By Madonna Behen
“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”
You’ve heard that saying so many times it seems trite.
But even though it may be cliche, nutritionists will tell you this tidbit is absolutely true. “Not only is skipping breakfast bad for a child’s metabolism, but it also means they’ll be so hungry later that they’re much more likely to make poor food choices throughout the day,” says Heather Cupp, a registered dietitian at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis.
Anyone with kids knows, however, that weekday morning meals are usually the most hectic. With a limited amount of time to get everyone up, dressed and off to camp, school, or day care, it’s no wonder that fitting in a healthy breakfast can seem like an impossible feat.
No matter how busy your weekday mornings, the whole family can still eat well. All it takes are a few key planning decisions and some smart food choices.
Below, our experts’ strategies for turning the rushed (or nonexistent!) morning meal into a healthy, enjoyable group activity:
1. Prep ahead.
Do as much as you can ahead of time to minimize the morning rush.
If you’re having blueberry pancakes for Sunday brunch, make a few extra batches that you can freeze and use throughout the week. If hot cereal is a favorite, prep a few days’ worth of servings in your slow cooker and keep a big bowl in the fridge. Save even more time by setting the table and packing the car the night before.
2. Optimize your kitchen setup.
Save valuable minutes in the future by taking time now to organize your kitchen so you can easily find the things you regularly need for breakfast, says Kim Cosentino, owner of The De-Clutter Box, an organizing company in Westmont, Illinois.
“Think of the cabinets on either side of the stove as prime real estate, and use them for items that you use on a regular basis,” says Cosentino. “If you cook hot oatmeal a lot, put the oatmeal box in the cabinet next to the stove.”
Similarly, store glasses near the fridge and sink, and stash dishes and silverware near the dishwasher to save time unloading.
3. Think outside the box.
If you’ve got a picky eater who turns up her nose at traditional breakfast foods, there’s no reason the morning meal can’t be a sandwich or even last night’s dinner.
“When I have leftover pasta of some sort, I heat that up or make a point of cooking some sort of pasta the night before so I just have to nuke it in the a.m.,” says Susan McQuillan, a New York City-based registered dietitian, writer and mother. “Usually the pasta already has some sort of vegetable in it, like broccoli — or I just add chopped-up cherry tomatoes and olives before serving.”
4. Put the kids to work.
The more routine steps your kids do on their own, the more time you’ll have to prepare and serve a healthy breakfast. So make it easy for them to pick out their own outfits and dress themselves every morning by organizing their closets and drawers by type of clothing (underwear in one drawer, shirts in another, etc.).
Also put a “clean or dirty” magnet on the dishwasher to get them involved in setting the table and clearing it afterwards.
5. Make it quick, easy, and healthy.
“The ideal breakfast includes protein and fiber, both of which fill kids up and sustain them all morning,” says Elisa Zeid, a New York City-based registered dietitian and the author of Nutrition at Your Fingertips. By contrast, a couple of hours after eating a sugary, high-carb breakfast like a donut or pastry, “a child’s blood sugar will drop, and he won’t be able to concentrate.”
Preparing a well-balanced, nutritious breakfast doesn’t have to take a long time. All of the following kid-friendly meals can be put together in just a few minutes:
• A peanut butter and banana sandwich with a glass of milk
• Trail mix made of nuts, dried fruit and whole-grain cereal
• Yogurt parfait made with high-fiber cereal and fresh fruit
• Slice of leftover veggie pizza, warmed in the toaster oven
• Corn tortilla with melted cheese and salsa
• String cheese, a handful of nuts and a banana
Making time for a healthy breakfast is not only possible, it’s also relatively simple to achieve by implimenting a few of these ideas.
What are you best healthy breakfast tips?