Every morning my six-year-old daughter has exactly 35 minutes to get ready for the school bus. In this short time, she has to bathe, brush her teeth, dress, collect her bags and sit down for breakfast. It's a feat that requires precision timing and, when things go wrong, one of these activities has to go. And so breakfast, the first and 'most important' meal of the day, becomes an 'on the go' activity - a piece of toast or a cereal bar eaten on the bus. It's not something I am proud of. But I am not alone in giving breakfast such low priority. Past research suggests only 70 per cent of Hong Kong people eat breakfast, while a survey published this week indicates that even those who do find the time tend to opt for unbalanced dishes that are high in fat and sodium and low in dietary fibre. The survey, carried out by the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department, says that while Chinese-style breakfast meals are low in saturated fat, they are high in sodium and low in calcium. On the other hand, western breakfasts have adequate calcium but too much saturated fat. According to nutritionist Sandra Osborn, people do their children no favours by passing on an unhealthy attitude to breakfast. 'Skipping breakfast or not eating the right kinds of foods causes behavioural problems in children. They become depressed, inattentive, restless or irritable,' says Osborn, who practises at the Integrated Medicine Institute in Central. 'Research over the past 30 years has shown that attendance and achievement scores improve in children who eat a balanced breakfast.' In 2002, Osborn conducted research into the breakfast-eating habits of 131 five-year-old children at one of Hong Kong's international schools. She discovered that those eating the wrong kind of breakfast were hungry again by 9am and resorted to snacking on unhealthy foods. 'But an hour later their blood-sugar level comes crashing down again and they are hungry again,' she says. Osborn recommends a cooked breakfast - something with protein, which takes longer to digest. Cooked oatmeal, eggs, pancakes or waffles are among her recommendations. 'Or if you are in a rush, a cup of yoghurt,' she says. 'Protein stays in the stomach longer. The trouble with many cereals is that even though they are fortified, they're nutrient-stripped and they're not the wholewheat grain. Often children don't even drink the milk that comes with them.' Osborn recommends families sit down and enjoy breakfast together. 'An extra 10 minutes is all it takes,' she says. 'It's important that children see their parents eating breakfast. Young children learn so much by example.' Poor nutrition occurs among children from all socio-economic levels, Osborn says. 'Developing healthy eating habits is important, especially with young children, because they tend to eat breakfast less as they get older,' she says. But what if your child just does not want to eat breakfast? 'Usually this is because they haven't been given enough time to wake up,' says Osborn. The answer: set the alarm 20 minutes earlier! Sandra Osborn will offer advice and suggest healthy breakfast recipes to tempt children in a talk, 'Why Do Kids Skip Breakfast', at 7pm, January 27, at IMI, 7/F Baskerville House, 13 Duddell Street, Central. Admission $100 per person at the door. For details, call 2523 7121 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org .