We’ve all heard the expression that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, right? This is especially true when it comes to your kids as they head back to school and require food to fuel their energy needs and learning abilities.
But for some working moms, creating a healthy breakfast in the morning can feel like additional stress to get ready, walk the dog, whip up many meals and get the crew out the door on time. With a pinch of planning, breakfast can jumpstart your kids day with nutritious whole grain fiber, fruit and dairy, maybe even some veggies for bonus points. Simple can be delicious and nutritious.
When I was growing up, my sweet as can be mother got up at the crack of dawn to make three kids a home-made breakfast of scrambled eggs, grits, buttermilk biscuits (yes, from scratch), bacon + ovaltine. Did I say everyday? Yeah I meant Every. Day. Best part, she would come into the bedroom singing (my sister and I shared a room). I can’t make this stuff up.
Problem for me personally is that from as far back as I can remember, I was not a breakfast person. I have zero appetite and hated a hot meal in the morning. Perhaps I used to take way too much time primping and didn’t prioritize sitting down so I’d have to wrap up my biscuit and eggs in a napkin and take it to the bus stop. My bestie was jealous until I started unloading it, still piping hot, on her. I’m pretty sure that’s how I won her over and when we compared notes she said, “well, Jennifer all I got was cold cereal and a vitamin!” Odd thing is, that sounded amazing to me.
The ultimate goal at this first meal of the day is to stabilize blood sugar and energy levels with a balanced breakfast. The key is to get a mixture of protein + complex carbohydrates. Typical breakfast proteins = eggs, Greek yogurt, sausage, turkey bacon, whey or plant-based protein powders for smoothies. Complex carbohydrates are carbs that have starch and/or fiber, while simple carbohydrates are sugars that are broken down quickly.
Great breakfast complex carbs = whole grains like old fashioned oats, whole grain bread, bagel, English muffin, waffle, pancake, muffin (not multi-grain, wheat, white-wheat, or honey-wheat but WHOLE grain). Fiber-rich fruit that is loaded with vitamins and minerals is a great breakfast complex carb too and something to aim for in the morning.
So essentially you want to pair a protein + complex carb. Think eggs + whole grain bagel or peanut butter on whole grain toast; old fashioned overnight oats in milk/yogurt + berries or other fruit (bonus points for brain-healthy omega-3 chia seeds or walnuts). Don’t buy into the belief that there is some perfect, unicorn-like healthy breakfast out there. You can create a good variety of options based on pairing proteins + complex carbs that your kids like to eat.
I had a fairly large amount of responses from mom’s on social media (thank you ladies for your valuable input) who weighed in on what their kids like to eat – the breakfast combination and variety of foods were across the board. The kiddo’s are eating balanced meals with protein from eggs or plain Greek yogurt as well as sausage (both from pork or turkey), whole grains from bread, oats, tortilla’s or flatbread and fruit which is a good source of fiber, vitamins/minerals + antioxidants. And berries are so popular because they positively impact the way the brain neurons fire, decreasing inflammation and increasing cognition.
It’s never a bad idea to involve your kids in the decision-making process as well as help you prepare food the night before. This will teach them valuable skills on how to nourish themselves later in life and get them into the habit of nutritional self-care.
So let’s talk about food strategies for back to school:
From a macronutrient perspective food is categorized into carbohydrates, protein and fat.
1. Old Fashioned Oats: perhaps the #1 default for a lot of mom’s due to their versatility with overnight oats still trending hard and for good reason. You can prepare them ahead of time for a quick grab/go the next day, creating an unlimited variety of flavor combinations. You can definitely build something nutritious and filling around oats (either overnight OR crockpot version) by adding fresh or frozen fruit, and plain Greek yogurt to the mix. Save money and the environment by purchasing a big 32 oz containers instead of individual servings. For some mom’s it might make more sense to purchase the single serving sizes, you’ll just pay for the convenience factor.
If you’re kids don’t like oatmeal, you can make hearty oat muffins made with oats, whole grain or GF flours and fresh or dried fruit + shredded veggies. A client turned me onto Shalene’s Super Hero muffin recipe in her “Run Fast. Eat Slow” cookbook and I revised the ingredients just a tad (see Super SHE-ro muffin recipe here). Great for active kids who need that nutrition boost from muffins made with shredded carrots, yellow squash and/or zucchini. PS: they are delicious! I make a double batch about every 6-8 weeks with a variety of ingredients but typically the ones mentioned but switch up the dried fruit, think golden raisins, cranberries, chopped apricots, figs, and chopped dates (my fave) + sometimes I’ll throw in chocolate chips cuz do you really need a reason? Thank you Enjoy Life for your dairy free mini-chips!
