Eating three square meals and snacks every day is important for everyone, but particularly for school age children. Breakfast sets the tone for the entire day, so it's important to provide healthy options. This important meal allows children to be better prepared for a learning environment. As more families shift to both parents working outside the home, more children are on their own for meals. Left up to their own devices, kids might opt for just one food group, resulting in malnourishment. Eating a healthy breakfast typically results in better concentration, less absenteeism and less restlessness. Other benefits include better weight control, less cardiovascular risk, lower cholesterol levels and increased energy.
A nutritious breakfast consists of some protein, low fat and a fruit or vegetable, giving the child energy for several hours. It is best to stay away from sweets, highly processed foods and sugary drinks. This decreases the risk for a mid-morning drop in blood sugar that results in increased agitation, sleepiness or disruptive behavior. Varying the protein source between animal products and vegetarian options adds variety to the diet. Remember that whole grains are also an excellent source of protein. It's important to have healthy fat options such as low-fat dairy products, nuts and lean meats.
Healthy breakfast options include:
- Whole grain cereal - Top with fruit and low-fat milk or soy milk.
- Hard-boiled eggs - Boil the night before and serve cold with a slice of whole wheat toast.
- Fruit smoothie - Blend low-fat/soy milk or yogurt with fruit.
- Whole grain bread or bagels - Toast and top with peanut butter, almond butter, apple butter or fruit spread.
- Fruit - Eat fresh, frozen or dried fruits or drink calcium-fortified juice.
- Oatmeal - Make with water or skim milk and top with cinnamon and fruit such as raisins, bananas or apples.
Quick, healthy, to-go breakfast options include:
- Fruit with a handful of nuts
- Breakfast bars - whole grain with fruit
As always, it's best to set an example for your child. Talk to them about nutrition and the value of a healthy breakfast. Taking the time to sit and eat breakfast with your young one will hopefully instill future habits that will keep them healthy.