Dear teenagers who skip breakfast… please stop! Studies report that about 25 percent of U.S. teens deem the first meal of the day unnecessary. I live with one of you, so I have heard your reasons. And I respect them, truly I do.
First of all, you are tired. I mean, really, really tired. Too tired to eat, in fact. You are growing like a weed, your homework and extracurricular activities are endless, and your internal clock is shifting — so you naturally stay up later. When you are so fatigued in the morning, the idea of eating breakfast is unappealing. You genuinely are not hungry, and some of you might actually feel nauseated.
Many of you choose to model yourself after your parents, who chug coffee, and coffee alone, in the morning. It’s not your fault.
Others think you can maintain or lose weight by skipping breakfast.
I understand this reasoning: I was a teenager once. But could you please take a few minutes to hear me out? Because skipping breakfast potentially positions you to gain weight, lower your test scores and develop heart disease. Yes, seriously.
Test scores of children who do not eat breakfast are generally lower than those who eat a well-balanced meal. Children who eat breakfast show improved academic performance, longer attention spans, greater attendance and decreased hyperactivity in school. So if you find yourself unable to focus in a class, think back to what you ate that morning. The reality might be that your teacher isn’t so boring after all.
You are growing at lightning speed, and your brain and body are built out of the foods you choose to consume.
And eating breakfast has a proven relationship to what those foods are. Studies show that kids who do not eat a nutritious breakfast tend to eat more junk food during the day, whereas children who eat breakfast have better overall diets that include more vegetables, fruits and other good foods. Four out of five children do not get enough vitamins and minerals from lunch and dinner alone (especially iron, which is important for energy and blood health). They need the nutrients from a nutritious breakfast to properly grow.
Kids, look at it this way: You get only one shot at this childhood growth thing, so don’t mess it up.
Skipping breakfast can make you tired, irritable and restless. The word “hangry” didn’t secure a spot in the dictionary for no reason; it is a legitimate sensation.
Breakfast is more important to your body than any other meal, because the time between dinner and breakfast tends to be the longest. Eating within two hours of waking can positively affect how your body metabolizes glucose, therefore stabilizing your blood sugar for the day. Stabilized blood sugar contributes to steady energy, fewer crashes and cravings, and a smaller chance of developing heart disease, obesity and diabetes.
Breakfast eaters tend to be more active throughout the day and less likely to be obese, so perhaps skipping breakfast, and wreaking havoc with your blood sugar, isn’t such a great tactic to lose weight.
Coffee is not breakfast, no matter what your parents claim. Adult brains are better than children’s at adapting to lack of food and other stressors, so your parents might be able to muddle through on a caffeine high, but you really can’t.
Go ahead, roll your eyes and tell me you’ve heard it all before, but I know you are smarter than our culture sometimes gives your age group credit for. So please humor me, and try some of these tactics to squeeze in a bite before school:
- Stock your fridge with to-go breakfast options, such as Greek yogurt, low-sugar granola bars, hard-boiled eggs, trail mix, peanut butter and banana sandwiches, fruit or beef jerky.
- Pack a breakfast to enjoy later in the morning, after your ride to school or your first period, when hunger has had a chance to strike.
- Sip a smoothie — cold liquid might be more appealing and more refreshing when you are too tired to chew.
- Plan the next day’s breakfast the night before so you don’t waste any brain power on it in the morning. Ask your parents to help have it at the ready.
- Go to bed 30 minutes earlier, so you aren’t as tired in the morning.
- Get up 10 minutes earlier, so your body has more time to wake up and become hungry.
Casey Seidenberg is co-founder of Nourish Schools, a Washington, D.C.-based nutrition education company, and co-author of a collection of healthful recipes and advice.