December 2, 2019

The Breakfast Rush Hour

Mornings are busy, but kids who regularly eat breakfast average scores that are two letter grades higher than kids who don't. Here's how to make it happen.

Mornings are hectic in most households, and many kids don’t get breakfast before heading off to school. Big mistake. Parents take note: A new study suggests that skipping breakfast can lead to lower scores on standardized tests.

Kids who don’t eat breakfast or, almost as bad, eat something of little nutritional value, not only compromise their school performance, they can become deficient in key nutrients needed for proper growth and development.

Bake some whole grain muffins on the weekends and put them in the freezer. Set them out the night before to thaw. Keep some boiled eggs in the refrigerator.

Nearly 300 teens in the United Kingdom who were in their final two years of secondary school were asked about their breakfast eating habits, standardized test scores, and English and math grades during the 2011-2012 school year by researchers from the University of Leeds. Nearly a third of the students said they rarely or never ate a morning meal before school; 18 percent said they ate it occasionally; and 53 percent reported eating breakfast frequently. Reports from 2019 show similar numbers, finding that 16 percent of students skip breakfast.

When the students' standardized test scores were compared to their to breakfast intake, students who said they ate breakfast frequently scored about 10 points higher on standardized tests than those who said they didn't. Those 10 points came out to a difference of two letter grades when the standardized test scores were converted to letter grades.

“This report provides impressive evidence that eating a healthy breakfast improves a child's educational attainment, which supports our own findings of improvements in a child's concentration in class, readiness to learn, behavior and punctuality,” Nicola Dolton, manager for the National School Breakfast Program in England, said in a statement.

In the U.S., many children get a free breakfast courtesy of the Department of Agriculture‘s School Breakfast Program which assists states with the funds to provide the meals. It currently serves nearly 15 million children with the goal of making breakfast available in all schools where it is needed so students receive adequate nutrition. The program has been shown to improve both test scores and school attendance.

Parents can avoid a rushed morning and up the odds that their kids will eat breakfast each morning if it’s not provided at school by planning ahead. Bake some whole grain muffins on the weekends and put them in the freezer. Set them out the night before to thaw. Keep some boiled eggs in the refrigerator. Cut up some fruit the night before. Set out the cereal boxes, bowls and spoons. Make everyone who is old enough responsible for getting their own breakfast.

The study was published in Frontiers in Public Health.

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