Rise and Shine: A Healthy Start to the Day

Your parents used to say it all the time, and it’s true: Breakfast really is the most important meal of the day, especially for kids. Groggily or grumpily, you might have taken that advice to heart and eaten whatever was either put in front of you at the table, or whatever you’d scrounge up for yourself. Or maybe you were that kid who snuck your breakfast under the table, as eager to have your pet puppy scarf it up as you were to get rid of it.

The thing is: Your parents knew what they were talking about. There’s plenty of research to back up the fact that kids who don’t eat breakfast are likely to have disadvantages. Without that morning meal, children are less likely to participate in sports or excel academically, and will lack the energy to do much throughout their busy day. The U.S. Department of Agriculture hosted a second symposium on issues in children’s health and nutrition. Topics mentioned included how “a hungry child can be apathetic, disinterested, and irritable when confronted with difficult tasks.” (In other words hangry!) Breakfast, it added, “helps improve memory and positively affects the tasks that require the retention of new information.”

Still not convinced about the importance of breakfast? There are other reasons to make sure your kid eats a healthy meal before heading off to school. For one, breakfast can help keep a child’s weight stable. Without breakfast, the body can’t convert food into the energy it needs to get the body moving and burning calories. To compensate, lots of kids end up snacking on high-calorie foods later in the day. This is particularly important now because, according to the USDA, childhood obesity is a serious concern. Nearly a third of American kids, it says, are “at risk for preventable diseases like diabetes and heart disease due to being overweight or obese.”

What you eat for breakfast matters. Foods that are nutrient-dense and reflect the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans are the best options for breakfast. The MyPlate symbol reminds us that five food groups — fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy — are the building blocks of balanced eating.

This is especially the case at breakfast. According to the guidelines, making half your plate fruits and vegetables is key. Avocados are a super breakfast option, as their versatility allows them to be incorporated into everything from breakfast smoothies to savory mains, like grab-n-go wraps. Keep in mind that one ounce of fresh avocado has nearly 20 vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, especially beneficial for growing, young bodies.

When preparing breakfast for your kids, be sure to include fiber-rich options like whole grains and proteins with low added sugars. These can help boost your child’s concentration and memory, especially during school hours.

Creative Breakfast Options

Instead of pastries, breakfast bars, cereals, and flavored milks kids hanker for, switch it up with something delicious and loaded with nutrients. This can be as simple as a smoothie, with the addition of a chopped avocado to fresh berries, a multi-grain bagel with avocado slices and a piece of cheese, or an egg white and avocado wrap. If your child prefers a cold, sweet start to the day, this avocado and banana overnight oat recipe might be just the ticket. Time-saving, naturally sweetened with the addition of fruit and orange juice, dairy-free (it uses almond milk), and wallet-friendly, this is the ideal make-ahead, quick breakfast solution. And if you’d like to pack a great to-go snack for the kids, these oatmeal avocado breakfast cookies, made with whole grains and sweetened with chopped dates, are a winning choice.

Making Breakfast Happen

A few handy tips will ensure your kids get the best start to the day:

  • Set the alarm so kids have plenty of time to get ready and then at the table eating, rather than running out the door to make the bus or the first bell.
  • Make sure your pantry and fridge are stocked with nutrient-dense choices that provide a slow release of energy instead of a sugar rush jolt.
  • Help your kids plan their own breakfast the night before (see overnight oat recipe above, for example).
  • Offer some grab-and-go options for kids who say they’re “not hungry” in the morning. These might include a natural yogurt with sliced fruit, a smoothie, or nut butter on toast.

When it comes to starting the day off right, help your kids by making sure they’re off to a great new day with a delicious, energy-packed breakfast!

By Barbara Ruhs, MD, RDN October 23, 2016

An avid avocado-eater and guacamole-lover, Barb is the Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist for Avocados From Mexico and former sports nutritionist for Harvard University. Her philosophy on food is simple: Enjoy what you eat, prepare food with love, and add avocados to everything! 

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