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Mar 29, 2008

Start the day right

A nutritious wellbalanced breakfast can give your child a head start to the day.

WE have all heard the saying, “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper.” We know the importance of breakfast but somehow, it remains the one meal that we often skip.

With the morning rush to get ready for work and get the children off to school, many families have ignored breakfast even though it is the most important meal of the day.

But your children need a good start to the day, as they have to concentrate in class. If your child is not paying attention in class, then he won’t be learning as much as he should. This is where breakfast plays an important role.

The importance of breakfast can be figured out from the word itself, which can be divided into “break” and “fast”. This means that your child’s body has been fasting during the night when he is asleep. After this overnight fast, your child needs all the energy in the morning to prepare him for physical and mental activities that will fill the rest of the day.

“Breakfast is the first energy-giver of the day. A good healthy breakfast allows children to concentrate better and be more energetic in school. As breakfast is usually prepared at home, parents have greater control over their kids’ nutritional needs,” said Tracy Lew, Corporation Nutrition Adviser of Nestle Malaysia. “If they do not have enough energy in the morning, they will not be able to concentrate in class or even play with their friends. All they can think about is food when they are hungry during morning classes.

“Breakfast is the first nourishment a kid’s body will receive for the day, so it is essential to prepare a well-balanced breakfast. Primary school-going children need about 1,600 to 2,200kcal of energy each day. The breakfast they eat in the morning should supply one-quarter to one-third of their energy requirements,” said Lew.

“The food from breakfast replenishes your child’s energy. Breakfast need not be very heavy, just enough to last until recess,” said consultant dietitian Mary Easaw-John Mary.

“A balanced diet that provides a variety of foods helps ensure your child receives all the nutrients he needs.”

“Variety is important as the body needs all the essential nutrients to function properly. A single food or group cannot provide all the nutrients a child needs. The more variety you have, the more interesting breakfast can be.”

“A child has different needs from adults,” said Lew. “For example, in comparison to his lower body weight, a child needs more protein than an adult. It’s also important to know how much your child needs to eat in a day so that you don’t prepare too much.”

Achieving the right balance for your child is not difficult once you know what he needs. To have a balanced diet, your child needs a variety of food from all the food groups:
# Carbohydrate like grains and cereals;
# Fruits and vegetables;
# Protein like meat, poultry and fish;
# Milk and dairy products.

Knowing what your child needs makes it easier for you to prepare a healthy and nutritious breakfast for him.

A balanced diet provides essential nutrients such as carbohydrate, protein, essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals for your child’s growth and development.

A word of caution though: Eating more does not mean getting more nutrition. It is important to know what food to give your kids so that they are on the right path to proper nutrition. We need to make informed choices about the food we buy, the meals we prepare and the food our children consume.

Even though we know that breakfast is important for us and our children, a recent study conducted by a team of nutritionists from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia showed otherwise.

Out of 12,000 primary school kids (aged between seven and 12) surveyed, they found out that more than 30% of them skip breakfast, the most important meal of the day. It is not surprising to figure out why children are skipping breakfast, as it is also the same reasons we give when we skip breakfast.

First, waking up early for breakfast is hard to do. And when children wake up late, they don’t have the time for breakfast. Primary schoolkids in the morning session also might not have the appetite to eat.

UKM also found that 77% of the children understood the importance of nutrition and the need for breakfast. However, 48% of the children who skip breakfast said they do not have the time for it, while 30% said they do not have appetite during breakfast.

However, this does not mean that the trend has to continue. Our body converts nutrients in the food to simple forms, which are then absorbed. For example, carbohydrate is converted into glucose. Glucose is then absorbed by our digestive system and transported to body cells to be converted into energy.

“Other than providing energy, food can provide carbohydrate, protein and essential fats,” said Easaw-John. “It also provides different vitamins and minerals and these nutrients are important to the health of your child.”

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