Health & Fitness

Breakfast is a healthy start to the school day

About 10 percent of all school-age kids skip breakfast, and by the time kids enter adolescence, as many as 30 percent have completely given up the first meal of the day, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

But these early morning calories offer many benefits. They fuel the body and the brain, helping children better focus in school.

Besides a lack of time, another reason kids, particularly girls, may be skipping breakfast is to try to avoid weight gain. But studies show children who eat breakfast on a regular basis are less likely to be overweight than those who bypass the morning meal (and then tend to overeat later in the day).

With another school year getting under way, we asked experts for advice about getting off to a good — and healthy — start.

Trisha Hardy, program director of child wellness at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta; Cristiana Milone, a clinical nutritionist at Emory University’ and the American Academy of Pediatrics offer these tips and recipes:

Plan ahead

Who has time to cook eggs and wash and cut up fruit in the morning? Boil eggs in advance, cut up fruit, buy individual-size yogurts, even place cereal in individual-size bags so they are ready to go. And have a bowl of fruit out to make it easy to grab and go.

Start slow

Many children won’t have much of an appetite in the morning, especially if they have not been eating breakfast on a regular basis.

Milone recommends starting with a glass of low-fat milk or a homemade smoothie of low-fat milk and frozen fruit. Yogurt is another good choice, as is a banana on the way out the door.

After a few weeks of eating a little something, a bigger appetite will come.

Don’t be fooled

The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests looking for cereals with a fiber content of at least 2 (if not 5) grams per serving. Find cereals that contain no more than 10 to 12 grams of sugar per serving.

Think your kids won’t go for it? A 2011 study of children’s breakfast-eating behaviors found, among other things, that children were just as happy with low-sugar cereals as they were with the high-sugar ones. Consider sweetening cereal naturally by adding pieces of fruit, such as bananas, strawberries or peaches.

Use your imagination

Breakfast, like all other meals, should consist of whole grains, lean protein and fruits and/or veggies.

Sure, for the breakfast traditionalist, go with whole-grain cereal with skim milk, oatmeal with nuts and dried fruit, Greek yogurt with granola and fruit, or eggs with whole-wheat toast.

But consider giving the morning meal a twist such as a frozen waffle with peanut butter and sliced banana. Serve whole-grain waffles and top them with vanilla yogurt and mixed berries (the yogurt and berries will add protein and sweetness, allowing you to skip the syrup).

Keep hard-boiled eggs and fresh fruit on hand, as well as skim milk and bran muffins for the on-the-go options.

You don’t have to stick to typical morning fare. A leftover slice of veggie pizza, a turkey sandwich, and rice and vegetables can also make for a well-balanced breakfast, particularly for fussy eaters who don’t like the typical breakfast foods.

Rethink granola

When deciding between the various granola bars on the market as a quick snack, be an informed consumer.

Look for bars that are high in protein and fiber, as well as those that are more natural in form (i.e. those that have ingredients you could theoretically buy separately at the supermarket and prepare at home).

If sugar is listed as one of the top items in your snack, reconsider your selection.

Make it a family affair

Children emulate what they see, so make sure your children see you taking the time to prepare and eat breakfast.

You can also make it a family rule that everyone has to eat something and then give your kids a few ideas to choose from. Get your kids involved with planning and deciding what to have for this first meal of the day.