Monday, April 29, 2013

Do Kids Need Breakfast?

It is an accepted tenet that children must have a healthy breakfast, "healthy" for most kids being a bowl of sugar-coated cereal fortified with vitamins and minerals, but is it really necessary? While it's true that children, like other small, hyperactive mammals, have a faster metabolism and need to eat more frequently, children ought to have better access to fat stores than adults who've been abusing their bodies with sugar and processed carbs for years and years. It would be interesting to test my kid's blood glucose every hour for a day to see how well his body regulates glucose but he's not down with that for some reason.

There is, of course, a mountain of "evidence" that shows that children who eat breakfast have higher IQs, better memory, etc etc etc. A Google search for "children score better breakfast" turns up 23 million hits with this vapid NPR article as the number one hit.
Evidence suggests that eating breakfast really does help kids learn. After fasting all night, a developing body (and brain) needs a fresh supply of glucose — or blood sugar. That's the brain's basic fuel.

"Without glucose," explains Terrill Bravender, professor of pediatrics at Duke University, "our brain simply doesn't operate as well. People have difficulty understanding new information, [they have a] problem with visual and spatial understanding, and they don't remember things as well."

Dozens of studies from as far back as the 1950s have consistently shown that children who eat breakfast perform better academically than those who don't. In a recent study of 4,000 elementary school students, researchers measured the effects of eating breakfast by administering a battery of attention tests. To measure short-term memory, researchers read a series of digits out loud — 5, 4, 2 and so on — and asked the children to repeat them. The children were scored on how many digits they could remember correctly. To test verbal fluency, the kids were asked to name all the animals they could think of in 60 seconds. Across the board, Murphy says, the breakfast eaters performed better than those children who had skipped breakfast.
Actually, Terrill, without glucose, our brain doesn't operate at all.

This is all about as interesting to me as studies that correlate the number of books a kid has at home, or the inverse number of televisions with IQ and achievement. Pssst: it's not the number of books, or TVs, it's the parents who bought or didn't buy those books and TVs, more importantly, it's the genes those parents passed along to their children that really matter. The same article goes on to recommend oatmeal with the same amount of sugar as Cap'n'Crunch as the optimal breakfast because of it's allegedly low glycemic index, that it's high in fiber, blah blah.

This is not to say that kids, especially elementary school children and younger function just as well without a breakfast of some sort--but they might. Kids with access to fat stores might be just as well off and are almost certainly much better off in the long run than kids who have to have their morning dose of sugary cereal doused in low-fat milk, AKA lactose water.

Infants eat every two hours or so, and while children should probably eat more often than adults, by toddlerhood they ought to be well beyond a two hour feeding window. As Neal Matheson and I were discussing in the comments a while back, it seems ridiculous to have to bring snacks to the playground, snacks which are almost invariably crappish in nature, as if a kid can't go down a slide for ten minutes without eating or descending into a hypoglycemic coma. But ever ready plastic baggies of Cheetos and other toxic waste are becoming the norm in many playgrounds as vigilant parents guard against the threat of such comas.

My kid typically just has a glass of chocolate milk in the morning (some hot water, raw Dutch cocoa, smidgen of sugar, mix to paste, add whole milk and cream, microwave for 20 seconds), which he typically doesn't finish, but he seems to do get along just fine with that. I'd be lying if I said this didn't have a lot to do with time constraints, but is similar to my wife and I's breakfast of coffee and heavy cream which often lasts through till dinnertime. We go through a lot of heavy cream and would buy it by the liter if it was available as such at the local shops.

So how do I break a kid's fast when hot chocolate isn't enough? Breakfast cereals are, not surprisingly, verboten around Chez Sean. Krupičky or porridge from farina (AKA Cream of Wheat) cooked in whole milk is pretty quick and easy and healthier than a bowl of water cooked oatmeal. One cup (225 ml) milk, 1 1/2 Tbs farina, some raw cocoa, a smidgen of Nutella. Here's a pic of this morning's remains:

Oh wait, that's a kid demanding breakfast, or more likely just trying to stay home from school. Here's a pic of some leftovers:

Another breakfast I consider to be relatively healthy and kid-friendly, but is more of a weekend thing, is crêpes. 1/3 cup of flour (actually somewhat less), 1 egg, 1/3 cup milk (or milk mixed with cream), and the pièce de résistance, a healthy dollop of coconut oil. Also some raw cocoa and a smidgen of sugar or honey can be added. These tend to turn out thicker than classic crêpes depending on what's thrown in the mix. They are relatively easy to make and clean up.

Not that I have a problem with a proper British fry-up, but it's hard enough to get decent bacon here in Prague, much less decent sausages or breakfast sausage. I did mess around with grinding and spicing my own pork to make breakfast sausage but it's something I'm too lazy to bother with on a regular basis.

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