP
Medical Director, Gramercy Pediatrics, NY, NY
Is breakfast really the most important meal of the day? For adolescents I would have to say,”Yes.” However, there are many reasons that teenagers skip breakfast. The most common reason is that they wake up too late to eat breakfast before leaving for school. This has to do with the fact that teens are wired to go to bed later and sleep later in the morning. They are often exhausted when they wake up for school and in no mood to eat yet. Moreover, this is part of a vicious cycle, because when they skip breakfast, they are eating the majority of their calories later in the day: lunch, snack, dinner, and another snack. Some teens do not stop eating until midnight or later, while they are studying. (This also contributes to weight gain and obesity because they do not burn these calories throughout the day). So when teens wake up between 6 and 7 am for school, they are literally not hungry and still half asleep. Remember, many teens do not fall asleep before 11 pm and they are supposed to get 8 -10 hours of sleep. This is due to a hormonal shift once they hit puberty. Pubertal hormones and melatonin secretion during puberty play a role in this delayed sleep phase.
Studies show that breakfast is important in youth for a myriad of reasons. Students who eat breakfast out-performed their peers who did not eat breakfast on exams. Not eating breakfast can lead to low blood sugar levels. Students may not eat their first meal before noon or 1 pm. It is hard for these students to concentrate during class because they start to feel hungry as the day goes on. It is also hard for them to pay attention when their blood sugar is dropping. They often keep looking at the clock to see when lunch will start.
One way to combat this problem is to have quick easy choices ready for breakfast. I often recommend to my teen patients to have a piece of whole grain toast with some cheese, avocado, or a nut butter before school. This will give them both some protein, fiber, and carbohydrates needed to get through the morning hours. Yogurt or a yogurt tube is easy on the go, as is a part skim mozzarella cheese stick. I recommend that the parents cook up a batch of hard boiled eggs so that a student can grab one or two on the way out the door. If they are already peeled, heating them in the microwave in some water for 15 seconds does the trick. This is a great source of protein. Whole grain cereals with milk, oatmeal, farina (even instant ones), or a toasted whole grain waffle with nut butter, or a health bar are a perfect quick breakfast options. Even taking a fruit, some cut up vegetables, or nuts in a baggie on the way out the door can provide some energy for a teen on the move. I also recommend bagging up some dry cereal for a child to munch on en route to school. The real issue is being prepared. Many teens will say they do not have time, so I ask that they prepare this at night before bedtime. Then there are no excuses come the bus at 7:30 am. Most teens may not eat the breakfast right away, but by the time they wake up a little as they approach school they will often appreciate this little breakfast. Teen years are not easy for all parents, but being prepared with healthy breakfast options will ensure your teen a more successful day at school.