Weekday mornings at Sarah and Josh Brewster’s house are about long, leisurely breakfasts and lingering at the table to discuss the day ahead.
The reality for the Brewsters is that mornings are focused on getting out the door. One of their kids just started preschool; the other goes to day care.
As with other families, the Brewsters, who live in the Waldo neighborhood of Kansas City, Mo., face challenges at breakfast time. Francie, 3½, isn’t interested in food until a good hour or more after she has gotten up. Well, unless that “food” is candy or an ice pop.
As for Luke, 1½, he “would eat in his crib if I let him,” Sarah said.
A typical weekday breakfast for the Brewster kids: a multigrain waffle, piece of fruit such as a clementine orange or banana and milk.
But some days, Francie will have eaten just half a waffle by the time she’s dropped off at school, which mom Sarah knows is not ideal.
“It’s mostly just a time factor,” she said. “We’re as healthy as I feel we can be with our lifestyle.”
Sarah does sometimes worry about “the balance” of foods at breakfast. She tries to avoid feeding the kids empty calories. She’s always on the lookout for healthy on-the-go options.
And we’re here to help. We talked to four local experts — a pediatrician and three registered dietitians — about good, nutritious breakfasts for kids, especially school-age kids. It’s a topic that is always timely but one that has also taken on some urgency given America’s epidemic of childhood obesity.
It’s easier to maintain a healthy weight if you eat breakfast. And that’s just one benefit.
The perfect breakfast
This depends on whom you ask. But generally you can’t go wrong with some protein, some carbohydrates and some fiber. For instance: a scrambled egg and a piece of fruit, such as an apple.
Or a bowl of whole-grain cereal in milk with some fruit on top.
Or whole-wheat toast spread with nut butter, plus a piece of fruit and a glass of milk.
Here’s an easy-to-follow rule: 1, 2, 3. Aim for three food groups at breakfast time, said Kodi Moore, dietitian at the Barry Road Hy-Vee store in Kansas City.
For example: multigrain sandwich thins with nut butter and sliced bananas (whole grain, protein, fruit).
The power of protein
Yes, carbs fuel our brain. But a breakfast high in protein makes you feel full and reduces hunger throughout the day. A recent University of Missouri study proves it.
Using functional MRIs, researchers found that protein reduced the brain signals controlling “food motivation and reward-driven eating behavior” in overweight, breakfast-skipping adolescent girls.
Some ways to get protein in the a.m.: Eggs (hard-boiled ones are grab-and-go); low-fat or nonfat cheese, yogurt or cottage cheese; nut butters and lean meats. Greek yogurt has twice the protein of regular yogurt. Deli turkey or ham are decent options (look for the healthiest versions, such as nitrate-free or reduced sodium). Canadian bacon is a wiser choice than either regular bacon or turkey bacon (or sausage). Cereal contains some protein. As does milk, of course.
Drink your water
Chances are, the first thing your child drinks in the morning is either juice or milk. But pediatrician Isac Rosenberg of Child Care Limited in south Kansas City recommends a glass of water instead.
When we wake up, we’re in a state of dehydration, he said. And the best way to fix that is with water.
Milk is important for kids, too — Rosenberg advocates nonfat milk and other dairy products — but he said milk should be considered food. “Don’t think of milk as something you drink when you’re thirsty,” he said.
As for juice? Rosenberg calls it “sugar water.”
Sunny side out
Eggs are a dandy source of protein (and 13 essential nutrients), but yes, they’re high in cholesterol. You can mitigate that, though. If you’re scrambling two eggs, just use one of the yolks, Rosenberg suggests. The yolks are where the cholesterol hangs out, and “we don’t want arteries clogging up at an early age,” he said.
When Rosenberg makes pancakes, he uses only egg whites (and nonfat milk and whole-grain flour).
As for bacon, sausage and ham, those early-morning meats that go so well with eggs? No, no and no, said the good doctor.
Fruit is your friend
Most kids love fruit juice, even if their parents water it down. But a piece of actual fruit is the more nutritious option. And if you want to up the fiber, combine fruit with a whole-grain cereal or whole-grain waffles or pancakes.
Dietitian Mitzi Dulan of Leawood, Kan., (www.mitzidulansbootcamp.com), team nutritionist for the Kansas City Royals, said oatmeal with fruit — fresh berries or dried fruit, such as cherries — is a fantastic breakfast. Stir in a cup of milk (she recommends 1 percent organic milk for kids) and you’ve added protein and calcium, too.
Variety, the spice of life
Mix things up — at breakfast and throughout the day. “I try to get kids eating a variety of foods as early as possible,” Dulan said. If children aren’t exposed to different kinds of foods, it shouldn’t be a surprise when they turn into picky eaters at 8 or 9, she said.
