The Importance of Breakfast for Children with Learning Disabilities

Karla Rippchen

As children wake up in the morning, their bodies are switching from sleep mode to day mode. Depending on the learning disability, the child may not have received a full night sleep to recharge. Thus, breakfast is especially important. What are the super foods to start the school day out right? Start with the nutrient, water! A suggestion is to place two glasses on the table, fill one glass half way with water and the other half full of either milk, fruit juice or a pureed fruit or vegetable shake.

Dehydration can zap concentration very quickly. Remember to pack a fresh bottle of water with a few ice cubes every day! Giving a compliment to a child when you catch them drinking water is a sure way to keep that fantastic habit of hydrating with water in motion.

If a child is taking medications that suppress the appetite, have him/her take the medication while eating breakfast instead of before eating. High protein foods take longer than carbohydrates to break down in your body. Thus, children will feel full longer and have fuel to tap into while they are in their morning reading or math class in school.

Protein foods such as eggs, unprocessed nuts and seeds, and milk products are packed with protein. Boiled eggs can be prepared ahead of time and stored in the fridge. Nuts can be put on top of a slice of 100% whole wheat toast covered with cream cheese or peanut/almond butter. Greek yogurt can be topped with fortified breakfast cereal or granola.

Breakfast burritos using whole grain tortillas and any of the above ingredients as a filler may add a hands-on eating experience where no silverware is needed. Nitrate-free crunchy bacon and soft raisins (place a piece of bread overnight inside a sealed bag with the raisins to make the raisins soft) are a texture and flavor combination that some kids enjoy to eat.

  A fruit smoothie blended with 1 cup of blueberries or strawberries, ½ cup 100% fruit juice and 1 oz of whey powder drank out of a straw may be an “in the car” breakfast option that will fill up their bellies and give them the energy they need to get through the school morning until lunch time arrives. Additional ingredients to add into shakes include yogurt, soy milk, white or chocolate milk, or 1 tablespoon of flax seed.

Some children enjoy leftovers for breakfast rather than typical breakfast foods such as tuna fish on whole grain crackers, cottage cheese with fresh fruit, or meatballs rolled up inside pancakes or on top of a whole grain bagel/English muffin.

Mornings are a time crunch when trying to check off the morning to do list. Packing school snacks and lunches in the evening may help to send nutritious foods to school. Over the weekend, ask your child to tell you, write down, or accompany you to the grocery store. Start with the fruit/vegetable end of the grocery store and stay towards the outside edge of the grocery store which usually winds around through the meat section, and then end in the dairy section.

Once these foods are home, allow your child to chose his/her breakfast the night before. Place these foods on a plate ready to go in the fridge.

What if you are a teacher and children are arriving at school with hungry bellies? Many elementary and middle schools are now offering breakfast to their students. Children who were not eating breakfast compared to children eating school breakfast have shown improvements in math scores, attendance, punctuality, depression, anxiety and hyperactivity. (1) Before starting a new math or reading concept, try to include early morning snack time into the agenda. Send a note home to parents about how you incorporate a morning snack into school lesson plans. Include a list of healthy snack options and remember to list a container of water! When reviewing the daily needs of a child with learning disabilities, remember to include a healthy protein packed breakfast into that equation.

Eating breakfast is an important start to a day. For children with learning disabilities, providing nutritious foods that power their bodies and minds can give them an extra tool to use when working hard at their job of learning. 

Karla Rippchen, RDN, LDN, Masters Business Management, is a dietitian consultant who lives with her family near Chicago, Illinois. Karla loves to travel and has lived in Asia and the west coast, southern and mid west areas of the USA.


Murphy JM, Pagano M, Nachmani J, Sperling P, Kane S, Kleinman R. (1998) “The Relationship of School Breakfast to Psychosocial and Academic Functioning: Cross-sectional and longitudinal observations in an inner-city sample.” Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, 152:899-907.

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