Although kids always tell me they’ve heard breakfast is the most important meal of the day, many kids and teens don’t eat breakfast, or use quick morning sweets without much staying power for their action-packed days. Without a healthy breakfast, kids miss out on the fuel needed for improved performance on demanding mental tasks and motivation to be physically active. Also, when kids eat a healthy breakfast regularly, they tend to have higher overall intake of fiber, calcium, iron, vitamin C and lower intake of fat, cholesterol and sodium. Whether the obstacle is a painfully early wake up time, a weak appetite in the morning or selective eating, there are ways to overcome it to help your child reap the benefits of a balanced breakfast.
- Think food groups. Breakfast can still be healthy without being too time-consuming or complicated. Think about choosing foods from the food groups, such as whole grains (look for 3g fiber or more), fruit, low-fat dairy and protein. Aim for at least 3 food groups per meal, although you may need to start with one food group for the breakfast skippers. Try whole grain toast with peanut butter and banana slices or grab an apple, low-fat cheese stick, and a whole grain granola bar on your way out the door. If it is easier to drink breakfast, whip up a smoothie with fruit, milk, and a tablespoon of peanut butter.
- Vary the options. Setting out the same cereal every day can turn into a monotonous routine for kids and can lead to lower average intake of key nutrients. Avoid food refusal from overuse and try switching up the options at least a couple days per week. If your child won’t stray from their favorites, try adding new foods to that meal with their input. If your child helps to pick out the fruit that will be served with their waffle tomorrow, they’ll be more likely to eat it. Not only does this variety help reduce picky eating over time, but it also encourages a healthy intake of all the vitamins and minerals throughout the week.
- Plan and pack breakfast. Once the school week is in full swing, it can feel impossible to take the extra time to get breakfast together. Also, your child may have difficulty waking up 10 minutes earlier to eat breakfast or may not feel hungry before it is time to rush out the door. It can help to have breakfast options easy to grab-and-go. Have the fruit bowl where they can see it on their way out the door or try pre-packing some snack bags of homemade trail mix with nuts, dried fruit, and whole grain cereal for those busy mornings. Set aside some planning time on the weekend to save time and energy in the upcoming week.
- Get creative. Kids like bright colors and fun shapes. Incorporate those into their breakfast by making a smiley face with chopped banana and a whole grain waffle, or use cookie cutters to make a sandwich more interesting. Brightly colored fruits and vegetables like berries, kiwi, oranges, grapes or red peppers will attract your child’s eye and that healthy breakfast will be much more fun to eat.
- Lead by example. At the end of the day, your child admires you and learns many of their habits from you. Therefore, if they see you consistently eating a healthy breakfast (and enjoying it), they will begin to build better eating habits based on what they see and experience at home.