Mornings get hectic, so it can be easy to skimp on breakfast. Maybe you give your toddler the same frozen waffle with butter every morning. Or you’re lucky if your teen grabs a granola bar on his way out the door.
But experts say the a.m. meal is so important that you and your kids deserve better.
“One of the things we know for certain is that brain function depends on having breakfast,” says Robert Murray, MD, a professor of pediatric nutrition at The Ohio State University.
Ideally the meal should include carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats -- that’ll give your child energy until lunch, he says. “Essentially, try to mix and match from each of the food groups when you put together your child’s breakfast.”
You don’t have to ban your kid’s favorites from the menu, like sugary syrup or high-sodium cereal. “A diet that contains some sugars, sodium, and saturated fats can still be healthy -- and these are OK to include in small amounts if it means a child is more likely to eat foods that are highly nutritious,” Murray says. “Every parent knows that keeping young kids excited about food requires negotiation, which means you can’t throw away all of your tools.”
Some other rules to be sure your kids (and you) are getting the best possible start to the day:
- Aim to serve a mix of foods from the five food groups: veggies (yes, for breakfast), fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and healthy protein.
- Stick to whole foods as much as you can, and avoid bagged, boxed, and packaged ones.
- Give your kids’ current favorites little health boosts. For example, add a smear of peanut butter and a banana to their frozen waffle, or mix a little flax powder or a handful of berries into a bowl of cereal.
- Offer a few different foods they can choose. Just like you get bored with the same-old bowl of oats in the morning, kids can tire of their go-tos.
- Prep breakfast ahead of time. Whether you put the pieces together the night before or use the weekend to plan what you’ll serve, breakfast is a lot easier when you put some thought into it ahead of time, says Jennifer Glockner, RD, a dietitian in Los Angeles.
To help you prep a better breakfast and think outside the cereal box, here are 16 well-rounded meal ideas Glockner says will entice even the pickiest eaters:
1. Breakfast burrito: a whole-grain tortilla stuffed with scrambled eggs or beans, veggies, and salsa.
2. Baked eggs in half of an avocado or with other veggies (like bell pepper or zucchini). Serve with whole grain toast and sliced fruit.
3. Shakshuka (poached eggs in marinara sauce with herbs and spices): Add your kids' favorite veggies into the sauce. Serve with whole-grain pita wedges.
4. Breakfast kebabs: whole-grain waffle squares skewered with cheese cubes and fruit or veggie slices.
5. Scrambled eggs made in a waffle press: Season with cinnamon and top with sliced fruits for a sweet version, or add fresh herbs (like chives) and top with veggies for a savory version. Serve with a little plain yogurt and a whole-wheat cracker.
6. Egg white or tofu scramble with veggies. Serve with a whole-wheat English muffin.
7. Quinoa breakfast bowl with fruit slices, cinnamon, vanilla, and milk. Add nuts or seeds for crunch.
8. Oats in a jar. Prep ahead by layering a jar with old-fashioned rolled oats, cut-up fruits, and nuts or seeds. In the morning, add warm milk or water and let stand while everybody gets dressed.
9. Mixed fruit and plain yogurt. For a savory version, add veggies like cucumbers or red pepper. Top with nuts or seeds for crunch. (You can also blend everything into a smoothie.)
10. Whole-grain spaghetti with scrambled eggs, garlic, parsley, and parmesan cheese mixed with a little olive oil. Serve with cut-up veggies.
11. Whole-grain tortilla or pita “pizza” topped with hummus, cucumbers, mint, and other veggies.
12. Sliced hard-boiled eggs on whole-wheat toast with avocado spread, sliced tomatoes, and olives. You can also add sunflower seeds instead of the hard-boiled eggs.
13. Almond flax muffins: Mix 1/4 cup almond meal, 1 teaspoon flax seeds, 1 egg, 1/4 teaspoon baking powder, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 mashed banana, and a handful of frozen fruit. Microwave for 1 minute in a mug. Cut in half and spread nut or seed butter on top.
14. Whole wheat English muffin pizza with marinara, mixed veggies, and cheese.
15. Whole-grain toast with nut or seed butter and fresh fruit (like raspberry or bananas) instead of jelly.
16. Whole-grain toast, goat cheese, arugula, and sliced tomato. Drizzle with balsamic vinaigrette.