And get your kids involved in the kitchen. No, you may not have time to cook hot breakfasts during the week. But your kids can help you make pancakes on the weekend. Dulan suggests whole-wheat pancakes with fresh or frozen blueberries added to the batter.
Eat your vegetables
Your child probably isn’t interested in a salad at 7 a.m. (or maybe any other time). About the only time Americans eat veggies for breakfast is in an omelet, which is a decent breakfast option. Add whole-grain toast and you’ve covered three food groups.
“In other countries they eat vegetables for breakfast all the time,” said Shelly Summar, weight management program coordinator at Children’s Mercy Hospital. “But we tend to get stuck in a rut.”
How about pizza for breakfast? Summar is fine with that, especially if you top it with vegetables and lean meats (sorry, pepperoni) and opt for a whole-grain crust.
Do the microwave
… or toaster. Pop Tarts and their ilk are neither very satisfying nor high in nutritional value, Summar said. Put them in the dessert category. Whole-grain waffles or pancakes are better options.
Breakfast sandwiches, from the grocery store or prepared at home, can be a decent alternative if made with whole-grain bread and lean meats instead of sausage or bacon.
A sausage biscuit with cheese? Nah. Lots of fat and sodium.
Turkey bacon has less fat than pork bacon but it’s still full of preservatives, Dulan said. “When you can’t pronounce the ingredients — and that’s the thing with the highly processed foods — it’s probably better left on the shelf,” she said.
Lean Pockets aren’t a typical breakfast food, but some have whole grains, they have “adequate” protein and aren’t too high in fat, Summar said.
The cereal conundrum
What would the average kid rather eat: All-Bran Buds or Fruity Pebbles? You know the answer.
Hy-Vee stores’ NuVal system scores the nutrition value of foods on a 1 to 100 scale. “I tell parents to let your kids pick out whatever cereal they want as long as the NuVal score is over whatever you choose,” Moore said. “Usually ’30’ will get them out of the sugary cereals.”
Look for a whole grain as the No. 1 ingredient in cereals (and breads).
Is a bowl of (whole-grain) cereal with milk a bad breakfast? “I think you could do better, but I don’t think it’s a terrible choice,” Summar said.
If your kids like hot oatmeal, you can gradually reduce the amount of brown sugar you add, Dulan said.
You may not have time to heat a pan, but you might have time to throw a few ingredients into a blender. Moore at Hy-Vee suggests a milk-fruit-nut butter smoothie, such as chocolate milk blended with a banana and dollop of peanut butter.
Chocolate milk, though? “I don’t want [kids] having chocolate milk three times a day, but if one of their servings is a sweetened milk I’m not worried about it if they’re active,” she said.
A smoothie might appeal to a child who claims to not want breakfast. Another option: Those instant-breakfast packets you mix with milk.
‘I’m not hungry’
The nutrition experts we consulted generally agreed that something for breakfast is better than nothing, although there’s not much to be said nutrition-wise for a doughnut, for instance.
Or a juice box. “As much as I don’t really like doing juice all the time, if it comes down to them not eating anything, a juice box might help jump-start their metabolism a little bit,” Moore said.
A Larabar, made of fruits and nuts “mushed together” in flavors such as banana bread and PB&J, is an alternative to a doughnut that kids tend to like, Moore said.
And even if your kid wants just a doughnut, you can work from there, Summar said. Add a glass of milk, then continue to “move in the direction of a healthy breakfast most days of the week.
“Everyone can find something they like that’s a healthier option. They can.”
Some quick breakfast ideas
• Lean ham, low-fat cheese or peanut butter on whole wheat toast
• A hard-boiled egg with fruit
• String cheese with whole-wheat pita bread or reduced-fat whole grain crackers
• A corn or whole-wheat tortilla with melted low-fat cheese; add salsa if desired
• A breakfast smoothie made of fresh or frozen fruit with milk (1 percent or skim) or yogurt (low-fat or nonfat)
• A mini-pizza: whole wheat English muffin topped with low-fat cheese and pizza sauce
• Nonfat yogurt topped with fresh or frozen berries and a whole-grain cereal
• A high-fiber chewy bar with drinkable yogurt
• String cheese wrapped in a slice of lean deli ham and a slice of whole-grain bread
• Whole-grain waffles or crackers topped with peanut butter
• A hard-boiled egg and tomato juice or V8 juice
• A breakfast cookie and a single serving of milk
• Breakfast-in-a-bag: whole almonds, dried cherries or cranberries, whole grain cereal and chocolate Chex cereal (pre-portion in snack-size bags)
• Breakfast parfait: layer strawberry yogurt, low-fat granola and sliced banana. Or stir 2 tablespoons powdered peanut butter into vanilla yogurt and top with crushed graham crackers.
Sources: Children’s Mercy Hospital, Hy-Vee grocery store, Kansas City, Mo.