Nutritious breakfast during exam periods
Are you a morning person?
Are you a breakfast eater?
Debates about the importance of eating breakfast is ongoing, and therefore sometimes confusing. Some people swear by skipping breakfast, some say it's the most important meal of the day. These are opinions. Let's stick with the facts, shall we?
Research shows a few things, in no particular order:
our brain uses glucose as the main fuel (around 20% of the overall consumption)
breakfast eaters are more health-seeking individuals
protein-rich food will keep you fuller longer
the Mediterranian-style diet has proven to be the healthiest way of eating.
We know all these AND we have a child who's taking exams almost every day for a month, mainly in the mornings, so what do we do?
I used to think that certain foods are for certain meals of the day but in reality it doesn't matter when you eat the oats, porridge is porridge at 3pm and food does the same thing no matter what time you eat it.
What's the aim with a (possibly) grumpy, slightly nervous, maybe tired teenager in the morning?
give them slow-release energy
try to keep them satiated whilst taking exams without the feeling of a heavy tummy
provide nutrient-dense, delicious food
make them smile (that might be tricky)
fuel the brain
Which food might help them focus?
Apart from natural sugar content, fruit also contains fibre that either attracts water (soluble fibre) or adds roughage to the gut (insoluble fibre). Fibre helps glucose level to slow down therefore energy will be better balanced within the body. Raspberry, banana, blueberry, pears are good options. Sprinkle on top of your breakfast oats or granola.
Omega 3 fatty acid is important for brain power. If your child is more of a savoury person, try to include smoked salmon, avocado and extra virgin olive oil. Nuts and seeds are great source of fibreous, healthy fats; sprinkle that magic on everything... they also make food look posh.
Apart from meat, dairy is an excellent source of protein. My go-to breakfast is overnight oats. I'm not keen on hot food in the morning. I use almond or coconut milk and often add 1 or 2 tablespoon of Greek yoghurt (highest in protein of all yoghurts) for two reasons:
1 - added protein (plant-based milk has very little protein content if any)
2 - texture; it makes everything thicker and creamier. Having said that, if that's not how you like it, don't put yoghurt in it.
You can also try Greek yoghurt with granola and fruits, cottage cheese or Quark with fruit and honey (yes, I said it! When shall we give some sweetness to them if not during times they need to concentrate?)
The mindset I often recommend is 80/20.
This is a friendly, mindful, sustainable and relaxed way of thinking about most things we do. If you get your nutritions 80% right, we can allow 20% freedom. Translating that into teenage terms, if we provide them 80% of nutritious, healthy breakfast with all the goodness of protein, fibrous fruit and slow release, low GI carbohydrates then let's allow them to be kids and enjoy the odd sweets or a teaspoon of chocolate spread in their porridge. Yepp, I said it! It's not a sin, it's called BALANCE. After all, it would be unrealistic to think that our kids/teenagers won't eat the odd gummy bears or chocolate bars (I didn't but I'm a bit weird and don't have a sweet tooth). Exam time is when we need them to be focused and happy because when we are happy, we achieve (Adolphus K, Lawton CL, Dye L. The effects of breakfast on behavior and academic performance in children and adolescents. Front Hum Neurosci. 2013 Aug 8;7:425. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2013.00425. PMID: 23964220; PMCID: PMC3737458.) Our children are no different.
By clicking the link below you'll see 4 of my favourite, kid-friendly breakfast ideas. Give them a go, I hope you all enjoy them and if you have any further questions about healthy, balanced diet for you or your children, please do not hesitate to get in touch.
Adolphus K, Lawton CL, Dye L. The effects of breakfast on behavior and academic performance in children and adolescents. Front Hum Neurosci. 2013 Aug 8;7:425. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2013.00425. PMID: 23964220; PMCID: PMC3737458.
Benton D., Maconie A., Williams C. (2007). The influence of the glycaemic load of breakfast on the behaviour of children in school. Physiol. Behav. 92, 717–724 10.1016/j.physbeh.2007.05.065
Chen, J., Cheng, J., Liu, Y. et al. Associations between breakfast eating habits and health-promoting lifestyle, suboptimal health status in Southern China: a population based, cross sectional study. J Transl Med12, 348 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12967-014-0348-1