A healthy breakfast is a must for kids. Skip it and your kids will be playing nutritional catch-up for the rest of the day, says Carole L. Adler, M.A., R.D., a dietitian with the FDA.
When kids skip breakfast, they don’t get what they need to be at their best, says Adler. “Growing bodies and developing brains need regular, healthy meals,” she says. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, studies show that school children who eat breakfast perform better in the classroom.
As with other meals, it’s a good idea for your kids (and you) to eat a healthy balance of fruits and vegetables, proteins, grains and dairy—not just for breakfast but throughout the day.
Here are Adler’s seven quick and easy breakfast tips to ensure your children start their day off right.
1. Use the Nutrition Facts label and ingredient statement when you shop.
When you’re shopping for groceries, the food label makes it easy to determine the amounts of nutrients your kids are getting and to compare one product to another. Make sure your children get nutrient-dense foods that are low in sodium and added sugars.
2. Go beyond traditional breakfast foods.
Breakfast doesn’t have to mean traditional breakfast foods. Anything goes, as long as you maintain a healthy balance. So, if your kids want a change from cereal and eggs, how about leftovers from last night’s dinner? There’s nothing wrong with tuna fish and celery on a whole wheat English muffin or a turkey sandwich to start the day.
3. Give kids foods they like.
Left-over pizza with a whole-grain crust and veggies works for breakfast, too. Or make muffins with zucchini and carrots, and spread with peanut butter or almond butter for protein with a glass of milk. Your kids love sugary cereal? Mix it with a healthier brand. “Sometimes just a taste of something your kids like is enough to keep them happy,” Adler says.
4. Make healthy trade-offs.
Keep in mind that nutritional balance is key—not just for one meal but for foods eaten throughout the day. Add fruit to the morning meal and serve carrots, celery, and broccoli with a hummus dip as an afternoon snack.
5. Consider growth and activity levels.
Growing bodies need nourishment. And if your kids are physically active, they need plenty of calories to keep them fueled. Having a breakfast that contains protein, fat, and carbohydrates helps children feel full and stay focused until lunch. Protein choices might include an egg, some nuts, a slice of deli meat or cheese, or a container of yogurt.
6. Help your children make healthy choices, even if they’re on the run.
When time is short, hand your kids something healthy as they head out the door, like a piece of fruit, a bag of nut-and-fruit trail mix, or a whole-wheat tortilla spread with peanut butter or almond butter, and a carton of milk or fortified soy beverage.
7. Prep the night before.
Morning is a busy time for everyone—you included. So, take ten minutes to prep for breakfast the night before. Chop up fruit to layer in a yogurt parfait or add to cereal. Cut up vegetables for an omelet. Mix up muffin or whole-grain waffle batter, cover, and put in the fridge.