2. Eggs: oats and eggs were pretty much neck and neck in the social media polls and I love to recommend them because they are an affordable protein source and easy to add to a portable whole-grain wrap. Remember to focus on a balance of carbs + protein: whole grain tortilla = fiber-rich carbs, eggs = protein and fats and the yolks contain inositol and choline, organic compounds that are great for supporting brain health.
A whole grain egg wrap is a great place to squeeze in some nutrient dense, fiber-rich veggies like spinach, kale, or more neutral foods like zucchini or yellow squash, or whatever your kids will eat. Finely chop them if you need to make them more palatable for sensitive taste buds or kids with selective eating habits. Flavors can be intense to their immature taste buds when they are young.
However, I’ve also worked with mom’s who tell me their 7 yr olds eat FENNEL! It helps that said fennel is from their school garden program which helps them connect to their food and allow them to benefit from eating food they had a hand in planting and cultivating. Wow, I wish we had a school garden program at Warren T. Jackson!
There is a wide range of veggies to choose from and ideally if you can avoid eating the same thing for breakfast everyday that’s great. Eat the rainbow, focus on seasonal produce and variety is key for balanced gut health.
3. Yogurt: yogurt parfaits and loaded yogurt bowls are a great way to express your food creativity! We eat with our eyes and it’s so fun to have these fun layered yogurt parfaits. But what’s even better is that the options are ENDLESS. You can layer glass dishes, glasses or take away containers with yogurt then berries or sliced banana, chopped apples/pears or anything your kids like. Now add another layer of yogurt then a whole grain granola or WG cheerios or another cereal your kids like (I would suggest lower-sugar). Top with an optional drizzle of honey or maple syrup or agave if you like and add a little of the granola or cereal on top. If your kiddos are sensitive to textures you might want to stick with simple versions like just yogurt with chopped fruit and/or cereal.
If this feels too time consuming, some moms might reach for Chobani kids flips. Most of these fun-tasting yogurts have cane sugar as the #2 ingredient and contain 15 grams of sugar in such a small container. That might be a lot considering it’s only breakfast and the American Heart Association recommends that kids keep their sugar content to <25 grams/day or 6 teaspoons (100 calories total). With this flavored yogurt, you’ve gobbled up over half the allowance with one yogurt. So 8 grams of added sugars at 3 meals a day is 24 so it’s not the worst idea to familiarize yourself with nutrition labels and know what foods add sugar by checking the ingredient list.
PS: the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children stay on whole milk until the age of 2- unless there is reason to switch to low-fat milk sooner to avoid added sugar commonly found in yogurts marketed to babies and toddlers.
You can also make a loaded yogurt bowl with mini protein muffins for another spin top with fruit & granola too or crumble the muffins up and use those as layers like in the parfait. I almost don’t like to bring this up because I teach mindful and intuitive eating but if you educate the palate to always eat sweets, that’s what it might want all the time. Kids + sugar + mindful eating is such a touchy subject I really don’t know what I would have done with ME if I was a mom. One year I went to the dentist shortly after binging on Halloween candy and had EIGHT cavities. My sweetest mother almost had a heart attack and let us get cracked out on candy Halloween night, perhaps that week, but then bought our bags of candy for $25. Back then that was some serious money to me but it likely saved her a ton at the dentist!
Frozen waffle or protein pancake (clients love frozen Kodiak protein pancakes too) can be toasted quickly, topped with plain Greek yogurt jelly or fresh fruit for natural sweetness with nutrition to boot. If your kids are dairy free you can either purchase cashew, coconut, soy, or yogurt alternatives OR peanut butter, almond butter, sunflower butter for nut allergies as a protein-based topping and add fresh berries for that brain-boost.
Remember to pair some sort of protein source like eggs or Greek yogurt with a complex carbohydrate- in this case the whole grain waffle or pancake & fruit to balance blood sugar levels and provide steady lasting energy for a productive day of learning! Remember to focus on FIBER to stabilize blood sugar and extend energy levels.
And for the kids who don’t have much of an appetite until late morning (this was me) – making Oatty Energy Balls loaded have the balanced blend of whole grain oats, protein powder or PB2 powder, unsweetened sunflower butter + a pinch of agave can be a fast grab-n-go. I actually had two with a glass of almond milk for breakfast because I was in the mood for something small, quick and easy. I like using Trader Joe’s unsweetened sunflower butter (ps: option for those kids w nut allergies) and you can add your fave dried fruit. If you really want to uplevel the antioxidants add in some cacao powder for that chocolate taste we love!
Food is a powerful element of our life in fact the most watched VIDEOS on social media, the most liked PHOTOS, the highest rated TV SHOWS are cooking shows- it’s all about FOOD! And it’s everyone’s job to find the food and combination of food that they enjoy, gives them energy, and makes them FEEL good to live a joyful and productive life. With a little creativity and planning, breakfast can be worth getting up early for!