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Good start to the day

DR SHAREEFA

A nutritious breakfast helps increase attention span and provides energy to sustain the child through the day.


Breakfast is an important meal, particularly for children, as it breaks the fast of the sleep hours and prepares them for school and increases their attention span. Recent research provides compelling evidence that malnutrition even in its milder forms can have a detrimental effect on the cognitive development of children. Even short-term nutritional deficiencies influence the child's behaviour, ability to concentrate and to perform complex tasks. Skipping a meal or eating a hurried breakfast can adversely affect the child's problem solving ability.

Breakfast is important

A study was conducted on the impact of different types of breakfast on short-term memory and concentration of 600 Std IV students (9-11yrs) from three different socio-economic groups.

The results showed that children did not have sufficient breakfast on weekdays because of a lack of time. A traditional breakfast is still popular with 50 per cent of the students who eat idli or dosai. Twentyfive per cent of the children belonging to the lower income group (LIG) who skipped breakfast had poor concentration scores when compared to the LIG children who had breakfast.

Among the children who had breakfast, the type of breakfast they had, again made a big difference. Children who had curd rice, dhal rice with a side dish for breakfast scored the maximum in concentration and memory. Children who drank coffee or energy drink or porridge alone for breakfast scored less than the children who had both breakfast and an energy drink. Children who had idli or dosai with sambar performed better than children who had it with sugar or chutney as the former had both protein and carbohydrate and is a well-balanced meal.

The best breakfast is one which has a combination of carbohydrate, protein and fat like idli and sambar; rice and dhal or curd; chapatti with dhal/egg curry; egg sandwiches; poori and potato, and a glass of milk. Breakfast, which provides only carbohydrates like idli and sugar, idiappam and sugar, gives immediate energy but it does not last long.

Say `no' to junk food


Among LIG children, the major cause for low memory and poor concentration is the poor quality and quantity of the breakfast combined with poor nutritional status. Research on the breakfast-cognition relationship in children shows that eating breakfast as opposed to fasting is associated with improvement in short term cognitive functions, specifically cognitive tasks involving memory. The effect tends to be largest in "nutritionally-at-risk" children the morning that follows an overnight fast.

Providing breakfast at school will improve the performance of the children to a great extent. Parents must realise the importance of breakfast and instead of providing biscuit and tea, and can give them idli and sambar or dhal rice for breakfast.

The breakfast need not be expensive but it should provide optimum quantity with all the macronutrients that is carbohydrates, proteins and fat.

Along with the school lunch programme, the government can consider introducing a school breakfast programme for the economically weaker sections.

Parents must provide their children with a nutritious breakfast, as neglect of this head start meal will slow down their children academically. Some parents are over-ambitious and over feed their children. A heavy breakfast will make a child drowsy and he will not be able to concentrate in school. Inclusion of iron-rich food for breakfast is not necessary as it can be included in another meal. Improved iron status will enhance memory and concentration whereas consuming iron rich food for breakfast will not boost the memory on the same day like carbohydrate-rich food. If due to unavoidable circumstances a child is not able to eat breakfast, nutritious snacks is an alternative. Breakfast is an essential meal, which enhances the child's memory, concentration and overall school performance. Traditional food is better than processed, junk food or memory boosters.

  • A breakfast with items like pongal, dosai, idli, kitchadi, chapathi with dhal, ragi adai, ragi dosai are ideal. If possible, a banana or guava may be included.

  • Snacks like groundnut chikki, or roasted groundnut, roasted bengal gram dhal, puffed rice mixture or any other mixture, muruku are nutritious. These are better than chips.

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