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Breakfast and children, expert advice

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Breakfast and children, expert advice

“From an early age to adolescence, the first meal in the morning should never be skipped: consuming an adequate breakfast is in fact essential to avoid lowering glycemic levels and not feeling that sense of hunger throughout the morning, which causes voracity and greater absorption of what is eaten. Numerous scientific studies have also established that in children there is a direct relationship between the consumption of a complete and balanced breakfast and the ability to concentrate at school, learning, mood and memory”.

This is confirmed by “A scuola di salute” of the Bambino Gesù Pediatric Hospital, a point of reference in Italy for nutritional education for the youngest, which in collaboration with “Io Commincio bene” (www.iocominciobene.it) – the initiative launched by the Italian Food Union to support the value of breakfast in Italy – wanted to reiterate the centrality of a meal like breakfast, which is too often underestimated, in children’s nutrition.

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Inadequate breakfast for one in three children

In Italy, around 9 out of 10 people say they eat breakfast in the morning, but it also appears that 1 in 10 children skips it and 1 in 3 eats an inappropriate or too fast meal. “For children – explains Dr Giuseppe Morino, Pediatrician Dietitian of the Bambino Gesù Children’s Hospital – skipping breakfast is due to lack of appetite in the morning or being in a hurry. When you don’t feel hungry when you wake up, the reason can be found in an unbalanced dinner or one eaten too late, or in poor and poor quality sleep. The remedy that parents can adopt in these cases is to offer their children a balanced dinner and send them to sleep at a time appropriate to their age.”

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The repercussions on the body and mind

Skipping breakfast, in fact, exposes children to a greater risk of vitamin deficiency, as well as having contraindications such as weight gain and irritability. The repercussions on body and mind and the short and long-term effects of this incorrect habit are multiple: not only is school performance reduced, but hunger for the morning snack also increases, which often becomes excessive and with a high load of carbohydrates.

Several scientific studies have shown that those who skip breakfast tend to have high cholesterol and triglycerides. In a recent meta analysis (based on 9 cohort studies), it was confirmed that skipping breakfast increases the risk of overweight/obesity; in fact, the longer the fasting time (overnight), the greater the concentration of ghrelin that is formed, i.e. the peptide hormone that stimulates hunger. A further study reported, among the adverse effects of skipping breakfast, higher levels of insulin and free fatty acids after lunch, increased hunger and reduced satiety.

“Eating breakfast – confirms Morino – is also useful for regulating appetite and can improve the response to blood sugar and increase insulin sensitivity in the following meal”.

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A bad habit that continues into adulthood

Numerous studies conducted by the ISS have highlighted how skipping breakfast even as children can persist as an incorrect practice even in adulthood: in fact, it is during childhood that the main habits are built, which we will no longer be able to do without as adults and which will be difficult to change over time.

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How to entice children

“To encourage children to have breakfast every day – advises Morino – it is important to make an effort to make it become ‘a family meal’. Sit down together in the morning, when possible; set a beautifully laid and colorful table; vary the morning menu in based on the tastes of all members of the family unit, preferring bread, cereals or baked goods, biscuits or rusks, with honey, jam or cocoa and hazelnut spread; combining milk, yoghurt or plant-based drinks. For lovers savory, even ricotta or eggs”.

Foods that shouldn’t be missed

But what are the foods that should never be missing from a child’s breakfast? “A correct diet – explains Morino – involves the consumption of a complete meal in the morning, consisting of a liquid part (usually milk, but for those who don’t like or tolerate it, plant-based drinks are also a good alternative) and a solid part (generally consisting of baked goods, cereals, biscuits, rusks, bread, etc.). The quantities consumed must vary in relation to age, providing for a caloric intake of approximately 20% of all calories consumed daily”.

Some menus for different age groups

Below are some examples of menus indicated for the nutritional needs of the different age groups: for the 4-6 year age group: whole cow’s milk or plant-based drinks 200 ml, 3 biscuits or 30 g of cereals or 3 rusks, or bread with butter and jam or spreads 40 g + 5 g + 5 g; for the 7-10 year age group: 125 g of yogurt (or alternatively 200 ml milk or vegetable drinks), 40 g of cereals or a snack (even wholemeal) or bread and jam 50 g and 1 fruit; for the 11-14 year age group: cow’s milk or plant-based drinks 200 ml, bread 70 g with jam or hazelnut and cocoa spread 20 g, or cereals 50 g, or 5 rusks or 5 biscuits and fresh fruit 150 g.

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The benefits of a right breakfast

Especially in pediatric age, consuming an adequate breakfast is good because: it is the most important meal of the day and the first step in adopting a healthy eating style; it allows you not to arrive “exhausted” and sleepy at school; provides an extraordinary boost of energy; stimulates brain activity and ensures greater concentration; prevents the risk of diabetes and obesity in adulthood, helping to maintain constant glycemic and consequently insulinemic levels; improves mood; protects the heart, as it tends to be associated with lower levels of blood fats/cholesterol and triglycerides; stimulates the metabolism; increases cardiovascular well-being; helps you eat less during the day.

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