"The name for the morning meal - breakfast - tells us why," said Sandy Procter, Kansas State University Research and Extension nutrition specialist. "Given that food is needed to fuel body functions, breakfast is needed to break the overnight fast to fuel daytime activities."
A reminder to eat breakfast is timely for families and children preparing for a new school year, but making time for breakfast will benefit parents and children alike, said Procter, who also is a registered dietitian.
Children who eat breakfast are typically more able to pay attention in class and process information, said Procter, citing research reported by the Food Research and Action Center in Washington, D.C.
The research showed that children who skipped breakfast and were hungry can have difficulty paying attention in class and may not be able to get along with classmates.
Proponents of school breakfast programs also report that children who have school breakfasts eat more fruits, drink more milk, and consume less saturated fat than those who don't eat breakfast or have breakfast at home, Procter said.
Breakfast need not be complicated, time-consuming - or expensive, said Procter, who suggested choosing foods from two or more food groups, such as whole grain cereal with milk and fruit, or eggs, toast and juice.
Peanut butter on toast can be enough to jumpstart the day, said Procter, who noted that children also like bagels, including mini- bagels that seem a perfect, pint-size portion.
Toasted or plain, add fruit, fruit spread, peanut butter or a slice of last night's leftover roast to make a quick breakfast sandwich, she said.
Reheating a leftover casserole, half of a sandwich or a slice of pizza also can substitute for more traditional breakfast foods, Procter said.
While pizza typically draws from the bread group (crust), vegetable group (tomato-based pizza sauce and toppings such as green pepper, onion or mushrooms), dairy group (cheese) and meat topping, which all can contribute to health, she stressed variety for breakfast or any other meal.
Asking children to take turns in the kitchen and help with breakfast preparation can stimulate family buy-in, said Procter, who also suggested setting out tableware and non-perishable foods - a box of cereal is an example - before bedtime to save time in the morning.
Some families, including those with teens involved in school activities or with an after-school job, find that eating breakfast together can be easier than finding "together" time for an evening meal, she said.
Bringing the family together at mealtime offers an opportunity for family members to share food and fellowship and to encourage each other, Procter said. Whether a child is working on a science project or an adult is near completing a major work project, encouraging words send a positive message and nurture strength in the family.