Pay Attention Longer With Breakfast

 ADHD Weekly 2016-03-24

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?

Stimulant medications can suppress appetite for many people. With children, especially, this can make it hard to be sure they are getting enough nutrients and calories. There is 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,” said former CHADD professional Advisory Board member L. Eugene Arnold, MD. CHADD’s Attention magazine. “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 they were primarily from sugars—sugary cereals, donuts and pastries—the drop-off in attention happened much more quickly, he said.

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 quick breakfast ideas? Check out What’s Cooking – USDA Mixing Bowl for recipes and suggestions.