There are several important reasons to make sure your children eat the best possible breakfast every morning, before they head off to school or play. They haven’t eaten all night, so their blood glucose levels are probably low. Additionally, research shows that eating a hearty, balanced breakfast may help ensure better glucose control throughout the entire day. And, consider this: Developing a habit of eating a balanced breakfast not only helps children maintain better glycemic control throughout each day, it also helps reduce their risk of developing serious diabetes complications that can lead to early death as they get older. 1,2,3
By far the easiest breakfast is a bowl of cold cereal and a pour of milk. That’s great if your child’s cereal of choice is high in fiber and low in sugar, but that’s not how it usually goes. The problem with many commercial cereals marketed to kids is they contain too much added sugar and/or not enough fiber. Compare nutrition information on different brands of similar types of cereals, and if you can’t switch off 100% to the healthier version, try combining the two. On the side, try apple or banana slices spread with nut butter.
Start with low-fat plain yogurt, sweetened with mashed ripe, fresh seasonal fruit. To soften fresh fruit, peel, cut up, microwave or steam until tender, and cool slightly before mashing. Add mix-ins like granola or a favorite cold cereal, wheat germ, flaxseed, chopped or ground nuts. Or, use these same ingredients to build a mini banana split: split a half banana and top with a dollop of plain yogurt; sprinkle with chopped kiwi, orange or berries, then with cold cereal or crumbed muffin or other baked good. Most children love choices, so offer up several healthy toppings and let them pick.
Bready breakfast foods always pair well with juicy, colorful, cut-up, fresh fruit toppings—peaches and raspberries, banana and strawberries, pineapple and blueberries—instead of sugary syrup. But here’s another idea for switching over from the sweet stuff: Top a multigrain pancake, waffle or slice of French toast with unsweetened applesauce (or finely chopped apple) and crumbled turkey bacon, and your kids probably won’t even ask for syrup. Sprinkle a little grated cheese on top, or serve with a glass of milk or a cup of yogurt.
There are so many fun yet nutritious ways to turn a simple slice of toasted whole-grain bread or English muffin into a full-out, colorful and balanced morning meal with toppings like peanut butter and banana slices sprinkled with grated carrot; part-skim ricotta cheese and sliced strawberries with chopped walnuts (Add nuts only if your child is over age 3; applesauce, hummus or mashed avocado with crumbled turkey bacon. Or turn toast into a breakfast pizza, topped with tomato sauce or pesto, shredded part-skim mozzarella and any veggie. When there’s time, put out a variety of toppings and let them choose!
Start off with a pumpkin or carrot muffin or bread, and you’ve already boosted breakfast’s vitamins, fiber and flavor. Same, if you choose baked goods bursting with berries or chunks of fruit. If you’re baking from scratch, choose a recipe that calls for oatmeal in place of some of the flour or use a half-and-half mixture of white and whole-wheat flours. Bake a batch (or a double batch) on Sunday, and freeze for the week to come. Get your kids to help with cooking and cleanup; give them healthy options and let them choose their favorite flavors and fillings.
So much good nutrition can be packed into a smoothie or “breakfast shake.” The base of a green smoothie can be kale, spinach or other greens, sweetened with ripe fruit like mango, peaches, cantaloupe or banana. Avocado, tofu, plain Greek-style yogurt are nutritious thickeners that help balance out the natural sugars in fruit. Add nuts, nut butters or seeds for extra protein and healthy fats, dried fruits for iron and fiber. Add a little grated orange peel, peeled gingerroot or unsweetened coconut flakes for extra flavor.
Morning eggs don’t have to be scrambled or fried. After all, an egg salad or sliced egg sandwich (or wrap) may look more like lunch, but it’s the nutritional equivalent of scrambled eggs with toast, so why not? Be prepared with hard-cooked eggs in the fridge for those days when you’re not up to the job of short-order chef. Some kids only eat “the white part,” and that’s OK, because that’s where all the protein is. Offer halved cherry tomatoes, sliced sweet pepper, baby carrots, chickpeas or any bean or veggie dish on the side.
Who says a kid has to eat conventional breakfast foods in the morning when all he really wants is leftover cold spaghetti? Nutritional variety and balance are the most important features of any meal, so all that matters is rounding out that pasta bowl with leftover veggies or a serving of fresh fruit, and some shredded, reduced-fat cheese on top or a glass of milk on the side. Ditto for a bowl of rice, couscous, or quinoa, with bits of meat or fish and grated carrot or zucchini. If breakfast burritos can become standard morning fare, so can anything else!