Feeding kids, a healthy breakfast can be a challenge, especially when unhealthy foods are so popular in breakfast culture. Sugary cereals, spreads that are half or more sugar and the rest is oil, caffeinated foods, greasy fried foods, fast foods... Even some of our “healthy” options, such as fruit salads or plain cereals, leave much to be desired due to their high fast-release carb content, low protein content, and low micronutrient content.
But kids can and will eat almost anything for breakfast if you give it to them. We tend to assume that our kids are picky eaters because they don't like bread, or won't eat broccoli. However even though your kid may have some foods they are very fussy about, you might be surprised by the healthy foods your kids will eat if given the chance. So how do we go about composing the perfect healthy breakfast for our kids?
Start with starch.
Starches, especially cold starches, are one of the most underrated breakfast foods for kids. Many of us may feel guilty when our kid gets a sandwich, some overnight oats, or a bagel for breakfast. But actually, the right starches make the perfect foundation for a healthy breakfast. The key is in choosing a starch which will release its energy slowly. A cooked, cooled starch, such as rice or potatoes, forms something called resistant starch, which is digested slowly. Likewise, starchy foods served with fats and fiber are much more slowly digested, giving your kid steady energy all morning.
-cooked, cooled oats
-cooked, cooled potato
-cooked, cooled rice
-whole bran bread
Progress onto protein.
But starch alone will not make for a filling, healthy breakfast! Research has found that kids who eat a carb-based breakfast have lower energy levels, worse tempers, and underperform both physically and at school when compared to kids who eat protein for breakfast. Make sure to include 10-15 grams of protein in your kid's breakfast. You may offer them a cooked egg, sausage meat, nuts and seeds in their porridge, or some extra milk. But whatever it is, make sure it has enough protein to fuel them.
-brazils in overnight oats
-sunflower seeds in cooked, cooled oats
-scrambled egg and cooked, cooled potato
-walnuts in cooked, cooled rice pudding
-bacon on whole bran toast
-rye bread topped with a fried egg
Because of the way we usually plan our breakfasts, all too often we neglect our micronutrient balance. A lot of breakfast cereals are so lacking in natural nutrients that they need to fortify them. And things like milk, bacon, or fruits, whilst better than a plain bowl of cereal, are still not massively rich in micronutrients. Try and make a point of including at least one food at breakfast that is a proper nutritional bomb. Eggs are a great example, being rich in minerals and B vitamins. Nuts and seeds are full of antioxidants and minerals, and some, like flax seed, are high in omega 3. And berries, unlike large fruits, are high in antioxidants.
-brazils and blueberries in overnight oats
-sunflower seeds in cooked, cooled oats topped with honey
-scrambled egg and cooked, cooled potato
-walnuts and raisins in cooked, cooled rice pudding
-bacon and tomatoes on whole bran toast
-rye bread topped with a fried egg and mushrooms
Take your time.
When your kids have a hearty breakfast in front of them, it may not be easy to get them to eat it all up. Kids tend to drag these things out quite a bit, especially if there is something new on the menu. Make sure to leave a little extra time for them to fuss about what they have, pick at things, and generally get food in bit by bit. It might seem ridiculous, but if you want them to eat well it may help to just sit down and work on your emails for ten minutes after you finish.
There is no One True Breakfast.
Another important thing to remember is that if your kids won't eat something, then it's no big deal. They don't need to eat any specific food to have a good breakfast, so if something doesn't agree with them, then cycle it out and try a new thing. It is much better for your sanity to put together a healthy breakfast your kids will eat than to try and persuade them to eat the healthiest breakfast bowl in the world.
Finally, there are a few things to avoid when making a breakfast fit for a kid. When feeding our children we need to remember that the goal is to fill them up and keep them full, energized, and nourished until lunch time. For that reason, do not include more than a teaspoon of sugars with their breakfast. This includes in fruit, drinks, and pre-made bread products. Sugars cause energy spikes and crashes that mean everyone is hungry again two hours later. For the same reason, don't serve your kids a low calorie breakfast. Kids need plenty of energy, especially in the morning, when they should get at least a quarter of their total daily calories.
Lisa Ann de Garcia, MA, MEd.