Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, especially for kids headed into the classroom. They need food to fuel their day, get them focused and ready to learn. Unfortunately, most kids are eating things that will work against them. As parents, we want to feed our kids well, but we’re being flooded with a lot of mixed messages about what’s good. And most of those messages are coming from food manufacturers that want to sell stuff.
After years spent trying to figure this out for myself and my kids, I want to help you get past what the commercials are saying and give you some better options. Here are some breakfast favorites that are setting your child up to fail:
Breakfast cereal – No matter how careful you are about the amount of sugar in the breakfast cereal you buy, most are not a good choice for breakfast. Cereals are made from refined flour, which has no nutritional value. It’s a simple carb waiting to turn into sugar as soon as it enters the body. The added sugar makes it even worse. Research has shown, one cup of a popular kid’s cereal is equal to three chocolate chip cookies. It’s better to think of cereal as a dessert instead of a breakfast food.
- Fruit juice – It may surprise you to hear that most fruit juice is sugar water with fruit flavoring. 100% juice, with no added sugar is much better for you – but still not so good. When you drink fruit juice, even the 100% juice, you’re drinking all the sugar of the fruit without the good fiber. It’s much better for kids to eat a piece of fruit, instead of drinking juice.
- Toaster pastries – These are one of the absolute worst breakfast foods. They’re barely even food. Yes, they’re hot, convenient and filled with fruit; but it’s not real fruit, the flour is refined flour, and they’re loaded with sugar. One strawberry tart has at least 4 teaspoons of sugar. But add in the sugar from the flour your child is headed for a major sugar crash. These are not for breakfast and sorry to say – they’re not good at all. For a healthier alternative, take time on the weekend to make these homemade, whole grain toaster pastries.
Breakfast bars- There are so many kinds of breakfast bars and according to television commercials – they’re great for kids. But in reality, today’s breakfast bars are more like candy bars. They’re low in protein, high in sugar and not much different than eating a bowl of sugary cereal. Make your own at home with fresh fruit and whole grains to reduce the sugar and up the nutritional content with flax or chia seeds.
- Bagels – I remember my bagel days, loving them toasted with gobs of peanut butter on top. They were filling and great platform for my protein/peanut butter. Sadly, I found out none of that was true and said goodbye to bagels. Turns out bagels are the equivalent of eating 5 slices of white bread. No fiber. No nutritional value. The fruit flavored varieties don’t contain real fruit. It’s just another fake. A whole grain English muffin with a nut butter or cream cheese will provide longer lasting fuel and appetite control so the kids can concentrate on their schoolwork.
- Muffins- Here I go as Debbie Downer again- store bought muffins are a no go. Yes, they’re quick and great for handing to kids as they rush out the door. But don’t believe the commercials. They may be quick and easy but they’re also full of sugar and refined flour. And once again – there’s no nutritional value. There are plenty of ways to bake your own muffins or other protein-packed breakfasts in a muffin tin.
- Frozen waffles or pancakes – Surprise, surprise, these simple carbohydrates covered in sugary syrup will not fuel your child’s brain. They’re headed for yet another sugar crash if this is breakfast. You can make your own pancakes on the weekend, using whole wheat or gluten free flour. You can add flax or protein powder to add needed protein. Maybe some fresh blueberries or apples for fiber. Pure maple syrup has no added sugar – but it still sugar, so limit the quantity.
- Prepackaged breakfast sandwiches – This is a perfect opportunity for do it yourself sandwiches you can make ahead of time. Packaged sandwiches do contain some protein kids need, but they’re loaded with sodium, fat, and preservatives and aren’t very tasty. Instead, spend a little time on the weekend assembling your own at home with whole grain and fresh ingredients or just try a better alternative.
- Nutella – The commercials say it’s a delicious hazelnut spread and a great way to start the day. What they don’t say is half the Nutella jar is pure sugar and most of the other half is palm oil, which is solid fat. In actuality there’s very little hazelnut in sight. Smearing Nutella on toast for your kids is like giving them a candy bar for breakfast. There’s no way to rationalize it – just pitch it. Try natural nut butter with no added sugar instead.
- Sweetened, nonfat yogurt – A container of kids’ fruit yogurt or those yogurt squeeze tubes are not great options. In fact, many flavored yogurts contain more sugar than a comparable serving of ice cream. Removing the fat from dairy products and adding sugar changes a nutritious breakfast option into a food that is better suited as an occasional treat. A bowl of plain, whole-milk Greek yogurt topped with berries is a much better example of a healthy breakfast. Or you could make your own “yogurt tubes”.
Sports and energy drinks – We know these aren’t for breakfast, but you may think it’s a good idea to send them to school for a little pick me up later in the day. Absolutely not. Gatorade and other sport drinks were designed for adult athletes who need to replenish their electrolytes after intense physical exertion. No child, no matter the sport or activity level is expending enough energy to warrant this kind of drink. A 20 ounce Gatorade contains a whopping 9 teaspoons of sugar!!! In these situations, water, water and more water should be your child’s best friend.
Food manufacturers are doing a great job selling to us and our kids, but sad to see how much they’re working against our kids. If we believe them and send our kids to school without what they need, they’ll be hungry and struggling all day. It may take some preplanning, but you’ll feel much better sending kids to school with a tummy full of real food that contains good protein, fiber and healthy fats.