School is back in session, and that means everyone in the house is running around like crazy in the morning trying to get to where they need to be. With so many moving parts going every which way, it's hard enough for parents just to make it out the door, much less take the time to serve a healthy breakfast. Harried and pressed for time, parents often turn to convenience foods just to make sure that kids have something in their stomachs.
Unfortunately, convenience foods usually lack important nutrients that kids need to start their day. This can result in lower energy levels, shorter attention spans, and increased levels of fatigue — all of which can have negative consequences on their health and academic performance. Convenience foods can also be packed with empty calories that can contribute to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay.
It doesn't have to be this way. While it is difficult to completely avoid convenience foods, there are ways to make these unhealthy options part of a healthier breakfast. All it takes is a little thought, preparation, and the desire to make good nutrition a priority in your household. Here are some quick and easy ways to make it happen.
1. Include a Protein
Proteins are an important part of development and and satisfy an appetite more effectively than simple carbs found in convenience foods. Good sources include peanut butter, cheese, and yogurt. If peanuts or dairy are issues, then a quick scrambled egg (you can "nuke" it in the microwave), or hard boiled eggs (which you can keep in the fridge for days) are excellent sources of protein.
2. Don't Forget the Fruit
Wash and prepare fruit the night before, keep them in the fridge, and dole out portions for breakfast. Berries and orange wedges do fine overnight, as do diced melons (just cover the fruit with a lid or plastic wrap). A fresh peach or plum is ready to eat, and you can slow the browning of apple slices, at least for a few hours, with some orange juice.
3. Choose Whole Grains
When possible, choose whole grains — which are a better option than simple carbs, i.e., white flour. Whole grains are more nutritious and have more fiber that helps slow the breakdown of sugars in the body.
4. Hydrate With Water or Juice
Getting enough fluids is important, but consuming sweetened drinks can counteract the benefits of hydration, so give your kids water or unsweetened juice. Kids often don't realize they are dehydrated, or mistake it for hunger, so don't wait until they are thirsty and begin this process early in the day. Pediatricians recommend that children drink six glasses each day.
5. Lead By Example
It's hard to have credibility with our kids if we don't walk the walk, so we as parents should set the proper example and take care of ourselves by eating a good breakfast. Besides, parenting is hard work, and we can't be our best if we're not embracing healthy habits, especially first thing in the morning.
6. Get Enough Rest
Again, this applies to parents and kids. All the nutrition in the world won't offset fatigue, so make sure everyone in the house is well-rested. Sleep deprivation can have a myriad of negative health consequences and can trigger hunger that can lead to unhealthy eating habits, including snacking.
7. Choose Healthy Fats
Fats have been vilified for years, but not all fats are created equally. In fact, certain fats can be good for us, and help sate our children's appetite. Healthy fats can be found in tasty foods like peanut (or almond/cashew) butter, avocados, and olive oil.
8. Keep it Simple
Nothing will discourage a good idea more than making things too complicated, so keep it simple. Breakfast does not have to be an elaborate ordeal, just make sure that certain healthy foods are being eaten and that your children (and yourself!) have good nutrition to start the day.
Remember, for young children, tweens, teens, and even parents, breakfast is an important way to start your day, but it is equally important to choose foods that are healthy and nutritious.
If you have questions or concerns, speak with your pediatrician. For more information, visit the website for the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).