Breakfasts for Children: Food ideas that work
We have all been told over and over again that breakfast is the single-most important meal for a child going off to school. A nutritional breakfast literally makes the difference in how much they learn, primarily by keeping them awake, alert, focused, and energetic. Here are some ideas on breakfasts that include all the nutrition that you want your child to have to be the best student he or she can be!
This page is about the do’s and don’ts of kids breakfasts with links to the actual recipes when the food has to be cooked beyond the toaster. If you are serving primarily cereals for breakfast, please check out the page on the Best and Worst Kids’ Cereals—research that can save you from the mistake of buying cereals that have more sugar in them than cookies and twinkies!
Principle #1: Easy on the Sugar
As kids age they develop their sense of taste, and what they develop is related to what they are fed. If you feed your children lots of sugar (for example, by adding sugar to breakfast cereal), they will develop a taste for processed sugar. On the other hand, if you feel them grain cereals without added sugar, but cut up fresh fruit to put on top, children will develop the taste for fruit rather than for processed sugar. If you have already started them on processed sugar, the transition may take time, but it is time that will set them up for a healthy future, so why not start now?
Our feeling is that no processed sugar belongs in a child’s breakfast. That’s right—none at all. You can do better than that without much effort. Processed Sugar has no nutritional value—at all!
Fresh fruit adds sweetness to grains but with complex carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, and valuable fiber. Some fruits have fructose but when the fruit is alive, you get so much more.
Fresh fruit may have fructose in it but every fruit that has fructose also has fiber to slow the processing of the fructose. That’s why chidren will not get a major sugar rush after eating the fruit and then fall asleep!
Vanilla or fruit yogurt adds tons of sweetness and plenty of carbs. Put 2 tablespoons of vanilla yogurt on top of the cereal to transform a bland grain into a nice, sweet treat. The kids will benefit from the beneficial bacteria in yogurt, at least.
Principle #2: Think Protein, Whole Grain Carbohydrate, and Healthy Fat
Serve a balanced meal at every meal so children have all the elements necessary to provide energy and get them through to lunch. Good fat and good protein comes from nuts, seeds, and whole grains, NOT bacon or sausage! If you feed your kids bacon and sausage, you will be setting them up for clogged arteries and veins, heart disease, heart attacks and stents, as adults.
Chopping up fresh fruit takes 1-2 minutes, so this can be one person’s job in the AM—chop up a peach or apple or both. Use fruit in season to minimize expense and go for freshness.
During the winter, apples are in season, so finely chopped apple goes on everyone’s cereal and orange slices (unpeeled for easier handling) go on a plate on the table for all to share. Otherwise, frozen fruit is a better stand-in than dried, sugared, sulfured fruit any day of the year.
Principle #3: Use Nuts and Seeds for Fat (and Protein)
One of the problems with cereal breakfasts is that they don’t have a lot of fat and kids get hungry not long after the meal! Granola is another story. It’s loaded with fat, but we’re not convinced that it’s the best kind of fat, so we go for the whole grains instead and top them with nuts and seeds.
Topping a whole grain cereal with chopped nuts, fresh fruit, and yogurt makes a super easy meal that is a great way to start the day.
Get a glass jar and chop up walnuts, peanuts, or almonds or virtually any nut. Fill the jar with the chopped nuts and put it within reach. It’s ready to shake out on cereal.
Don’t forget that roasted nuts and seeds have great flavor that can vary the taste. Check out our page on How to Roast Nuts and Seeds! Some nuts, like hazelnuts with lots of nutrition, don’t taste like much fresh, but when roasted, they have the great flavor that most people recognize as hazelnuts.
Principle #4: Use Nonfat or Low Fat for the Dairy
Use flavored yogurt, like vanilla, on cereals for great taste and extra nutrition that will not pack on pounds. Kids will taste the sweetness and give a thumbs up. (See our page on the New England Journal of Medicine study, under Other Influences). If you use milk in cereals or yogurt on top, buy low fat or non fat. We are trying to set kids up for a healthy diet for life and full fat products, particularly animal products, put us on the path to heart disease, not health.
You may argue that your kids do not like nonfat milk. OK, my kids didn’t want it either, but the transition was so short it we hardly noticed. Here’s how:
- Dilute the whole milk with lower fat milk just a little for a week. Don’t say anything about it.
- Next week dilute it a little more. Don’t say anything.
- After twoto three weeks, the full fat milk will taste heavy. You can probably move directly to low fat milk, but maybe not yet to nonfat. Repeat the steps to get down to nonfat milk.
My kids eventually began to think that there was something wrong with full-fat milk—it just didn’t taste right anymore. Now they are confirmed non-fat milk drinkers. See our page on how to change habits.
Remember that, as people age, their ability to digest milk sugars may change as well. Our stomachs are lined with lactaes, little enzymes that help us specifically digest milk sugars. As we age we tend to shed these and some genetic groups do not regrow them.
Only descendants of Northern Europeans (Swedes, Norwegians, perhaps Germans, etc.) and two tribes in Africa (Ibos and one other) fully retain their ability to digest milk lactose throughout their lives. You or your children may not be of that genetic linneage. If milk takes too long to digest or you never do digest milk or yogurt properly, switch to something else, like wonderful Almond Milk or soy milk. Those products are delicious substitutes that don’t curdle as readily and have plenty of sweet flavor.
Should You Go Organic for Dairy?
In the U.S., much of the milk supply is tainted with the artificial hormone, rBGH (recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone). It’s also called bovine somatotropin (BST). Farmers use this artificial growth hormone to stimulate the cows to produce more milk than they might otherwise produce. Great for business, great for profit. Is it good for our babies and kids? Many scientists think not.
We prefer to stick with milk that is not contaminated with rBGH. Among developed nations, only the U.S. permits humans to drink milk from cows given artificial growth hormone. Canada, Australia, New Zealand, 27 European Union countries (all of the EU), and Japan have banned artificial grown hormones from milk for more than a decade. It is shocking to think that this stuff is still being fed to our children, largely without our understanding that we are doing it. What exactly are we waiting for?
If the box or bottle of milk in your hand does not have a label stating that came from cows who were not given the hormone rBGH, then you cannot be positive that you aren’t serving up rBGH to your family. We present a more detailed discussion on rBGH on another page. Click here to read about Concerns about the Milk Supply.
Kids’ Breakfast Suggestions
Here’s the short version of the children’s grain breakfast described in pieces above.
In a cereal bowl, put whatever grain you want to cook, including oatmeal (just don’t make it too liquid). Remember to serve a child’s portion to a child.
Top that with 2 tablespoons vanilla yogurt (or any other flavor that the children like). Top that with chopped fresh fruit that is in season (for cost purposes and so you won’t be buying fruit shipped all the way from Chile or China. It’s sure to have lost most of its nutrients by now). Top that with 2 tablespoons chopped nuts—choose the nuts the kids like best.
For the Best Ever Banana Bread, click on the link to get our recipe. You can make it the night before. It’s even better the second day. Warm it briefly in the microwave it you like to melt butter on it.