March is National Nutrition Month, when the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reminds everyone to return to the basics of healthy eating. It is also the time of year when the Academy celebrates expertise of registered dietitian nutritionists as the food and nutrition experts.
What is the best breakfast for kids this school year? It's the breakfast they will eat, says Jeannie Gazzaniga-Moloo, PhD, RD. "Breakfasts don't need to be 'breakfast-y.' The most important thing is to get some good nutrition into their stomachs. That can be cereal, eggs or toast, but it can also be leftovers, a quesadilla or cheese and crackers."
The Family Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey asked kids if they eat breakfast all of the time and results indicate that many children don't do so.
And those numbers have dietitians concerned. Breakfast is a major meal, says Liz Ward, RD, author of My Plate for Moms: How to Feed Yourself and Your Family Better. "It's an opportunity to get some very important nutrients. If kids don't eat in the morning, they usually don't catch up on the nutrients they missed out on—especially calcium, vitamin D, fiber and potassium."
Besides providing important nutrients, breakfast zaps hunger. It gives your body some much needed energy after a six-plus hour fast while sleeping. The benefits are immediate. And, as Ward points out, eating breakfast has a ripple effect. "Giving kids' (and adults') bodies timely, consistent nourishment has an impact every day, every week and really throughout life." Skip breakfast and those benefits disappear.
Much is also written about the importance of breakfast in school performance. Eating in the morning is linked with helping kids concentrate and do well in school. No child should miss out on that!
Why Are Kids Not Eating Breakfast?
There are all sorts of hurdles in the morning, says Moloo. "High schoolers usually want to sleep. If they are not waking up in time, breakfast is a bust. Finishing up homework, morning chaos, television distractions, parents leaving the house before kids do and simply not feeling hungry are also common issues." But, hunger kicks in at some point in the morning and it can be very distracting, Ward says.
A little planning can make the morning meal happen. Try these ideas:
- Ask your kids what they'd like to eat. Any food that fits at another meal can fit at breakfast. Get your kids' input and even their help in making the meal. It's time well spent. The more invested kids are in planning and helping make breakfast pays off in spades by teaching self-sufficiency, says Moloo.
- Use a formula/checklist to plan and put together healthy breakfasts. Ideally, the meal includes three to four different food groups, says Ward. A protein-rich food is important (think eggs, cheese, peanut butter, yogurt, fat-free milk, cottage cheese, beans, lean sliced deli meats, etc.). It helps kids feel fuller longer. A whole-grain carbohydrate is also a good idea. The brain prefers carbohydrates as its source of energy. Hot or cold whole-grain cereals with at least 3 grams of fiber per serving, whole-wheat crackers, whole-grain frozen waffles, a whole-wheat tortilla or whole grain bread work. (Check the nutrition label to make sure that whole grain or whole wheat is the first ingredient and that there are at least 3 grams of fiber per serving). Low-fat dairy foods, fruits and/or vegetables round out the options.
- Put breakfast fixings in an easy-to-grab place. Put the cereal on a lower shelf in the pantry so younger kids can reach it easily, and place fruit in a bowl on the counter where kids (and parents) can easily grab something nutritious on their way out the door.
- Eat breakfast yourself, and make sure your kids see that you do. If you're short-changing your body, your kids may ask "why can't I?" The good results your kids get when they eat breakfast can come your way, too, including better weight management.
Sample Meals Beyond Traditional Breakfast Foods
- Banana Dog: Spread a couple tablespoons of peanut or almond butter on a whole-wheat hot dog bun. Peel a banana, and place inside bun. Eat like a hot dog. Beverage: low-fat or fat-free milk.
- Leftover Pizza: Partner with a glass of 100-percent orange juice or a whole fruit such as grapes, mandarin oranges, kiwi or berries.
- Whole-grain Waffle: Spread with a nut butter and sprinkle with raisins or dried cranberries. Add low-fat or fat-free yogurt or milk.
- Trail Mix: Make with whole-grain cereal, shelled pistachios and a favorite dried fruit (try diced apricot, pineapple or mango). Add a glass of low-fat or fat-free milk.