Christina Tran, (Registered Dietitian) & Yvonne Yorke

Breakfast is commonly referred to as “the most important meal of the day.” There are many reasons for this as breakfast is intended to provide us with the energy that we need to start our day. This is especially important for school-aged children. Having a balanced breakfast that offers fiber, protein, and a small amount of healthy fat has been linked with better academic performance compared to those who are unable to have a balanced breakfast before school.

The only caveat I would add is to have breakfast based on your own level of hunger. Everyone is unique and some people are not always hungry first thing in the morning. If this is the case, still aim for fiber, protein, and a small amount of healthy fat — but in a portion that is related to how hungry you are. 

A possible combination for someone who is very hungry in the morning could be: overnight or freshly cooked plain oats made with milk, topped with freshly cut or thawed frozen fruit, with nut or seed butter or actual nuts or seeds sprinkled on top. Two eggs on the side would also be a great option. Here you have fiber from the oats, protein from the milk, eggs, nuts or seeds, and some healthy fats from the nuts or seeds and eggs.

A possible combination for someone who is not that hungry could be: one slice of whole wheat bread, pita or roti, spread with some nut or seed butter, and some fruit on the side. A small bowl of high fiber and low sugar cereal such as plain o-shaped cereal with milk and some fruit on the side works well too.  

Unlockfood.ca has some more detailed breakfast recipes at Breakfast – Unlock Food and some great tips for school-aged children at School Aged Children – Unlock Food.

I get asked a lot about milk recommendations for school- aged children. In general, for children over the age of 2 years, aim for 2 cups (500 ml) of cow’s milk per day (2% or less is fine). If you prefer plant-based, then unsweetened, fortified soy milk is a great option. I typically recommend soy milk because its protein content is comparable to cow’s milk.  Other plant-based options such as almond, cashew, etc. have pea protein added. Depending on your personal preference, always check the label for milk that contains calcium, vitamin D, and protein. 

Student Nutrition Program (aka Breakfast Club) at Rose Park Public School

It’s simple: when children are hungry, they can’t focus, and if they can’t focus, they can’t learn (tfss.ca)

Valarmathy Vallipuram, Office Administrator at Rose Park Public School, confirmed by email that the elementary school does have a breakfast program at the school that is supported by the Toronto Foundation for Students Success (TFSS). “But we did not have it last year due to [the] pandemic. We have not decided whether we have it for this year or not. We started this program about 10 years ago… it opens for any students from grade 1 to 6. We usually have two people in the cafeteria from 8 to 8:45 in the morning. It’s free…. We usually serve bagels, cereals, breads, pancakes, yoghurts, fruits, milk etc. We have a person at school in charge of shopping. We use leftover items for snacks.”  

Dana, a parent and volunteer at her children’s elementary school notes, “Food security is a big issue within many schools and communities.” She says, “It is mind blowing to see how many kids come to school with very little food or nothing at all.” Dana experienced the need first hand as a lunch room supervisor. As a result, she initiated a snack program in her children’s school which now has turned into a successful breakfast program with funding received from various sources to keep the program running for the next two school seasons. 

Dana noted that students in grades 4 to 7 especially benefit from these programs due to the number of growth spurts experienced in that age group. Shortly after starting the program, a teacher shared a tearful story to express her gratitude for the fact that someone saw the need for such a program. The teacher recounted to Dana, an incident where a student had come to school starving one day.  The teacher gave up the contents of her own lunch to share with the starving student. 

This is why programs run by charity organizations like the Toronto Foundation for Student Success are critical.