Despite the evidence that kids do better in school when they have eaten breakfast, I let my daughter skip eating in the morning when she says she is not hungry.

I can’t say I’m happy about letting my daughter skip breakfast. I’m like other mothers. I worry that my daughter will be hungry. I worry that she isn’t going to be able to pay attention at school. I worry, now that she’s a teenager, that she skips breakfast because of the pressure to be thin. Sometimes it feels like I worry about everything. But I let my daughter skip breakfast anyway. (Sometimes I’m not that graceful. Read You Have to Eat. Or Else…)

The main reason I let my daughter skip breakfast is simple. In the hierarchy of eating habits where what you eat is pitted against how much and why you eat, the latter is way more important.

I’m addressing the issue of breakfast and school now, in September, because the beginning of the school year is a good time to get this right. It’s also easy to make a change from whatever you did last year with the a simple statement, “Now that you’re older, you’re ready to…”

Most people probably wouldn’t necessarily agree with the image of dueling habits, but I can’t think of a more accurate way to describe what is going on in our corner of the world. Even though there is huge concern about obesity in America, we almost never hear health professionals advise people to get in touch with their internal feelings of hunger and fullness. The conversation about eating habits is dominated by talk about what people should eat. And when it veers away from what, it lands on how much, but only in the sense of portion control.

Even when we’re talking about children, the food conversation is dominated by the discussion of fruits, vegetables, proteins, calcium, in other words by what kids should eat. And how much should kids eat? Five ounces of this, sixteen ounces of that.

Staying in touch with your own internal feelings of hunger and satiety, and not eating for emotional reasons, are arguably the two most important eating habit children need to learn. This is principle of moderation.

Need to learn is a misstatement. Retain is a better word. Infants know this stuff. Most toddlers, however, have already lost the ability to stay internally focused when it comes to food, research shows.

One more reason why I don’t make my daughter eat breakfast.

This isn’t a fight parents can win. The more eating becomes an arena for control, the more control everyone brings to the arena.

  • Sometimes modifying when meals and snacks are served does the trick. An earlier dinner usually produces a hungrier morning. And, of course, there’s always the “grab-and-go” breakfast which can be eaten just as your child is about to walk in the school door. A short delay can sometimes allow hunger to emerge.
  • Sometimes it works to allow junk at breakfast until you are out of the fight. You can always fix the fix later.
  • Sometimes it works to let nature (hunger) take its course.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~