The Quintanas, Week 28: Breakfast for Brainpower

Filed under: Healthy Families Challenge


Aaron, stomach full and ready to study. Credit: Michelle Quintana

Folks in Florida know: It's around this time of year, every year, that the prerecorded phone call from the local school board superintendent comes.

What's it about? Making sure our kids eat a healthy breakfast.

Why now? It's the dreaded FCAT season.

It's a shared sentiment that the FCAT exam (which stands for Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test), administered annually around this time to just about every child in grades 3 through 11 in Florida, is frustrating. It's a drain for students because, well, what kid wants to spend all day in lock-down taking a standardized test? It's a pain for parents because of the stress they watch their kids endure. You see, for most of a child's school years, this test will make or break them -- not passing it leads to them repeating the same grade the next year, as opposite as my kid's personalities are the added stress makes for an interesting week.

The argument to discontinue the exam gets thrown around every year. Some people say it isn't fair to judge a child by one test. Many parents have kids who perform excellently in school, yet panic on test day and don't do well. Personally, as the mother of four very different children who have diverse reactions to the test, I have my own thoughts on this exam. I do, however, like that, as an annual event, it goes hand-in-hand with parents and children alike focusing on breakfast.

Breakfast really does make you smarter.

And here in Miami-Dade County, we spend the week fielding various recorded phone messages reminding us that the morning meal is the most important one of the day. Like it or not, the local McDonalds even offers a free breakfast as an encouragement to students.

Throughout the Healthy Families Challenge, one of the things we've stressed in my household is that a healthy breakfast sets the tone for your day. The schools' reminder that a healthy breakfast gives kids energy to perform well backs up that idea.

Su-Nui Escobar, registered dietitian extraordinaire and our HFC nutritional advisor, taught us what makes a good breakfast. We should have a good carb (one slice of low-calorie wheat toast, (rather than the waffles we devoured every morning on our vacation), a small portion of fruit and a protein. Of course, protein-packed eggs cooked any way are a good choice, but for a change, a bowl of low-sugar, high-fiber cereal (Cheerios and Special K are good ones) with blueberries or strawberries, and unsweetened soy, almond, or low fat milk on top, makes a great alternative, and lets you cut calories and fat without cutting flavor.

Our County's school board knows that not every family has time for a balanced breakfast at home, and that's one good reason why breakfast is served to kids at all Miami-Dade County public schools, free of charge, year round. The initiative is part of the National School Breakfast Program, enacted to ensure that schoolchildren get a nutritious start every day.

My kids' schools are good about offering options from all four food groups, and attempting to make sure that children eat, or at least take, something from each. A typical school breakfast consists of scrambled eggs with toast, fruit and a small carton of low-fat milk. The program's administrators also teach portion control, by allowing only a specified amount of each item.

Now, any parent knows, there's nothing you can do about what your children eat in school. Even if you pack lunches, they can trade, sell or even -- God forbid -- throw the food out. But at least this free breakfast instills in them an idea of what is good for them and what is not.

My kids are so used to the routine established by free school breakfast that on weekends, they don't do anything until they've eaten something. They don't request the usual sugary Pop Tarts and cereal that a lot of kids do. They prefer eggs and bagels.

I know that some might ask what real good any of it does. But, just like when you find yourself reminiscing about something that a coach or teacher from your youth used to repeat, these hundreds of children who line up for their free breakfast may just remember that eggs are a better choice than donuts, and that breakfast is all around important -- a lesson I think most people learn way too late. I know a few of the other challengers had a tough time getting used to eating breakfast every morning, as did I.

I am grateful that my children are learning nutritional basics through this program. Even better, I'm happy for the extra half-hour of sleep I can sneak because I don't have to prepare four kids' breakfasts every morning!

Who's the rest of the competition? Check out all the challengers' latest updates here.

Check out how the other families are doing!

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.