School breakfasts done right

We all know it’s the most important meal of the day, but
we keep skipping it anyway

By Edwena Kennedy

You’ve all heard the phrase “breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” It’s true for many reasons, but particularly for kids. While we may know it’s important, it seems breakfast is the last thing on our morning to-do list, or worse, it might not be on the list at all.

Most times, kids (and adults) are swept up in the hectic pace of the morning and getting out the door, and breakfast gets skipped. Other times kids say they aren’t hungry until later in the day. Although common knowledge tells us one thing, sometimes the benefits of eating breakfast aren’t realized in the day-to-day.

Kids have small tummies and need to take advantage of every eating opportunity to get nutrients. Kids have trouble getting enough healthy calories from whole foods throughout the day as it is, especially younger elementary school kids. Meals are often picked at, kids are easily distracted, and generally (unless they’re on a good feeding schedule) they tend to graze on snacks.

Junk food and processed food is always competing for precious tummy space. Eating breakfast first thing in the morning means just one more opportunity to get a healthy meal in, more nutrients, and good fuel for the body and mind.

Kids who skip breakfast have less focus and concentration. Breakfast is the meal where we break-the-fast after going all night without eating. Our blood sugar is lowest and our bodies desperately crave food to boost it. Low blood sugar can make us feel tired, dizzy, hungry, weak, and nauseous.

Breakfast keeps kids at a healthy weight

Because eating a healthy, balanced breakfast will balance our blood sugars and makes us feel full, this decreases hunger and binge eating later in the day. When kids skip breakfast, they increase their risk of over consuming on not only their daily intake of calories, but also foods low in nutrients and high in sugar and refined carbohydrates. This puts them at higher risk of being overweight or obese, thus prone to many preventable health conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

If you and your kids still find you’re experiencing low concentration and cravings or hunger come mid-morning, the answer lies within the type of breakfast North Americans tend to eat.

Most of our society focuses on carbohydrates for breakfast, cereal, toast, bagels, muffins, waffles, bars, etc. Carbohydrates themselves aren’t necessarily the problem, but the fact that most of our breakfast is comprised of carbohydrates means we set up our day like this:

  1. Blood sugars are low in in the morning.
  2. We eat a carbohydrate-heavy breakfast, which raises our blood sugar a little too much and definitely too quickly.
  3. This results in a crash shortly thereafter because it doesn’t take much to process pure, simple glucose.
  4. This quick drop in blood sugar will cause kids to crave more carbs to quickly raise the blood sugar again, and then they’ll crash again. And the cycle of eating carbs and crashing goes on.

Good news is this cycle can be broken by eating more protein.

Protein balances blood sugars and reduces hunger and binge eating. Research shows a higher protein breakfast results in less hunger and fewer calories consumed throughout the day.

Depending on your kids’ age, you want to aim for 15 to 35 grams of protein per meal. Examples include ¾ cup regular (9g protein) or Greek plain yogurt (17g protein) with add-ins.

Avoid the added sugars found in flavoured versions of yogurt. Try sweetening it with whole fruit or mix half flavoured and half plain yogurt to reduce added sugars while getting accustomed to the taste.
Other add-ins include a couple tablespoons of slivered almonds or mixed nuts (4g protein), shredded unsweetened coconut, peanut butter, or any other nut butter (8g protein).

Other examples include:

    • One or two eggs, scrambled (seven to 14g protein), veggies or fruit on the side, a piece of sprouted bread (4g protein) with 1 tbsp. nut butter (4g protein).
    • One slice sprouted bread, such as Ezekiel bread (4g protein), with a half cup mashed avocado spread on top (2g protein) and 2 tablespoons of sprinkled hemp seeds (7g protein) and a cheese string (6g protein).
    • Whole grain toast (3g protein) topped with a half cup mashed canned beans (6g protein) and three tablespoons melted shredded cheese (6g protein).
    • Three-ingredient pancake (1 banana, 2 eggs, dash of cinnamon whisked together and cooked over low-medium heat on a greased pan) (14g protein). Add a dollop of Greek yogurt or nut butter for an extra protein boost.

If your child is stuck on cereal, is picky, or needs small changes at a time, start with a cereal low in sugar (less than 5g per serving), high fiber (more than 5g per serving). Add in protein and nutrient boosters, such as nut or seed butter, chia, hemp or flax seeds, nuts, and fresh fruit. Sub out their milk for a yogurt (a cereal yogurt parfait) or reduce the portion and add an egg on the side.

Steel cut oatmeal is a great choice for an unprocessed carbohydrate that can be part of a good breakfast. To help keep protein and other things such as healthy fat and fiber high, try the recipe below.

Higher protein oatmeal

Ingredients

      • ¾ cup quick cooking oatmeal (or use Quaker’s steel cut oats)
      • 1 cup milk of your choice
      • 1 egg
      • ¼ tsp vanilla extract (optional)
      • ¼ tsp ground cinnamon (optional)

Directions

      1. On medium heat, bring milk to a simmer.
      2. Vigorously whisk eggs for 15-20 seconds.
      3. Once simmering, add oats and mix well.
      4. Add the whisked egg. Alternate between adding egg and stirring.
      5. Continue stirring until fluffy and moist. Add more protein with peanut butter. Top with fruits, chocolate chips, or light drizzle of honey.

If time is still too rushed, try these tips for a tight schedule:

      1. Make breakfast the night before. Reheat as necessary. Breakfast burritos or quesadillas work great.
      2. Figure out what you’ll eat for breakfast the night before and set out dry ingredients, bowls, equipment, or pans.
      3. Make a to-go breakfast the night before. Overnight oats (look for a higher protein, lower sugar recipe) are your best friend.

Remember, most of these breakfasts only take 10 minutes or less to prepare. Practice getting up just 15 minutes earlier to make sure you get a healthy start to your day.

Edwena Kennedy is a mom of two, a registered pediatric dietitian, and lover of all things related to infant and toddler feeding. Follow her on Instagram mylittleeater for daily tips and advice on feeding your little ones.

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