As if "the most important meal of the day" wasn't pressure enough, you may have kids who simply aren't hungry for breakfast—or who sometimes want to forget a sit-down meal and eat cereal straight out of the box with their fingers (that would be my kids). What to do? To address moms' most common breakfast questions and conundrums, I asked registered dietitian Katie Morford, author of the new cookbook Rise & Shine: Better Breakfasts for Busy Mornings, who's a pro at figuring out the A.M. meal.
Katie's Fix: This is challenging because you want to respect your child's appetite but don't want her to start the day with an empty tank. I'd insist that she join you at the breakfast table for at least a few minutes. You might find that an appealing breakfast may just trigger her appetite. If she's not willing to eat, see if she is open to drinking something instead, such as a fruit smoothie. Also, take a look at whether or not your child is eating a late dinner or snacking into the evening, both of which could interfere with that morning appetite. Lastly, send along a wholesome morning snack to school, so that when hunger does strikes, she's prepared. My book has a couple of breakfast bar recipes that are perfect for this.
Katie's Fix: There are so many solutions to the time-crunch challenge. First, have a small repertoire of breakfasts that you can bang out in a handful of minutes, such as these 5-minute recipes. Second, carve out a little time on weekends for make-ahead meals. Ask one of your kids to join you in baking a batch of wholesome muffins, a quick bread, or frittatas and other egg dishes that can be stored in the fridge or freezer.
Third, do a little prep the night before. You can get a head start on a pot of steel cut oatmeal, make pancake batter that's ready to pour, or cut up fresh fruit that can go into yogurt parfaits the next day. Lastly, get your kids involved. Even little ones can take part in simple breakfast prep, such as these three-ingredient Nutty Banana Bites.
Katie's Fix: If you're thoughtful about the type you buy, there's nothing wrong with cold cereal for breakfast. That said, for most mornings, I think we can do better by our kids and ourselves than a boxed breakfast. When you do buy cereal, aim for one with at least three grams of fiber and five or fewer grams of sugar per serving. And consider packing some additional nutrition into every bowl by embellishing it with extra goodies, such as fruit, nuts, and seeds. You'll find a list of ideas for boosting your breakfast cereal in Rise & Shine. Also, don't be shy with the milk. Kids will benefit from that kick of protein in the morning.
Katie's Fix: Before age 2, I recommend all kids drink whole milk. After that, it gets a little trickier to sort out, particularly with new research coming out about the potential benefits of whole milk. Despite the buzz about whole milk, though, we continue to drink 1 percent in our house. For now, I recommend giving your kids what they enjoy, knowing that all milk is rich in vitamin D, calcium, potassium, and other nutrients.
Katie's Fix: I don't consider juice to be bad for kids, but for most breakfasts, I'd rather see everyone fill up on whole fruit than juice. The natural sugar and calories in juice are more concentrated than fruit. Plus, juice lacks whole fruit's fiber, which is important for healthy digestion. For families where juice feels like an essential part of the morning ritual, be sure it's 100 percent fruit juice and limit the portion size to four ounces (1/2 cup).
Katie's Fix: My goal with all meals is to see balance on the plate of quality carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats. Breakfast is no exception. I find including a variety of food groups translates to meals that have staying power and good nutritional value. I also aim to work fruits and vegetables into breakfast as well as a calcium source, such as milk or yogurt.
Visit Katie's blog, Mom's Kitchen Handbook, for more recipes and ideas.
Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. She collaborated with Cooking Light on Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.