By Lela Rabie (previously also published in Natural Medicine magazine)
Getting oneself out of bed and nutritiously nourished before rushing off to work is quite a feat, add children to the mix and it becomes a small daily miracle! Most households are pressed for time in the morning but instead of skipping breakfast yourself so you have the time to make theirs, take a look at some of the suggestions below and prepare for easy, or at least, easier mornings.
There are a myriad of things we’d like our children to be able to do at school but at the very least we want them to become even more intelligent than they already are and in order to do so, we want them to stay awake. Thus, food to feed their brain and keep up their energy levels is what we’d be looking for in a breakfast. Below follow a few breakfast friendly suggestions:
Eggs contain choline which is necessary for brain development, they are also a good source of protein. Serve them as a hot breakfast by poaching, scrambling or boiling them. Soft boiled eggs with rye toast fingers used to be one of my favourite breakfasts as a child. If your child is gluten intolerant try a gluten-free bread or rice cakes broken into quarters for easy dipping.
This isn’t really a traditional South African breakfast food but it should be! Salmon is high in omega 3 essential fatty acids DHA and EPA which are necessary for normal brain growth and function. Try adding salmon in small slivers to scrambled eggs in order to introduce children to its taste gradually, or serve it on a wholewheat, rye or pumpernickel toasted bagel with a smattering of real butter as an unexpected breakfast treat for those who have already grown to love it.
Packed with nutrients, peanut butter contains good amounts of Vitamin E, an anti-oxidant (the good guys which help us develop immunity) that protects the nervous membranes. It is also a source of thiamine, which assists the brain and nervous system in converting glucose to energy. Use peanut butter to add peanut punch to smoothies or spread some on toast for those mornings when the clock has a mind of its own.
Oats are probably one of the most versatile breakfast foods and there are few of us who don’t have at least one memory of a steaming bowl of oats for breakfast in Winter. They are a source of Vitamin E as well as providing good levels of B vitamins (the energy vitamins), potassium and zinc to help the brain and body function at an optimum level. The high fibre content in oats means that they are an excellent food for sustained energy release and so keeping childrens blood sugar levels even throughout the morning. Serve oats as porridge or make your own muesli on the weekend by mixing a few cups of oats with a variety of nuts and dried fruits, this can then be stored and eaten as cold cereal during the week. Soaking muesli overnight and eating it with yoghurt instead of milk will help with digestion. For lactose intolerant children, soya or rice milk or even apple juice, are good alternatives.
Berries such as strawberries, blueberries and cherries contain powerful anti-oxidants and are easy to freeze, making them ideal for use in smoothies or fruit purees when fresh fruit is not available. When you are lucky enough to find fresh berries, use them with wild abandon in fruit salads, with yoghurt or as a topping for scones or mini pancakes when you have a work-from-home day and can spare the extra time in the kitchen.
Rich in protein and B vitamins, yoghurt is a great energy food. B vitamins are also essential for the growth of brain tissue so it rates in the brain food category also. Added to that, it is a good source of digestion friendly bacteria, helping our young Einsteins to remain smart and regular. Yoghurt is the perfect on-the-run food and it can be turned into a superb breakfast by mixing it with a teaspoon or two of flaxseed oil(another good source of Omega 3 essential fatty acid) and some fresh fruit.
All day energy.
In order to provide our children with more than enough energy for their day it is important that we give them foods which promote sustained energy production, rather than quick fixes which can cause blood sugar, and thus, energy, dips. One of the ways to do this is to ensure that breakfast consists of low GI foods. GI or Glycaemic index is a measurement of how quickly the sugar from a particular food enters the brain cells and other cells of the body. High GI foods such as donuts, sugary cereals, chocolate or white bread, release their sugars quickly, causing a fast rise in blood sugar levels. This may provide a feeling of ‘instant’ energy which will unfortunately disappear as soon as the sugar is used up by the body. This will then lead to a drop in blood sugar levels , causing the person to feel even more tired than before. Low GI foods such as wholegrains, whole fruits, oats and yoghurt release their sugars more slowly, giving the body a sustained sugar supply and so keeping the blood sugar at a balanced level without sudden peaks and lows.
When preparing a nutritious breakfast, another aspect to keep in mind is the protein content of different foods. Proteins provide amino acids, from which neurotransmitters are made. Neurotransmitters are biochemical messengers which carry signals from one brain cell to another. Two of these amino acids are tryptophan and tyrosine. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid, meaning our body cannot manufacture it so we need to get it from food while tyrosine can be manufactured by the body. These two amino acids influence four different neurotransmitters, namely serotonin (influenced by tryptophan) and dopamine, epinephrine and norepinephrine(influenced by tyrosine). The first of these, serotonin, calms the brain and its production is boosted by foods high in carbohydrates, whilst the other three, excite the brain, making it more alert. The production of these last three neurotransmitters is boosted by eating foods high in protein such as yoghurt, tuna, turkey and eggs.1 Thus, including foods with a good protein content at breakfast can help to keep children more alert and energized.
Whichever of the above foods you choose to use to create your breakfast miracles, no breakfast will be complete without the most essential magic ingredient: parental love. Add in extra large doses and enjoy the benefits of those extra special hugs!
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