Eating breakfast means more than having a student who's not hungry. What you feed your child matters, too.
"When they say breakfast is the most important meal of the day, it absolutely it the most important meal of the day," said pediatrician Francine Pearce, MD, who practices at Franciscan Physician Network Family Health Center Frankfort. "Sending your child off to school without eating really puts them at a huge disadvantage.”
What You Eat For Breakfast Matters
A study in the Journal of American College of Nutrition found that what children eat for breakfast can help or hurt how they perform on tests. Whole grains boosted tested performance; while juice had a negative effect.
"Keep in mind, when we send our kids off with a meal, it can't be a sugary meal," Dr. Pearce said. "If we do orange juice, cereal, milk, those are all full of sugar. By 11:00 they're having that sugar crash so now they're really sleepy and not focusing."
Instead aim for a high-fiber breakfast paired with some protein for a healthy balance.
"We need high-protein breakfasts that include things like eggs, even pancakes, using preferentially something more like the pure maple syrup that doesn't alter your blood sugars as much, sausage meats, those kinds of things," Dr. Pearce said. "Smoothies are also a great choice because you can get a lot of nutrition in with the smoothie, but again, we just want to minimize how much sugar we're sending them off with because that zing in the morning of sugar will certainly be followed by a crash in the early afternoon."
Better Breakfast Options
Here are 5 low-stress options to get you and your kids out the door and ready for their day:
- 2 whole-grain waffles, 2 Tbsp peanut butter on top (you can also drizzle some honey for sweetness or add chopped banana or berries as well), paired with 1 cup of milk
- High-fiber bagel or bagel thin or toast, 2 Tbsp peanut butter, banana and 1 cup milk
- Bowl of oatmeal made with milk and chopped apple. Add nuts to oatmeal or have a hard-boiled egg on the side for added protein.
- Make a breakfast pizza out of an English muffin, red sauce on top, mozzarella cheese, and a pinch of basil. Toast in oven until cheese starts to brown or cook in microwave for 45 seconds to one minute.
- Eggs and toast, paired with a piece of fruit and glass of milk.
Round Out Your Day Right
A healthy breakfast is just the start of school success, Dr. Pearce says.
"It's important to make good food choices throughout the day," she said. "I can't emphasize enough that we live in the era of preservatives. Everything we eat has preservatives in it. Go back to just the old, traditional fruits, vegetables as your snacks, trying to have a protein and a vegetable for every meal, particularly your lunch and your dinner."
Dr. Pearce offers these tips for smart snacking after school:
- Make fruit and vegetables readily available to snack on.
- Select healthy snack options to stock your kitchen. "Don't keep unhealthy snacks in the home because if they're there, somebody will eat it."
- Other grab-and-go snacks include prepackaged yogurts (choose low-sugar varieties), whole-grain crackers, cheese and protein shakes.
"Remember things that are marketed to kids are high in sugar. So we do have to be careful," Dr. Pearce said. "Read those labels, and when you see a high-sugar content, leave those out. We really have to go back to getting some more natural foods in."