Breakfast for Better Grades

Melanie Dwornik, M.A., R.D., Nutrition and Health Communications Manager, Dole Nutrition Institute

In a study published in Public Health Nutrition, researchers from the U.K. questioned about 4,500 students in Wales ages nine to 11 years about the foods they ate in one day and whether or not they ate breakfast. Researchers then linked children’s dietary information to their standardized test scores. Eating breakfast was associated with higher test scores, and the best academic performance came after eating healthy foods like fresh fruit. This could have to do with glycemic index, the rate at which sugar is released from the blood. Breakfast foods with a lower glycemic index have more fiber (think a sweet bowl of berries instead of a donut) and release energy more steadily throughout the morning, which could have a positive effect on cognitive functioning.

An empty stomach is no way to start the school day, and eating breakfast can bring more than just good grades. A 2014 study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found eating a nutritious breakfast can play a role in maintaining a healthy BMI as well as help with meeting daily nutrient requirements and achieving overall health.

Anything is better than nothing on the breakfast table, but starting the day with nutritious food can be convenient for parents and fun for kids with these simple tricks:

  • Do the work the night before and have a portable breakfast waiting in the morning. In a jar, combine ½ cup rolled oats with 1 cup almond milk and place in the refrigerator overnight. Add cinnamon, fresh fruit, chopped nuts or honey to taste.

  • Pre-portion cut fruit into plastic baggies and keep in the freezer to make for speedy smoothie assembly. Try one banana, one cup of berries and one cup of pineapple per pack and blend with one cup of liquid (like almond milk, yogurt or water) when you’re ready for breakfast.

The importance of the National School Breakfast Program cannot be overstated. Studies consistently show that children who start the day with a nutritious breakfast are more likely to perform better in school and build lifelong healthy eating habits. Children who eat school breakfast show increased concentration and class participation, improved test scores, and fewer absences and discipline issues. Eating breakfast also protects against obesity and other negative health outcomes.

Hungry learners

For too many families, however, there are obstacles to providing a healthy morning meal each day. Tight household budgets and busy morning schedules can mean that many students arrive at school hungry and not ready to learn. The School Breakfast Program plays a crucial role in filling this void for millions of low-income children every school day, and in ensuring all students have the opportunity to excel in the classroom.

The Food Research & Action Center’s annual School Breakfast Scorecard reveals that on an average school day, 12.2 million low-income children participated in the School Breakfast Program during the 2016–2017 school year. Progress is being made, but still too many low-income children are missing out on the most important meal of the day — the report finds that just over half of the low-income children who participated in school lunch also participated in school breakfast.

Improving circumstances

Community eligibility, a program that has allowed over 20,000 high-poverty schools to offer free breakfast to all students, and breakfast after the bell programs, such as breakfast in the classroom, that move breakfast out of the cafeteria and after the first bell, have been instrumental in increasing school breakfast participation. These proven strategies overcome barriers of timing, convenience, and stigma associated with school breakfast as being before school, in the cafeteria, and only for low-income children. As more schools adopt these best practices, more children will participate in school breakfast.