PhotoEating a healthy breakfast has been associated with everything from maintaining a healthy weight to improved academic performance. Yet, nearly half of all families in the U.S. regularly skip breakfast, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

When morning meals get lost in the shuffle, children may miss out on vital nutrients that can keep them going strong throughout the day. A healthy breakfast is essential for kids, says Carole Adler, a dietician at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

“Growing bodies and developing brains need regular, healthy meals,” she says.

But between rushed mornings and picky palates, creating healthy breakfasts can be a challenge. To help parents strike a healthy balance of fruits and vegetables, proteins, grains and dairy at breakfast time, consider implementing the following tips.

Tips to start the day off right

  • Think outside the box. Breakfast doesn’t have to be comprised of traditional breakfast foods, says Adler. From last night’s leftovers to tuna fish with celery on a whole wheat English muffin, anything goes as long as you maintain a healthy balance.

  • Cater to your child’s likes. Take a food your child loves and dial up its nutritional value. Pizza can be made using a whole-grain crust and topped with veggies; muffins can be made with zucchini and carrots and topped with peanut butter for protein; and a small amount of your child’s favorite sugary cereal can be mixed with a healthier brand of cereal.

  • Maintain nutritional balance. Make sure your child doesn’t end the day lacking in one particular food group. If their breakfast doesn’t contain enough vegetables, consider preparing an afternoon snack that will have plenty (such as carrot, celery, and broccoli sticks with hummus dip).

  • Fuel growth and activity. Growth and activity levels should be taken into account when preparing breakfast. To help growing kids stay full and focused until lunch, give them a breakfast that contains protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Protein choices might include an egg, some nuts, a slice of deli meat or cheese, or yogurt.

  • Prepare a healthy snack. If there is no time for a sit-down breakfast, hand your kids something healthy to eat on-the-go as they head out the door. Adler recommends trail mix, a fruit-filled shake with milk or yogurt, or a whole-wheat tortilla spread with peanut butter or almond butter and a carton of milk.

  • Prep the night before. Taking a few minutes at night to prepare the next day’s breakfast can help make a busy morning less rushed. Preparatory efforts can include chopping up fruit to layer in a yogurt parfait or add to cereal, cutting up vegetables for an omelet, or mixing up muffin or whole-grain waffle batter to put in the fridge.

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