Breakfast on the Brain: Why it Matters

Did your mother ever tell you, “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day,” like mine always did? I used to roll my eyes at her, but the fact is, my family was fortunate that she was right. We enjoyed fresh, balanced breakfasts every day. My mother even prepared nutrient-packed snacks for us to eat when we were out and about. Even though we didn’t know it then, her efforts every morning helped set us up to succeed, giving our brains the fuel they needed to learn. Many kids today aren’t so lucky.

As we all know, it’s not easy to pull together a perfectly balanced breakfast every morning — let alone get the kids to eat it. We’re busy trying to get them ready for school and ourselves ready for work, and the battle can seem like more trouble than it’s worth. But as frazzled as we feel as parents, our kids are facing hectic and demanding schedules as well. We need to make sure they have what they need to successfully face the day.

Why Breakfast Matters

Did you know that 20 percent of our daily calories are used just for thinking? That means a good breakfast can make the difference between a brain that is ready and able to learn and one that gets off to a sluggish start. Eating breakfast can also make a difference in school performance. Studies show that kids who eat breakfast have fewer disciplinary referrals, fewer missed days of school, fewer visits to the school nurse, better attention spans and better test scores (by almost 18 percent!). These facts are pretty powerful, but most people don’t know them.

In part, this is why schools often provide morning meals to students. Not eating overnight means that the brain needs fuel in the morning before it can be prepared to learn. But because some schools don’t yet offer breakfast programs or because students don’t have transportation that helps them get to school early enough to eat, only about 1 in every 3 kids who are eligible for school breakfasts actually receive them.

What Can You Do?

Breakfast matters. Start making breakfast a priority in your household and at your school. Take the extra time at home to prepare food for your children. Make it the night before or choose quick, healthy options such as cereal, fruit and milk. Look into school meal options in your district and ask about efforts to provide breakfast. Support breakfast in the classroom, grab and go options or breakfast after first period if your school currently doesn’t have any options. Every child should have the fuel they need to be a good student. We can help provide them with the food they need to succeed. For more information on Ohio’s School Breakfast Challenge and what you can do to help every child have the best start to their day, visit


Elizabeth Zmuda, DO
Elizabeth Zmuda, DO, completed her residency at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in 2008. She currently works in the Department of Emergency Medicine, Urgent Care at Nationwide Children’s. She has a special interest in school health and nutrition and participates in advocacy in this area through the AAP where she co-chairs the Home and School Health Committee and is a co-medical director for the PMP program. She is also the mother of four young children, Ryan, Emily, Jonathan, and Katherine. Dr. Zmuda loves her job because she feels that her experiences with her children make her a better pediatrician, and her experiences at work make her a better mom.

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