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Breakfast for Learning: Why the Morning Meal Matters

Maybe your teen snoozed through their alarm and doesn't have time for breakfast. Or too many things went wrong to get your kids fed before they left for school. Maybe your child flat-out refuses to eat breakfast.

It's not unusual to miss breakfast occasionally. But if it becomes the norm, your child is missing out on multiple benefits for their health, well-being and even their school performance.

Why some kids skip breakfast

As the first meal, breakfast gives kids energy to start the day. Despite this, 13% of school-aged kids skip breakfast. This number jumps to more than 27%, on average, for adolescents aged 12 to 19 years. Females start skipping breakfast earlier than males, and skip more regularly.

Kids of all ages have all kinds of excuses for skipping breakfast. Some are selective eaters. Others don't like traditional breakfast foods. And some kids may skip the morning meal in an attempt to avoid weight gain. Many older teens are busy until late into the night with homework, extracurricular activities and part-time jobs. They go to bed late, then get up and rush off to school, leaving no time to eat.

Biology makes this even more complex, as a growing teen's circadian rhythm shifts. It's even natural for teens to be unable to fall asleep until 11 p.m. or midnight. They then wake up later in the morning, a schedule that often doesn't match what's set by schools. Most sleep-deprived kids would rather snooze an extra 15 minutes then get up for a bowl of cereal. In addition, when kids don't get enough sleep, they may wake up too tired or too nauseous to eat.

6 tips to make breakfast easier & healthier

Any effort to make breakfast nutritious is better than no breakfast at all. Here are some ways you can make breakfast a healthy part of your child's day.

1. Set an earlier bedtime

Make sure your child gets to bed early enough to get up in time to eat breakfast. Sleep is a crucial ingredient in children's overall health, no matter their age.

2. Eat breakfast together as a family when possible

Ideally, the whole family can sit down together for breakfast. Research suggests that families that eat together tend to eat healthier. It also gives parents the chance to act as role models in terms of nutrition and eating behaviors.

That said, a leisurely breakfast with your kids each morning probably isn't realistic for most families. It is realistic though to make sure you carve out enough time to allow your child to eat without pressure. This is especially important for infants and toddlers. Be sure to leave enough time in your morning for both assisted- and self-feeding.

3. Think outside the (cereal) box

You don't need to be limited by labels to decide what's good to serve for a morning meal. Think protein, think fruits and vegetables, and think creatively.

For instance, if your child doesn't like the typical breakfast foods like eggs, toast, or cereal, try these options:

  • Frozen banana: Dip a banana in yogurt. Roll it in crushed cereal and freeze.

  • Milkshake: Combine milk, fruit and ice in a blender.

  • Peanut butter breakfast: Spread peanut butter on whole-wheat crackers, apple slices, a tortilla or jicama slices.

  • Leftovers: Serve what's left of last night's meal. Good choices include chicken or whole-wheat spaghetti.

4. Prepare breakfast the night before

In other words, plan ahead. This can go a long way toward having a wider range of healthy foods on hand.

For example, to fix breakfast the night before, you can:

  • Hard-boiled eggs

  • Slice up fresh fruit

  • Have your child's favorite cold cereal dished out

  • Bake muffins and divide them into serving sizes

5. Have grab-and-go foods available

A sit-down breakfast made up of the four basic food groups is best. But if that doesn't work, having quick breakfast foods available for your child to grab and eat on the way to school is the next best thing. Good options include:

  • Hard-boiled eggs

  • Homemade muffins

  • Yogurt

  • Granola bars

  • Dry cereal

  • Energy bars

  • Fresh or dried fruit

  • A bagel with low-fat cream cheese

Though your teen may love them, skip coffee and energy drinks. The craving for a quick pick-me-up is certainly understandable. But caffeine raises blood pressure and heart rate in teens. Milk is an ideal beverage for a child or teen to drink at breakfast because it contains protein and other nutrients. The protein will help prevent your child or teen from feeling hungry later.

6. Look into childcare and school breakfasts.

Be sure to check out what breakfast options your child's school or childcare provider offers. Most schools have breakfast available. And studies show that eating breakfast at school has many advantages.

For example, kids perform even better on standardized tests than those who skip it or eat breakfast at home. This may be because they're eating closer to test time. Kids who eat breakfast at school also have improved attendance, behavior and academic performance. They're tardy less often and their math scores are higher.

Ready-to-eat breakfast cereals: read the label

Be sure to read cereal nutrition labels. Prioritize whole grain cereals, which are higher in micronutrients than refined grains. Sweetened cereal often has a lot of added sugar. Look for cereals with less than 10 to 12 grams of sugar. They should also have at least 3 grams of fiber per serving. Try adding sliced bananas, peaches, blueberries or strawberries to sweeten it up.

The benefits of breakfast for students
Experts agree that getting kids to eat breakfast is important. Breakfast has been associated with many benefits, including:

Healthier body weight

Weight gain and obesity are a major public health concern. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 21% of 6- to 12-year-olds and more than 22% of adolescents aged 12 to 19 have obesity. Obesity can lead to serious health problems such as diabetes, breathing issues, joint problems and heart disease.

A 2019 review of studies in the journal Nutrients found that children and adolescents who don't eat breakfast are more likely to be or become overweight or obese. This may be partly because many kids who skip breakfast tend to eat unhealthy foods later in the day.

Eating breakfast gets your child's metabolism going. This means their body starts to burn calories. Breakfast also makes it less likely that they'll overeat later in the day because they're hungry from not eating breakfast.

Better memory, attention & test scores

Studies show that eating breakfast positively affects school performance. They have better concentration and more energy."

Research findings include:

  • Kids who eat breakfast the morning before a standardized test have significantly higher scores in math, spelling and reading than those who don't.

  • Breakfast eaters have better brain function, memory and attention.

  • Eating breakfast improves kids' performance on vocabulary tests, math problems and challenging mental tasks. It also helps them deal better with frustration.

Better overall nutrition & health

Kids who skip breakfast seem to be more likely to develop metabolic conditions such as high blood sugar, increased blood sugar, abnormal cholesterol levels and extra fat in the waist. These conditions increase the risk of diabetes, stroke and heart disease.

Children who eat breakfast are in better health overall. This may be due to the types of food that are typically eaten. Breakfast gives you the opportunity to bolster your child with some key nutrients they may miss out on the rest of the day, including:


Breakfast is a great time to consume fiber in the form of whole-grain cereals and breads. Fiber can help with weight control and constipation. It also helps prevent heart disease and diabetes and lowers the risk of certain types of cancer.

Calcium & vitamin D

Breakfast is also a good way to feed your child bone-building calcium and vitamin D. Kids enter their peak bone-building years in adolescence. They continue building bone into their early 20s. Vitamin D may also boost immunity and help keep depression at bay.

The best way to get vitamin D is from foods. Foods such as breakfast cereals, milk and yogurt are fortified with vitamin D — all perfect for the morning meal. Eggs and fatty fish such as salmon are great sources too.


If you have any questions or concerns about your child's diet and health, talk with your pediatrician.

More information

Last Updated
American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition (Copyright © 2023)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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