Brain Fueling Foods that will Optimize Your Student’s Learning and Test Scores

We have all heard it before – “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” Except now you are the parent saying it to grumpy, tired kids as you are struggling to leave the house on time.

1.     Is breakfast really that important?

2.     How should you fuel your student for the day? 

3.     What can you serve that doesn’t take too much time or work?

Does Breakfast Really Matter?

Eating a regular balanced breakfast ensures growing kids receive adequate calories, vitamins and minerals. Kids who skip breakfast can’t focus well, especially by mid-morning. The last food they had was likely 8pm the night before. They have been fasting for about 12 hours.

Research has shown a strong relationship between academic performance and breakfast. Think about snacks or breakfast being provided before standardized testing in schools!  

 Some research highlights:

Timing of Breakfast:

The body has been fasting all night when breakfast comes around. Glucose floating in the blood is depleted. Our brains prefer to fuel on glucose. Breakfast serves to break the fast (hence “breakfast”). This allows the brain to be refueled for optimized brain performance.

Children need more glucose compared to adults, so breakfast is even more important for them. But we all need adequate glucose to function well. Glucose can easily come from a carbohydrate source. We also need protein and fat to stay full longer.

What do I feed my student? Is something (Pop-Tart or donut) better than nothing?

Short story – anything is better than no breakfast. Improvements in test scores and brain performance are seen when a student eats any type of food compared to no food in the morning.

Longer story – even more brain power is activated with a well-balanced breakfast. Significant increase in average grades at year end were seen when student ate higher quality breakfast on a regular basis. A high-quality breakfast consists of a food from the grain, fruit and dairy (or select dairy substitute) group. Ideally the grain should be a complex carbohydrate (whole grain carbs with fiber) such as oatmeal for sustained energy. This combo of foods may improve memory and attention helping students thrive at school.  

A meal or snack that contains carbohydrates, protein and fat will provide energy for 3 to 5 hours. Most foods provide a mixture of the main nutrients: carbohydrates, protein and fat. If you focus on getting three food groups (grains, fruit, dairy or protein) you are usually getting all three of the main nutrients. 

As your body digests, absorbs and uses the nutrients, carbohydrates are used first and then protein and fat will help sustain you until the next meal or snack.

This is a simplistic version of typical nutrient use in the body but a great place to start in understanding how to fuel your student for sustained success. As always, there are differences depending on medical conditions.

Delighted Uriah at Breakfast.jpg

What Do I Feed My Student?

 Quick, Simple Brain Fueling Ideas:

  1. yogurt topped with whole grain cereal and fruit

  2. avocado, and cheese on whole wheat toast

  3. whole grain oatmeal, cinnamon, blueberries, milk (dairy or select non-dairy with pea protein)

  4. whole grain, low-sugar cereal with milk and a piece of fruit

  5. piece of string cheese, apple, and some peanut butter

  6. whole grain toast with peanut butter and banana slices and a glass of milk

  7. scrambled or hard-boiled eggs, whole-grain oatmeal, and a piece of fruit

  8. smoothie (frozen berries, Greek yogurt, ½ cup of milk or water, + 1 tbsp of dry whole-grain oats)


Breakfast truly is an important meal of the day! Research continues to show a strong relationship between academic performance and a quality breakfast in children. Remember to combine a grain, fruit, and dairy or protein food source to stimulate further brain power.  Try some of these simple breakfast ideas this week.

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