As kids head back to school next week, our news feeds will be inundated with tips for creating nutritious, Insta-perfect lunchboxes.

Keeping up energy and fuelling the brain with a good quality recess and lunch is essential, however, when it comes to better academic performance, what children eat before they head off to school really matters.

Research shows breakfast has the greatest dietary influence on school grades, with a significant body of research supporting the role of breakfast and its impact on specific measures of brain function, cognition and academic achievement.1-6

Here’s five reasons why breakfast before school matters…

Number one dietary factor

A systematic review by the University of Newcastle investigated the effects of dietary intake and behaviours on school-aged children’s academic achievement.1  

It identified regularly eating breakfast as the most common dietary factor associated with better school grades.1 This was followed by lower intakes of energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods and better quality diets overall.1  

Boosts literacy and numeracy

There is more than 50 years of science supporting an association between breakfast and cognition.5

Eating breakfast improves brain function helping children perform better at school in problem solving, creative and mathematical tasks.1-6

An Australian study of 824 children, in grades 3-7, indicated that a good quality breakfast was linked to higher literacy scores, even after adjusting for socioeconomic status and parental education levels.2

Quality matters

The benefits of eating breakfast are related to the nutritional quality of the breakfast and the fact that breakfast eaters have more nutritious diets overall.1,2,5

Providing a good breakfast is a concern for parents with two thirds worried their children don’t eat enough before they go to primary school.7

So what is a good quality breakfast? Some nutrition scientists recommend a good quality breakfast as including at least three of the five food groups and providing about a fifth of the energy and nutrients. 8 This could be breakfast cereal, fruit and milk or yogurt, or it might be a slice of toast with baked beans and a glass of milk.

A recent analysis of ABS Australian Health survey data revealed children that started their day with breakfast cereal had the highest intakes of dietary fibre and nutrients including calcium and iron – key nutrients where Australian children are falling short.9 In fact compared to children that ate other foods for breakfast, cereal eaters had 32% more iron, 30% more riboflavin, 23% more calcium, and 9% less salt in their daily diets.9 It also found the nutritional benefits were consistent, regardless of the total sugars* content of the breakfast cereal eaten.9

Research versus class room reality

The benefits of eating breakfast are seen in the classroom on a daily basis, by both teachers and children.

Australian teachers estimate that the average student loses more than two hours a day of learning time when they come to school hungry.10

While children who admit to skipping breakfast are twice as likely to say they get “hangry” at school, compared to children that never skipped breakfast (27% vs 14%).11 They say as a result of their hunger they feel grumpy or get annoyed at friends. 11  They’re also more likely to forget to do school work and feel tired.11

 Eating breakfast helps to stabilise blood sugar levels, which regulates appetite and energy levels. Children who eat breakfast are less likely to be hungry and overeat during the rest of the day.12,13

More than grades

The benefits of regular breakfast habit extend far beyond better grades. An Australian study of adolescents revealed eating breakfast with at least three core food groups was associated with long-term better mental health. 4  

There is also significant evidence associating a regular breakfast habit and regular breakfast cereal consumption among children with healthier weights, more nutritious diets and higher nutrient intakes. 14,15

January 2018

Leigh suit cereal variety IMG_0882 Leigh Reeve is an Advanced Accredited Practising Dietitian and Director of the Australian Breakfast Cereal Manufacturers Forum (ABCMF). Leigh has over 30 years experience as a dietitian and is passionate about sharing practical, evidence-based nutrition information and delicious food ideas.

* Total sugars includes naturally occurring sugars (i.e. from fruit and milk) and added sugars. 


  1. Burrows T et al (2016) Is there an association between dietary intake and academic achievement: a systematic review. J Hum Nutr Diet. doi: 10.1111/jhn.12407
  2. O’Dea JA, Mugridge AC. Nutritional quality of breakfast and physical activity independently predict the literacy and numeracy scores of children after adjusting for socioeconomic status. Health Education Research 2012; 27:975-985.
  3. Kleinman RE, et al. Diet, breakfast, and academic performance in children. Ann Nutr Metab 2002; 46 (suppl 1): 24-30.
  4. O’Sullivan TA, Robinson M, Kendall GE, Miller M, Jacoby P, Silburn SR, Oddy WH. A good-quality breakfast is associated with better mental health in adolescence. Public Health Nutrition 2008; 12: 2: 249-258.
  5. Hoyland A, Dye L, Lawton CL. A systematic review of the effect of breakfast on the cognitive performance of children and adolescents. Nutrition Research Reviews 2009; 22: 220-243.
  6. Wyon DP, Abrahamsson L, Jartelius M, Fletcher R. An experimental study of the effect of energy intake at breakfast on the test performance of 10-year old children in school. Int. J. Food Sc. Nutr 1997; 48: 5-12.
  7. Galaxy Research May 2015 , survey n=1000 Australian parents of primary school children aged 5-12 years.
  8. Fayet-Moore, F; McConnell, A; Tuck, K; Petocz, P. Breakfast and Breakfast Cereal Choice and Its Impact on Nutrient and Sugar Intakes and Anthropometric Measures among a Nationally Representative Sample of Australian Children and Adolescents.Nutrients. 2017, 9, 1045; doi:10.3390/nu9101045
  9. O’Neil et al. The Role of Breakfast in Health: Definition and Criteria for a Quality Breakfast. JAND 2014;V114 issue 12.
  10. Foodbank Hunger In The Class Room Report, May 2015.
  11. Galaxy Research Sept 2015, survey of n=510 Australian primary school children aged 6-12.
  12. Deshmukh-Taskar PR, et al. The relationship of breakfast skipping and type of breakfast consumption with nutrient intake and weight status in children and adolescents: The national health and nutrition examination survey 1999-2006. J Am Diet Assoc 2010; 110: 869-878.
  13. De la Hunty A, Ashwell M. Are people who regularly eat breakfast cereals slimmer than those who don´t? A systematic review of the evidence. Nutrition Bulletin 2007; V32-I2: 118-28.
  14. Nutrition Research Australia, Breakfast and Breakfast Cereal Consumption Among Australians – A secondary analysis of the 2011-12 National Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey, Sydney, February 2016
  15. Williams PG. The Benefits of Breakfast Cereal Consumption: A Systematic Review of the Evidence Base. Adv Nutr 2014; 5:636S-673S.
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