Breakfast truly is the most important meal of the day. Make sure your kids get off to a healthy start by using this age-by-age guide to the most common breakfast challenges.
A.M. Anxiety He's not eating enough. While kids this age need a lot of nutrients, their tummy is small (about the size of a fist) and they're unable to consume a lot of food at once.
Wake-Up Call Don't overwhelm them with large portions. For instance, a half cup of hot cereal and a small sliced banana is plenty. Consider serving water with the meal and giving milk afterwards. "Some toddlers fill up on milk before they've eaten enough breakfast," says Victoria Shanta Retelny, R.D., author of The Essential Guide to Healthy Healing Foods.
A.M. Anxiety She wants the same breakfast every day. Routine and familiarity are very comforting to kids this age, so once they find a food they enjoy, they stick with it.
Wake-Up Call Offer a variety of items to go with the object of their obsession. "When my 3-year-old daughter only wanted to eat waffles for two months, I made sure to switch around the kind of fruit I served with them," says Michelle Dudash, R.D., author of Clean Eating for Busy Families. Dudash also recommends trying a healthier version of the food -- for instance, she added sweet-potato puree to her waffle batter. If scrambled eggs are your kid's go-to, mix in different cheeses and diced veggies. To please pancake lovers, add mashed bananas, diced apples, or fresh or frozen wild blueberries into the batter. Adding a half cup of fruit for every 2 cups of batter is ideal.
A.M. Anxiety He's always rushing through breakfast. School-age kids start sleeping in later and often dawdle while dressing themselves, brushing teeth, and getting their backpack ready. The result: five minutes to eat before the bus comes.
Wake-Up Call Master the make-ahead breakfast. Whip up batches of muffins, pancakes, and waffles on the weekends and freeze them in a container. Let them cool completely; use wax paper between pancakes and waffles to prevent sticking. When ready to eat, pop pancakes and waffles into the toaster or microwave on Medium. It's best to thaw muffins overnight in the fridge, but if you forget, wrap them in a paper towel and microwave on High for 20 to 30 seconds. Another option: "Put together breakfast parfaits the night before -- simply layer yogurt, fruit, and whole-grain cereal in a cup or bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and pop into the fridge," suggests Sally Kuzemchak, R.D., a blogger at Real Mom Nutrition.
A.M. Anxiety She tells me she's hungry by 10 A.M. -- and they don't have a morning snack in fourth grade. Thanks to growth spurts and playing sports, tweens may eat more than you do. "Somewhat active 9- to 13-year-olds require 1,800 to 2,200 calories and 1,300 milligrams of calcium. That's 400 to 600 more calories and 300 more milligrams of calcium a day than kids ages 4 to 8," points out Kuzemchak.
Wake-Up Call Pack extra nutrients and calories into breakfast dishes. If you're making waffles, pancakes, or muffins, stir in 1/3 cup nonfat dry-milk powder for every 2 cups of batter. It will add about an extra 40 milligrams of calcium per piece. Make cereal more filling by mixing in chopped nuts and dried fruit. While you're scrambling eggs, toss in bits of last night's roasted chicken or sliced turkey sausage. Also consider whipping up a power smoothie to go with their meal: Blend together 1 cup plain low-fat yogurt, 1 banana, 1 cup frozen fruit, and 1 Tbs. nut butter to make two 1-cup servings.