Eggs: Not just for decorating
Encourage kids and teens to eat eggs, for breakfast, lunch or a snack, to help them grow and help them pay attention in the classroom.
I’m still somewhat new to motherhood — and child development, in general — so I wasn’t prepared for how fast my daughter has grown during her preschool year.
She skipped a whole size in a matter of weeks, and I’ve been scrambling to find clothes and shoes that actually fit her — and that she will actually wear. Again, I had no idea that kids were so picky about the color, texture and design of clothes.
Of course, kids her age are also super picky about what they eat. With her sudden growth spurts, I’m mindful about choosing foods that pack the most nutrition to help grow her mind and body and to keep her energy up throughout the school day.
A few months back, I was talking to Dr. Ruth MacDonald, chair of Iowa State University’s Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, about the many nutritional benefits of real meat as part of Iowa Farm Bureau’s “Real farmers. Real food. Real meat.” campaign.
At the end of our conversation, MacDonald brought up a related issue that caught me by surprise. MacDonald said she was "really worried" that kids today aren’t eating enough eggs, which offer vital nutrients for brain development and growth.
“Eggs have the right kinds of nutrients for brain development," MacDonald said. "Choline, in particular, is found in eggs, one of the highest sources of choline in the diet. So without that (choline), brain development and nerve development are not optimal. So eggs are a really good source of those important nutrients."
Ahead of the Easter holiday season, I reached out to Katie Nola, former director of marketing at the Iowa Egg Council, to talk about the importance of eggs in a child’s diet. (Editor’s note: Nola left her position at the Iowa Egg Council a few days after we spoke.)
“Eggs are one of those basics that we kind of take for granted until, like, the pandemic hits and then everybody rushes out to get them,” Nola explains. “But Iowa egg farmers never stopped working, and I never had a problem finding eggs in the grocery store, which was awesome.”
Nola noted that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which were released in January, recommend introducing eggs to children as young as 4 months old.
Adding eggs to a child’s diet early in life can help reduce the risk of developing an egg allergy, nutrition experts say.
And as MacDonald confirmed, eggs are also an excellent source of choline, a nutrient that is important for brain development in children.
Health experts also recommend that pregnant women consume choline-rich foods to help with brain development of the growing fetus, Nola notes. And eggs are an inexpensive, nutrient-dense source of choline.
In fact, eggs are one of the few foods that are rich in choline. The second-best source of choline in the diet is chicken liver, Nola says, which isn’t something that a lot of kids — or adults — want to eat.
Plus, Nola says eggs protect our eyes because they’re a good source of lutein, a nutrient linked to better eye health.
“Especially now, with so many kids using hand-held devices (with screens), and so many of us working virtually, we’re staring at computer screens all day,” Nola says. “And eggs actually help protect our eyes from the blue light (from screens).”
Health experts say blue light emitted by computer screens and tablets may disrupt kids' sleep at night, which also impacts their performance in school.
Of course, older kids and teenagers love their screens, too. Yet another benefit of eggs is that they provide protein, which keeps kids feeling fuller, longer, so they concentrate better in class, Nola says.
“It’s important for kids to eat protein-based foods first thing in the morning when they go to school, just to help them academically and behavior-wise. And eggs are inexpensive and a good source of protein,” Nola says.
Nola notes that a school nurse in Davenport reached out to the Iowa Egg Council. The nurse noticed that many of the kids who visited her office because they were feeling sick were actually hungry.
The nurse typically gave students a granola bar but wanted to offer a protein-rich snack. So the Iowa Egg Council stepped in and donated hard-boiled eggs for the students.
“She started giving them eggs, and (the school staff) started noticing a difference in the kids’ behavior and their grades,” Nola says.
“So there has been, not just from the (Davenport school), but there have been studies finding a direct correlation between better behavior and better academic performance by kids when they are given protein for breakfast. Simply, it keeps their attention because they are full,” she adds.
Yet admittedly, it can be difficult to get kids to eat eggs, particularly if they are picky eaters like my daughter.
Nola says when she visited Iowa schools before the pandemic, she would set up egg-on-a-stick stations, where kids could get a hard-boiled egg on a popsicle stick and then choose from different seasonings and dipping sauces, such as ranch dressing or siracha hot sauce. “Kids love hot and spicy foods,” Nola says.
Scrambled eggs are a good option for babies and toddlers. “Because even at four months (old), kids are able to grab (scrambled eggs) and stick them in their mouth,” Nola says.
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