One kid can’t find their math book, the other is still in the bathroom and you just spilled your coffee (while trying to find the math book). Mornings are chaotic enough. And you’re supposed to make breakfast, too?
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Luckily, you don’t have to spend a lot of time to get the benefits of breakfast, says pediatric registered dietitian Jennifer Hyland, RD. But it’s well worth the (minor) effort to make sure your kids start their day with a healthy meal.
“Their breakfast should fill them up and keep them full when they go in for that first class of the day,” she says.
The benefits of breakfast
You’ve heard it before: Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. No disrespect to lunch and dinner, but starting the day with a healthy meal is a worthy habit, especially for growing kids.
A full belly in the morning gives kids the energy they need to learn and grow. Researchers have found that children who eat breakfast perform better on tests of attention and memory and have better academic performance.
Morning meals are also associated with healthier body weight. Research shows that children who regularly eat breakfast are more likely to be a healthy weight than peers who skip breakfast.
How to build a healthy breakfast for kids
To put together a meal that’s nutritious and satisfying, Hyland offers some simple strategies:
Go for the dream team
Your go-to formula should be protein (eggs, cheese, nut or seed butter) plus a carbohydrate — preferably a whole grain or a piece of fruit, says Hyland. The protein keeps little bellies full, while the carb provides healthy energy.
Mix it up
Got extra time on a Saturday morning? Let your littles try something new. Blend some colorful smoothies with their fruits of choice. Or, take whole grain flatbread and cover it with scrambled eggs, turkey sausage and cheese. Top it with avocado and salsa and voila – homemade breakfast pizza!
Keep it varied
Variety is the spice of life and the key to a healthy diet. You don’t have to offer a buffet every morning. But during the week, offer a variety of fruits, veggies, grains, protein and dairy.
Prepping breakfast the night before can be a sanity-saver during hectic mornings. And if you’re staring down a new routine, such as heading back to school after a break, give everyone time to adapt. A week or so before, start getting them up earlier and eating breakfast. The practice runs will be worth it when (if?) your kids are actually ready on time.
Healthy breakfast ideas: A starter list
All parents need shortcuts. Hyland offers some dietitian-approved breakfast suggestions to get you started:
- Plain Greek yogurt topped with a sprinkling of high-fiber, lower-sugar cereal and a handful of fruit.
- Whole grain English muffin with a microwaved egg and a slice of cheese (quick breakfast sandwich).
- Whole-wheat toast with natural peanut butter.
- A hard-boiled egg and a piece of fruit (quick, out the door, protein-carb pairing).
- Unsweetened oatmeal with a swirl of nut butter and berries.
- Overnight oats prepared the night before – get creative with the mix-ins and let the kids prepare them.
- Breakfast tacos (shredded cheese or scrambled eggs on a tortilla, topped with salsa).
Breakfast doesn’t have to be complicated to be healthy. “It doesn’t take a lot of effort,” Hyland says. “Have things ready in the morning that they can just grab and go, even something as simple as a glass of low-fat milk and a baggie of cereal. It can be easy, and it can be fun.”