|Eggs would give children their protein portion for breakfast. Parents can include wholemeal bread and some vegetables to ensure kids get proper nutrition and a balanced meal.
By BRIGITTE ROZARIO
Breakfast is still the most important meal of the day. Yet, strangely, about one-third of primary school children from various states around the country surveyed by Nestle and Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia were found to skip breakfast.
Nutritionist Cher Siew Wei who is the Corporate Wellness Manager for Nestle believes that while everyone knows that the first meal of the day is important, not everyone is applying that knowledge to practice.
According to the survey done in 2007-8, about one-third of the children said they skip breakfast or that they never have breakfast. The top three reasons given were that they were not hungry; there wasn't enough time; and they had no appetite.
Those who didn't have breakfast also didn't have milk or a warm drink in the morning.
For this group of children, their first meal would be at recess time at 10am or later.
“Even the children don't have time to have breakfast. It could be because of the lifestyle - people are rushing in the morning to beat the traffic jam. So, the parents are rushing and the kids are also rushing. Nobody seems to have the time,” says Cher.
What to have
She encourages parents to include all three main food groups in every meal including breakfast.
They are: Carbohydrates – the source of energy; try going for whole grain carbohydrates like wholemeal bread or whole wheat noodles or crackers.
Protein – the source of growth and development. It can be tuna or scrambled eggs or cheese or even peanut butter spread (which the kids can even prepare themselves the night before).
Fruits and vegetables – can be added to a sandwich.
If parents don't have enough time in the morning, Cher suggests that they prepare a sandwich the night before and get the child to take it with them to eat in the car or school bus.
Something like scrambled eggs can be prepared overnight and just grabbed from the fridge in the morning.
As for teenagers, they would need more protein than younger children. This is especially so for those going through puberty and in early secondary school, says Cher.
Overall, the principles of good nutrition for children and teenagers would be the same, and even for adults. The difference would be in the amount of protein because of the different levels of physical activity.
What to limit
As for less frequent choices, Cher says fried noodles, nasi lemak, roti canai and sweet cereals should be avoided.
“There are so many types of cereals. We should choose the right one for us based on no colouring and those which are not sugar-coated. And when they have the cereal, it should be with a cup of milk or a chocolate malt drink,” says Cher.
While primary school children are not encouraged to take coffee, there is actually no scientific research to show why children shouldn't drink coffee, claims Cher.
|Cher: 'It's all about the choices to get the right nutrients.'
“It's all about the choices to get the right nutrients rather than why they shouldn't drink coffee. In terms of caffeine, we have no idea whether there is a negative impact or if it's really a no-no for the kids. Therefore, it's hard for me to say that children should really not take coffee.
“It is a stimulant and it depends on the age of the child. I know of some children who start taking coffee when they have their UPSR (Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah) exams coming up as a stimulant to stay awake when studying. Kids now are also quite stressed out, especially during exam time,” she adds.
On the list of foods to be minimised are oily foods, sugary foods, fatty foods (including deep-fried foods) and starchy foods (pies, pastas).
Fast food for breakfast would be too heavy as it is mostly deep-fried, says Cher.
The exception would be pancakes which can be topped up with fruits, if you're eating it at home. But Cher suggests avoiding burgers and hash browns for breakfast.
“It's just a matter of how you combine the meal. Parents need to keep this in mind and they need to teach their kids about the concept of having carbohydrates, proteins and vegetables/fruits.
“This way, every time we have a meal we can visualise the portions,” says Cher.
Here are some easy, fast, nutritious and tasty ideas:
Sandwich – It's very versatile. It can be as simple as a peanut butter sandwich or a cheese sandwich, or a bit more complicated with eggs or tuna and vegetables.
Egg - For kids, it's fine to have an egg a day because it's protein. If you already have an egg which is your protein portion in your meal, you might take a fish or chicken for your other meals. In one day you need 2-3 portions of protein.
Cereal - Any cereal is good as long as it's the whole grain version (for fibre and vitamin content).
For oats, she recommends adding raisins and fruits, instead of sugar, to make it more palatable for children. Parents can even add banana and nuts which children generally seem to like.
“If they really don't have time and just need a hot drink, they can have a glass of warm milk, and prepare them a sandwich which they can eat on the way or at recess time,” advises Cher.
Too heavy or too light
Don't give kids something too heavy for breakfast as it might cause them to fall asleep in class.
“When we say too heavy, it would include foods that are very high in fat content like roti canai or fried noodles. All these foods will take a long time to be digested because of the high fat content and it doesn't really give them a sufficient energy source compared with carbohydrates because at the end of the day carbohydrates is still the preferred source of energy for the body,” says Cher.
Sugary foods will give the children an instant supply of energy and the sugar level will increase and then very quickly it will dip. During the dip, the children will have less energy.
That's when they won't be able to concentrate well in class and they will feel hungry again soon.
She says that parents should also not give kids a breakfast that is too light, as the kids will soon be hungry and won't be able to concentrate in school.
“It's hard for us to define what is too light and how much is too heavy. If we look at breakfast as consisting of 1/3 of our daily calories, then for kids, that should be about 500-600 calories for breakfast. They can have it all at once or even grab a drink first, then have a sandwich later,” informs Cher.
Give them water
She explains that energy is burnt when the body is digesting food and the body also uses a lot of water. So, when we think we feel hungry it could just be the wrong signal being sent; it could actually be that we are dehydrated.
“If you drink more water, the feeling of hunger will be gone,” says Cher.
She stresses the importance of giving children a bottle of water for school.
“When I go out to visit schools, I notice that parents normally don't prepare a bottle of water for their kids. They might just give them money to buy drinks in the canteen. Kids, being kids, will get the sweetened drinks rather than get a bottle of water. So, parents should prepare a bottle of water for their kids as well,” says Cher.
If parents are worried about what the children are buying from the canteen to eat at recess time, then they need to educate and advise their children on how to choose the most nutritious dishes.
“Parents can advise them on what they should eat and what they should have less often rather than forcing them to eat something that you pack daily.
“At the end of the day children also need to learn how to make their own decisions so this is a way to train kids to be more independent,” says Cher.
She suggests parents prepare food for their children to take to school on three of the school days. The other two days, they could give them pocket money to buy food from the canteen.
“When kids see their friends buying food from the canteen, they will also want to buy and eat from there. In a way, this is a good way to develop the child's social skills and independence,” says Cher.
According to Cher, the greatest challenge parents face is in making time to eat together.
“I think this is a problem that everybody has for breakfast and dinner. It's about making time. Parents just need to put in a little bit of effort and a little bit of thought as to how they can make that breakfast more meaningful.
“You can prepare the breakfast the night before and make it a whole family effort by getting the kids involved.
“Setting an example is also important and it could just be something simple like sitting around the dining table for a meal,” she adds.
Having breakfast daily is a habit that needs to be inculcated in children from young and it needs to begin with the family. Children need to see their parents having breakfast daily.
* Milo has organised a Nutrition Movement to educate Malaysian mothers on the importance of children having the right balance of nutrition for breakfast.