By Kathleen Berger in collaboration with the University of Missouri
A new school year means settling into a new morning routine.But that first step – breakfast – can sometimes be a parent’s biggest challenge when preparing meals for their students.
“How do you put in enough variety and nutrition and make sure it’s something theywill eat?” asked Jennifer Rodriguez.
Rodriguez and her husband, Jose, have two children attending school this year. Their 5-year old daughter Nataliais now in kindergarten and 2-year old Gabby started preschool.
“Now that Natalia is in kindergarten, we can no longer capitalize on preschool’s flexible start time,” Jennifer said. “Putting together breakfast, lunch and snacks in a timely fashion requires a new level of planning and thought. It’s exciting, but it’s also kind of nerve-racking and stressful.”
Jennifer and Jose face the tall task every morning, but MU Health Care experts say it’s not insurmountable. For families in the same boat, they have suggestions for a nutritious breakfast to help fuel a child’s education.
“It has long been stated that breakfast is the most important meal,” said Julie Benard, MD, a pediatrician and board-certified pediatric obesity medicine specialist with MU Health Care. “Many studies show that kids and adults who eat breakfast perform better in school and at their jobs, and they also find it easier to maintain a healthy weight.”
For an easy breakfast, Benard said proteins, such as eggs, peanut butter or some lean deli meats.
“One of our big hunger hormones is called ghrelin, and protein actually helps to suppress that level after you eat. So, if you eat a little bit of protein, it helps you stay fuller for longer.”
She recommended avoiding bacon and sausage because they are high in fat and sodium. Instead, try creating breakfast sandwiches using lean deli meats such as ham or turkey.
Fresh fruit can also help kids stay full and focused.
“Whole pieces of fruit are definitely better than fruit juice, which tends to contain a lot of sugar and not so much the fiber that a whole piece of fruit would give you,” she explained.
Benard warned parents to avoid sugary cereals in the morning, as well as easy-to-grab foods like toaster pastries and granola bars. She said they tend to have a lot of sugar and not much fiber, so kids don’t stay full and focused for very long. Instead, try whole-grain cereal, oatmeal and a sprinkle of granola in low-fat yogurt. These can all serve as quick, healthy breakfast options.
For drinks, it’s suggested to stick with water or low-fat milk.
The Rodriguez family hopes their daughters will learn to make healthy choices as they grow.
“We want whatever eating habits they develop now to carry throughout their whole lives,” said Jennifer.