Back to School Healthy Breakfasts

Back to school means starting the day to fuel you AND THE KIDS with energy in the form of a yummy and healthy breakfast.

Yes, this is a time for a bit of panic for many moms (like me!) across the globe. To provide some simple advice, I was invited on the Rise and Shine show to give parents strategies for fueling up for school with some healthy breakfast ideas.

What fun to talk with KMVT’s Nicole Baker. We talked about the importance of breakfast and how to create a healthy breakfast for different child personalities.

We know that eating habits affect students’ behavior, attention and performance.

I often give lessons as part of my work with Nurture on the importance of breakfast.  Why it is important, what components make up a healthy breakfast, brainstorming great breakfast “menu” ideas, how to fit breakfast into a busy schedule.  I will share all of that info below, and you can also watch the TV segment here:

Why Breakfast is Important

Breakfast literally means “break the fast”.  To fast is to go without food for more than eight hours.  Our bodies do this every night, so it is important to fuel up the body in the morning before you set off for your busy day.  If we don’t eat breakfast, we might start to feel sluggish or even get the “shakes”.  Here are some top reasons to eat breakfast:

  • Breakfast can help you focus on your work and remember things. For kids, this means better performance at school. Meals in the morning can help to put you in a happier mood, too!
  • Breakfast gives your body the energy and nutrients needed after not eating since before bed. Kids who eat breakfast perform better in sports than those who skip breakfast, who might not be getting the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients they need.
  • Breakfast starts your metabolism which will help to maintain a healthy weight. Getting into a meal routine helps to keep your appetite under control. Breakfast eaters are less likely to overeat at other meals or snacks.

What Makes Up a Healthy Breakfast?

Breakfast should be made up of the following key components—I’ve listed them in the order of importance:

  1. A protein source. Protein provides the building blocks of our bodies.  Without protein, we can’t sustain strong bodies.  Always remember your protein!
  2. A fruit or vegetable.  We need to get five (5) servings of fruits and vegetables every day, so we need to get started right in the morning!  Fruits and vegetables provide so many great nutrients (and are so delicious), we shouldn’t miss out.
  3. Whole grains.  Notice the word “whole”.  This does not mean a white bagel or toast before you run out the door.  You are likely to be out of energy and really hungry in an hour or two!  Whole grains include all parts of the grain and are minimally processed, so your body will take its time converting them to energy.  Some guidelines tell us that half of our grains should be whole, but I think the more the better!  Whole grains include oatmeal, barley, quinoa, millet, brown rice, bulgur and many others.

A healthy fat (like good oils, nuts, or even avocado) are great to include in preparing or garnishing your breakfast.  Fats take a while to digest, so they keep you full.  Fats have all kinds of good things in them like Omega 3s (the great fatty acids) that help to build a healthy brain!  A nice trick (less ordinary that adding some olive oil, nut butters, nuts, seeds, etc.) is to sprinkle some ground flax seeds on anything you prepare.  (Note:  store ground flax seeds in the freezer as they are particularly sensitive to becoming rancid). 

Breakfast “Menu” Ideas

How do you take the above components and make a great breakfast happen at your own home?  Here are 10 kid-tested ideas using the above components for a yummy, healthy and sustaining breakfast:

  1. Hard-boiled egg, buttered whole grain toast (butter and sprinkle with ground flax seed) and a pear
  2. Oatmeal with cherries and raisins, honey and almonds
  3. Brown rice with avocado and pepper with an egg on top –try this sprinkled with ground flaxseed
  4. Barley with yogurt mixed with raisins, pineapple and walnuts
  5. Steel cut oats with nut butter (thin with milk) stirred in; add a little honey for sweetness.  Mix in or have apple slices on the side.
  6. Homemade pancakes/ waffles (I use a recipe we call “protein pancakes” that uses eggs, ricotta cheese and whole grain flour).  Serve grapes on the side.
  7. Scrambled eggs with roasted butternut squash pieces (from leftovers) and cheese
  8. Nitrate free turkey rolls, cheese slices, Triscuits and apples (my daughter’s “go-to” when we are running late)
  9. Nut butter and jelly sandwich on whole grain bread with apple slices (my son’s “go-to” when we are running late)
  10. Whole grain tortilla with nut butter, banana and raisins

Get Creative! These are just some examples to get you started. Use protein sources, fruits (or vegetables), whole grain sources and seasonings that YOUR family enjoys!

How to Fit a Great Breakfast into Your Busy Schedule

  • Make it available by putting healthy choices in your refrigerator and on your shelves.
  • Plan ahead by using the night before to set dishes out, cut up fruits and vegetables, etc. Kids will be more likely to enjoy breakfast if they are contributing to the planning and preparation!   At a recent Nurture class, we made oatmeal using a slow cooker overnight, so it was hot and ready in the morning.  Check the this video of Nurture program instructior Elizabeth Thomas making this oatmeal in action!
  • Make it easy by making your own grab-and-go breakfast for the days that you have little time to sit down to eat breakfast! You can pre-pack your healthy breakfast into small containers and freeze or refrigerate them.

What about cereals?  We are not big cereal eaters in our house, but it is the most consumed breakfast item in our nation.  To make sure that kids can help their parents in making some great choices, I did a fun exercise with the kids in the class when I talked about breakfast—I called it “Cereal Detectives” (a game).  I took some labels from cereal boxes and passed them out for the kids to take a look at.  I taught the kids to focus on the sugar content and the fiber content.  I told the kids that in order to be a “go” cereal (one that gives you long lasting energy) it needed to have less than 10g of sugar per serving and at least 3g of fiber.  Those cereals that didn’t meet this criteria were classified as “slow” cereals (ones that will not give you long lasting energy).  I gave each child a worksheet and they filled it out themselves— kids LOVE to help reading labels!  You can talk to your kids about many things on labels.

 Here is a blast from the past when I visited my daughter’s school for a breakfast lesson.

We did an activity where we took a “go” cereal (Kashi’s Heart 2 Heart) and we made edible bracelets out of the “O’s” in this cereal!  Remember the candy necklaces when we were kids? Well, here is a fun way to make this idea more healthy.  The kids loved them!

Here is a Nurture kids lesson plan (so opt-in, just click on the link) that will give you some great ideas if you’d like to be a breakfast evangelist at your own kids’ school.

We also have cereal labels that you can use for “Cereal Detectives”.

And some other ideas about the “Cereal Detectives Game—here is a version called “Cereal Scavenger Hunt”.

The most important thing—have fun!  And don’t forget to eat breakfast!

Sources: Thank you to Samantha Begler, RD, and Juliette Britton for their wonderful contributing ideas to this blog post.

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