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 at the Food and Drug Administration (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.
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, think about serving left-overs from last night’s dinner. There’s nothing wrong with tuna fish with celery on a whole wheat English muffin or a turkey sandwich to start the day.
Give kids foods they like.
It’s neither necessary nor effective to feed them foods they dislike. Do your kids turn up their noses at vegetables but love pizza? 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 a little bit of that cereal with a whole-grain, nutrient-packed healthier brand of cereal. “Nothing has to be off the table altogether, and sometimes just a taste of something your kids like is enough to keep them happy,” Adler says.
Make healthy trade-offs.
Keep in mind that nutritional balance is key—not just for one meal but for foods eaten throughout the day. Not enough vegetables in the morning meal? Prepare extra carrot, celery, and broccoli sticks with a hummus dip as an afternoon snack.
Take growth and activity levels into account.
Growing bodies need nourishment. And if your kids are physically active to boot, they need plenty of calories to keep them fueled. Adler says that 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.
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. “A fruit-filled shake with milk or yogurt takes only a couple of minutes to drink,” Adler says.
Prep the night before.
Morning is a busy time for everyone—you included. So take ten minutes to think ahead and 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. Get out a pan for pancakes or a blender for smoothies. Put a bowl of nut-and-fruit trail mix on the table for kids to grab a handful as they walk out the door.
Use the Nutrition Facts label and ingredient statement when you shop.
“The label makes it easy to determine the amounts of nutrients your kids are getting and to compare one product to another,” Adler says. Make sure your children get nutrient-dense foods that are low in salt and added sugars.