Breakfast Tips for Busy Minds

You’ve heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But did you know that it directly impacts your ability to maintain attention during the morning?


"Quite simply, eating breakfast supports good health", Kathy McManus, director of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital, tells the Harvard Heart Letter. She suggests that breakfast include lean proteins and slow-digesting whole carbohydrates, such as steal-cut oats, Greek-style yogurt, and fresh fruits, or scrambled eggs with vegetables.


When it comes to ADHD, the same foods can also help support attention through the morning and into the rest of the day. Often, stimulant medications can suppress your appetite or your child’s appetite, making it even more important to have a healthy breakfast. Having a complete meal before taking medications can help to provide needed calories and nutrients for the day.


There is also evidence showing that a breakfast high in protein, either from complex carbohydrates or lean meats, eggs and milk products, can help medications be more effective. Breakfasts that include vegetables and fruits can also help stimulant medications to remain active in one’s system for longer.


 “A study in a regular classroom of the effect of breakfast (on children not diagnosed with ADHD) showed attention deteriorated over the course of the morning regardless of breakfast,” L. Eugene Arnold, MD, MEd, the resident science expert for CHADD’s National Resource Center on ADHD tells CHADD’s Attention magazine in Diet and ADHD.  “This deterioration was worse when the children had eaten no breakfast, than when they had eaten a breakfast of whole-grain cereal and milk.”


When those children had a breakfast with the same number of calories but this time primarily from sugars–sugary cereals, donuts and pastries–the drop-off in attention happened much more quickly, he says.


Starting the day with the right foods
Getting those proteins and calories for your child or yourself first thing in the morning can be hard to do–no matter how good they are for attention and health. What can you do to have a more productive morning?


Take medication during or after breakfast
Most stimulant medications don’t become active for 20 or 30 minutes after they are taken, depending on the individual. Use that delay to your advantage. Rather than take the ADHD medication soon after waking up, enjoy a nutritious breakfast first or with your medication. Having breakfast before the medication potentially suppresses your appetite will allow you the time to eat a morning meal that is  healthy and full of attention-sustaining foods.


Spend some time planning simple, protein-filled meals
Keep hard-boiled eggs on hand, along with whole grain cereals, oatmeal, yogurt, cut-up fruits and veggies, for simple, grab-and-go meals. If there is more time, prepping a breakfast casserole in the evening that you can cook during the morning routine puts an easy and hot meal on the table quickly. Or, you can cook the casserole on the weekend and reheat it in the oven or microwave during the week.


Think beyond “breakfast” foods
Sandwiches, soups in thermal mugs, and containers of veggies with yogurt dips can be appealing and easy to carry choices. Leftovers from dinner can be warmed up and enjoyed in the morning.


Look for whole and minimally processed foods
They tend to have more nutrition and make you and your children feel full for longer during the day, which can help with attention.


Keep the higher-sugared foods as treats
If you enjoy a donut in the morning occasionally, don’t worry about it. The goal is to incorporate foods higher in protein and complex carbohydrates for your daily breakfast, and keep the more highly sweetened foods as treats to be enjoyed on special days.


Looking for more breakfast ideas?