Which foods give kids the boost they need to make it through their day?
The moment your alarm goes off on weekday mornings, you’re in a race. Get the kids out of bed and dressed, assemble lunches and backpacks, and move everyone to the school bus on time. In your haste, don’t forget one essential morning ritual: a good breakfast.
Up to 12 percent of school-aged kids, and as many as 30 percent of teens, skip this important morning meal. As a result, they miss out on a lot of nutritional benefits. Kids who eat breakfast get more fiber and nutrients overall, and are more likely to stick to a healthy weight than their peers who don’t eat before school.
Breakfast sends a surge of energy (in the form of glucose) to the brain, “helping children focus on new material and learn in the classroom,” says Jill Castle, MS, RDN, childhood nutrition expert and co-author of “Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School.” That’s probably why breakfast eaters also score higher on tests and perform better in school.
Best breakfast foods
What’s the ideal pre-school meal? “A breakfast that includes a protein source such as eggs, ham, cheese, milk, or yogurt will help kids stay satisfied until lunch time,” Castle says. “Add in whole grains, healthy fats, and fruits to fill the belly and help meet important nutrient requirements, such as omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, fiber, and potassium.”
Looking for some quick and healthy breakfast meal ideas?
- Wrap scrambled eggs and cheese in a whole-wheat tortilla.
- Spread peanut butter on a whole-wheat English muffin and top with sliced apples.
- Make a yogurt parfait with plain, low-fat yogurt topped with berries and granola.
- Whip up a breakfast smoothie with bananas, low-fat milk, and peanut butter.
- Make homemade or frozen whole-wheat pancakes and sprinkle with almonds.
- Cook up a bowl of plain oatmeal and add chopped apples and raisins.
Worst breakfast foods
Some breakfast foods, especially ones that are marketed to kids, are anything but healthy. These include sugary cereals (just because they say “whole grain” on the label doesn’t mean they’re healthy) and toaster pastries. Try to avoid them. Also keep kids away from coffee and energy drinks. The high caffeine content can make them jittery.
If you’re running late and need to make a pit stop at your local fast-food restaurant on the way to school, be careful what you choose. Some breakfast menu items are healthier than others. A Hotcakes and Sausage breakfast at McDonald’s has 520 calories and 24 grams of fat — 7 of them saturated fat. An Egg McMuffin is a much better option, at 300 calories and 5 grams of saturated fat. Starbucks Double-Smoked Bacon, Cheddar & Egg Sandwich packs 540 calories and 32 grams of fat. Compare that to the Spinach & Feta Breakfast Wrap, with 290 calories and 10 grams of fat (not to mention a vegetable). Check the menu online or at the restaurant before you order.
Getting your kids to eat breakfast
The morning time crunch can foil the best breakfast intentions. To ensure your kids have time to eat, set your (and their) alarm clock a few minutes earlier. Or, trim time from other morning preparations. Have kids shower the night before. Pre-assemble their backpacks and have them ready to go by the door. Pre-cook breakfast, so it’s ready to stick it in the microwave for a quick warm-up in the morning.
With the extra time you save, try to sit down together for a real meal. Kids who have breakfast with their families tend to eat more nutritious foods.
When a sit-down meal isn’t an option, keep a supply of nutritious “grab-and-go” foods, Castle suggests. Granola bars, yogurt, fresh and dried fruit are all healthy options your kids can take with them on the bus. Even a quick meal can fuel your child through the rest of the morning.
August 20, 2015
Janet O’Dell, RN