For many parents and kids alike, the most dreaded part of the school day is the morning. It is hard to rouse everybody in the house and make sure they have everything they need before going out the door, especially if parents are also rushing to get their own affairs in order, too. In the flurry, breakfast often falls to the wayside, but that is to the detriment of all hungry stomachs.
“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, as the body has usually gone through the night without nourishment,” Anne-Marie Davee, registered dietician and a University of New England Nutrition program faculty member. “Research has demonstrated repeatedly that children who eat breakfast perform better academically and have improved classroom behaviors.”
With the ever-present pandemic, good nutrition is important now more than ever. Deborah Brooks, registered dietician and assistant professor of nutrition and dietetics at Southern Maine Community College, said that eating well helps keep your immune system strong so that you can fight off any incoming disease.
“In this case, [it’s making sure] your breakfasts are well-rounded with good healthy nutrients,” Brooks said.
Consider three essential food groups
Remember the idea of a “balanced breakfast?” Davee and Brooks both said that a healthy breakfast should include one item from three of the five food groups: whole grain, fruit or vegetable and some sort of protein.
“This ensures that it’s raising your energy level and also giving you some sustenance to get you through to lunchtime,” Davee said. “Those three food groups are really important.”
Stock up on pantry, refrigerator and freezer items that fill these three groups. In the pantry, Davee said you may have assorted whole grain cereals and breads, granola, nuts, dried fruits, natural peanut butter and avocados. In the refrigerator, you might keep almond or low-fat milk, low-fat yogurt or Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, eggs and shredded cheese.
In the freezer, you might keep assorted frozen fruit — Brooks said frozen berries are an especially good source of important phytonutrients, and freeze well besides — or frozen vegetables like spinach. You will also want an assortment of fresh fruit in a bowl.
Even within these three food groups, you should make sure you have a healthy variety — both to keep breakfast time interesting, but also to make sure you are consuming a broad spectrum of nutrients.
“When we look at berries, apples and grapes, those aren’t the richest sources of vitamin C,” Brooks said. “Kiwi, oranges and grapefruit — those are all high in vitamin C that help really support the immune system.”
Make a menu
A weekly menu is a great way to make sure your breakfast has all the necessary nutrients but also reduces the amount of stress in the morning.
“Families who make up menus are more likely to follow good nutrition habits,” Brooks said. “If it’s a breakfast menu, as long as you have those key three components, you can mix and match however as long as you have that thought process already done.”
You can have a quick rotating list of easy, healthy breakfasts that can be prepared quickly. Davee recommended things like a peanut butter and banana roll-up with a whole wheat tortilla, natural peanut butter and sliced banana; cottage cheese, pineapple tidbits and toasted whole grain english muffins and avocado toast with whole wheat bread, olive oil, minced garlic, avocado, black pepper and shredded cheese.
“Another one that is really popular is fruit smoothies,” Davee said. “This is a great grab-and-go. It can be made with almond milk or low fat yogurt, a variety of frozen fruit and berries and some parents can throw in some veggies if they like and the kids will never know it. Peanut butter could make that third food group of protein.”
You can have simple items on your breakfast menu as well.
“If you have whole grain cereal, milk and bananas, they can just have a bowl of cereal or peanut butter toast [with fruit],” Davee said. “We don’t have to ignore the traditional.”
Prepare in advance
Some meals are great to prepare in advance and have ready in the refrigerator ready to grab and go.
“One of my favorites is a berry yogurt parfait,” Davee said. “I layer frozen berries with a Greek yogurt and homemade granola. You can do it the night before and have it ready to go for the kids. Another make ahead is overnight oats with some milk, raisins, cinnamon and vanilla. Some put peanut butter in it as well. Put that in the fridge overnight and it’s ready to go in the morning. It’s almost like a pudding.”
Even if you are not preparing whole meals in advance, you can prepare some elements. For example, pre-cut fruit for easy access.
“Kids will look at an apple and say, ‘Yeah, I don’t want an apple,’ but as soon as you slice those apples they will eat those apples,” Brooks laughed. “Watermelon, if you chunk it up, they’re going to eat it. It’s almost like picking up a potato chip out of a bowl.”
Another great element to prepare in advance: hard-boiled eggs. Brooks said to peel them in advance and keep them in the refrigerator. In the morning, kids can grab them and go with a sprinkle of salt, pepper or even chili powder and turmeric.
Some items can be prepared and then frozen. Davee said that a breakfast burrito with a whole wheat tortilla, fat-free refried beans, shredded cheese and mango salsa can be made in advance, frozen and easily reheated in the morning. The same can be done for a breakfast sandwich.
“If you make some scrambled eggs, spinach [and] cheese and then you put it in the English muffin you can slightly warm that in the microwave,” Brooks said. “They really are very good.”
Breakfast “cookies” are another good option that cover all the necessary food groups and can be baked at the beginning of the week and eaten on rushed mornings.
“They’re a little more dense, made with whole grain and not high in sugar,” Brooks said.
Other meals, though, will not do well prepared in advance.
“Some of the things that have to be toasted and assembled would have to be done right at the time you would eat it,” Davee said.
Get the kids involved
Asking children what they want for breakfast will help eliminate the guesswork in the morning.
“In the morning, most kids are not eager beavers and they’re not really excited about school work,” Davee said. “They may not be as open to saying what it is that would be good for them. Ask their children the night before. That way, it isn’t another stress item in the morning so the parents can get all the ingredients ready to go.”
You can also get kids involved with the process of making a breakfast menu for the week.
“Then the kids, each time, are learning what it is to have a healthy breakfast,” Brooks said.
Keep breakfast items together
When you store all the prepared breakfast items in a bin or shelf on your refrigerator, it makes for easy access.
“Another way to organize it, if somebody was really organized, [you could] have three days or two days worth of breakfast things stocked,” Brooks said. “Or you have your protein bin, fruit bin [and] whole grain [bin], or you have your whole grain on the counter. There are different ways to organize it to take out the guesswork for the kids.”