Break for Breakfast: Healthy Kids' Choices

Quick ways to get your family to start the day in a healthy way.

The Importance of Breakfast

girl eating breakfast


Who says you have to make a fuss in the kitchen to feed your preschooler in the morning? We know you don't want to send your child off to school without a full stomach, so we've gathered advice from a nutritionist and some real moms. With their tips, your morning will run smoother and, more important, your child will be better able to handle a stimulating day at school.

"When children wake, they have gone about 10 hours without any food. Breakfast literally breaks the fast they are on, providing energy to their brain and body," says Elizabeth Ward, RD, author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Feeding Your Baby and Toddler (Alpha, November 2005). It's an ideal time to give them the nutrients they need to grow, Ward says.

Research also shows that having breakfast can affect children's health in immediate and long-term ways. It can improve memory and school performance, as well as guard against becoming an overweight adult. No wonder breakfast is called the most important meal of the day.

Here are solutions to five common breakfast challenges:

Challenge No. 1: There's no time.

"On mornings when Josh has school, it can be a challenge to just get him out of bed and dressed in time, never mind breakfast," says Marcy Mercer, mother of 3-year-old Josh and 1-year-old Samantha, in West Orange, New Jersey. "What works for me is to have them eat in shifts. I get my daughter started first while I get my son ready for school. Then I switch and have Josh eat while I get Samantha ready."

On-the-Go Foods: Don't have time to eat breakfast at home? Ward recommends stocking up on yogurt in tubes or cups, whole-grain mini bagels, and fruits that can be taken in the car. She also advises packing some foods, such as hard-boiled eggs, the night before.

And if you're in a pinch and need to drive through for a fast-food breakfast, there are some decent options these days. McDonald's and Wendy's, for example, offer yogurt, cut-up fruit, and English muffins.

Challenge No. 2: Kids aren't hungry.

"Sometimes Maia says she doesn't want to eat, but she gets grumpy and I know that food would help," says Jane Gold, mom of 3-year-old Maia and 20-month-old Noah, in Miami. "On those days I try to play a game where we take turns. I eat a bite, she eats a bite, I sip the juice, she sips the juice. I tell her that there's a party in her tummy and Ms. Banana Bite wants to join."

Occasional Skipping Is Okay: Once in a while it won't hurt them if they really don't want to eat (or if they don't feel well), but if you see a pattern, think about making some adjustments. Until age 5, children tend to self-regulate how much they eat, but studies show that even 3-year-olds who eat high-fat, high-calorie foods before bedtime may be less hungry in the morning. Slowly adjust their eating to earlier in the day, when they need more calories to use for energy, by having them eat a slightly larger lunch and a smaller dinner, and minimizing evening treats.

If your preschooler is in a full-day program, some good lunches to send with him to school are:

  • cooked chicken or turkey in a whole wheat wrap
  • tomato soup and half a cheese sandwich
  • pita stuffed with hummus and veggies
  • leftovers from your dinner the night before

Some nutritious snacks to pack with lunch are whole-grain crackers or cereal, fruit or applesauce cups, and yogurt tubes.

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