Breakfast of Champions?

by Dr. Ann L. Engelland

(September 20, 2007) Since I became the official physician of the Mamaroneck School District, one of my responsibilities has been to examine athletes who have not been cleared by their own doctors before the season starts.

August 20: Imagine the high school nurse’s office swarming with twenty-five eager, agitated football players all hoping to be cleared for practice that starts in a half hour. Of course they want to avoid the embarrassment of arriving late or worse-- being rejected and sent home because of a missing signature or permission slip or perhaps an untreated infection or incompletely healed fracture (you can’t make this up!).

Once they’ve been weighed and measured, they wait for me in tiny examining rooms and I have about five minutes per student. I have honed my “interview” to about six key questions. They nod and doze through the usual roll call of allergies and medications, but I take them by surprise when I inquire about breakfast. “Did you eat breakfast this morning?”

I’ve decided over the years that the breakfast question gives me a lot of information. I often can guess whether a kid is a breakfast eater. Alert, polite, “together,” friendly, “raring to go” kids are usually the ones who say “yes.” Here’s some of what I can gather by asking about breakfast:

  • Whether a parent is at home in the morning before school. (My Mom isn’t there to wake me up on time.)
  • How much disarray goes on in the morning. (I don’t have time for breakfast.)
  • What the choices of food are. (I had McDonald’s with a Coke for breakfast.)
  • Who has made breakfast a habit. (I can’t leave home without it)
  • Whether they just can’t tolerate food in the morning. (Do you want to see me throw up?)

Answers to my question help me know how to counsel them in the remaining three minutes of their examination.

Maybe it should not have surprised me that of the twenty or so football players I examined that day only three had eaten breakfast. (Ok, so maybe they were nervous.) But, many of the players were morbidly obese and should eat breakfast for good weight control. OK, so they make great fullbacks, but I imagine they eat a few Big Macs or run to Pat’s for greasy chili cheese dogs after practice. When I was told that one of the players fainted right before the first home game because he had not eaten breakfast (and lunch, maybe), I was disturbed. Parents, coaches, doctors, teachers and friends need to encourage better habits.

Over the years, I have found that the most compelling information I can give to kids is the following:

Breakfast makes you smarter. (It actually has been proven to improve school and work performance.)

Breakfast makes you thinner. (All effective diets recommend a substantial breakfast with some protein to “jump-start” the metabolism and avoid over-eating unhealthy foods at noon.)

But I have also discovered that if kids or their families are not in the habit of breakfast, they have very little idea how to start a healthier routine.

So here is what I suggest:

  • Set the alarm ten minutes earlier.
  • If possible, ask Mom or Dad to get your breakfast ready. Most parents are only too happy to oblige.
  • Think out of the box about what you might want to eat: leftovers from the night before are fine. A re-heated chicken cutlet is a great starter.
  • Have a stash of protein or granola bars (low sugar, quick energy type) on hand to eat on the way to school.
  • Learn how to make a milk or juice smoothie and take it along in the bus or car.
  • Most of all, believe in breakfast and see how much better you will feel. No more headaches, zoning out, pigging out at lunch. Soon you will think of what you’ll have for breakfast before going to sleep at night.

For kids who take certain medications, breakfast is particularly important. Some antibiotics must be taken with medications and some medications feel better if taken with food. For kids on stimulants (such as Ritalin) for ADHD, breakfast may be the best chance at a decent meal before the appetite-suppressing effects of the medications kick in.

In my home, one of our favorite breakfasts is homemade zucchini bread. Like other kids, some of mine were vegetable-averse as youngsters. So I would routinely slip in carrots, zucchini, yellow squash, apples, bananas and/or raisins into a yummy, dense loaf bread that keeps for days in the refrigerator. Made with oil and whole wheat flour, it is a nutritious, delicious, nearly irresistible morning treat. I usually make at least two and freeze one. Even a frozen slice is good to go.

Click here for the recipe: Dr. Engelland's Breakfast Bread.

A fun website that helps families think creatively about breakfast with lots of hints, menus, recipes, and testimonials is www.mrbreakfast.com.

I am convinced that a winner eats breakfast. Let’s make this the Year of the Tigers.

Dr. Engelland has a practice in Mamaroneck devoted to Adolescent Primary Care. She can be reached at 698-5544. Her website is: annengellandmd.com

Watch for information about an exciting
conference for women of all ages on health topics for mind, body and spirit. Save the date: November 11, 2007 in Larchmont.