The Brain on Breakfast

by Elizabeth Zmuda DO

I remember hearing my mother’s words echo in my head, “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day!”

She would get an eye roll from the four of us, who would sit down at the table to a freshly prepared, balanced breakfast. We clearly had no idea the impact of the little things that she did to set us up for success.

As we got older, she remained prepared, making nutrient packed food that we could eat on the run. My mother was way ahead of her times, and we were lucky enough to start every day with a brain that was fueled and ready to learn.

Many children today, aren’t as lucky

Let’s face it, families today are very busy, and it isn’t easy to get kids to eat breakfast. Many families are functioning with working parents who are also trying to get themselves ready in the morning, and quite frankly, just don’t have the fight in them.

I feel that struggle myself, after a late night at work, few hours of sleep, and an early start with the kids. However, our kids are also maintaining very busy schedules, and it is important to make sure that their brains are prepared to handle the daily challenges that they face.

With 20% of our daily calories being required for thinking, how can we send our kids off unprepared to school? The reality is that many children just aren’t getting the breakfast that they need, either because of availability or time.

As a result, many have turned the focus to schools as a place where kids can consistently receive meals.

The benefits of breakfast are well known

Eating breakfast has been associated with fewer disciplinary referrals, better attendance, fewer visits to the school nurse, better attention, and it has even been shown that students who eat breakfast score 17.5% higher on standardized tests.

It is hard to think of another intervention that is more powerful, but despite these efforts, still only about 1/3 of the kids that are eligible for school breakfast receive it.

Statistically, one in five US Children is food insecure, which means that they don’t always know when they will have their next meal. These children frequently don’t eat breakfast, often due to the fact that their school doesn’t serve breakfast, or because they lack the transportation to get them to school early for breakfast.

For most children, the overnight fast is the longest time period that they endure without a meal, and is also the time when the brain is least prepared to accept new information.

Without breakfast, the brain doesn’t have the fuel it needs for thinking, and students simply aren’t prepared to learn.

What can we do to help?

We can support the breakfast initiative by making breakfast a priority in our homes and schools.

We can take the extra time to prepare foods in advance, or even just have fruit and milk ready for a quick meal.

We can support breakfast at school in any form. Find out what is going on in your school. Breakfast in the classroom, grab n’ go breakfast, or breakfast after first period all serve a common cause- keeping our kids fueled up and ready to learn.

We have a commitment to our children to provide them the best possible environment for success. Support the school breakfast movement in your area.

For more information on Ohio’s School Breakfast Challenge, go to

Guest Blogger

Elizabeth Zmuda DO

Dr. Zmuda works in the Dept. of Emergency Medicine, Urgent Care at Nationwide Children’s and teaches at the Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine, Dublin Campus. The mother of 4 young children, she loves her job and believes that her kids make her a better pediatrician and her experiences at work make her a better mom.

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