Ask the Nutritionist: Start Smart
by Leika Suzumura, R.D., PCC Nutrition Educator
Q: “My daughter always rushes off to school without eating breakfast. Do you have any quick and easy meal ideas?”
A: It’s been proven breakfast is the best way to help kids focus and learn while at school. Fueling them first thing in the morning nourishes their growing bodies and sets them up for success at school, both academically and socially.
Traditional American breakfast items in general tend to be high in carbohydrates (often refined) and lower in protein and other nutrients. This can set up your child for a crash-and-burn scenario as the fuel quickly runs out. Have you ever witnessed the meltdown that occurs when your child just can’t keep it together any longer? Perhaps you’ve had a similar experience, losing your own temper or screaming about something minute when really you were growling, “I am hungry!” I know I have (eyes down in embarrassment). Including a good source of protein and some healthy fat like nut butters or avocado in your breakfast will help keep your body fueled much longer. This is crucially important so that learning can take place at school rather than having tiredness or irritability take center stage due to hunger.
Tight morning schedules can make it difficult to fit this crucial meal into our day, but finding a solution is well worth the effort. Start by talking with your child to see what they want to eat in the morning and what is feasible with the time they have. If sitting down for breakfast is not an option, find something they can grab on their way out the door and eat at the bus stop. If they simply aren’t hungry, pack a portable item they can eat a little later in the morning. You might be surprised to hear your child doesn’t like cereal for breakfast and would rather have the leftover mac and cheese from the night before. Or maybe you need to allow for more time. I once was reminded of this when I claimed we didn’t have enough time in the morning: “Have you tried waking up 15 minutes earlier…?” How humbling it was, knowing the important role breakfast plays. When there’s a will, there’s a way!
Try these easy morning options and see what fits well for your family:
- Egg scramble English muffin — Portable and filling. Toss in a handful of chopped greens like kale while cooking the egg and make this breakfast bundle a powerhouse.
- Breakfast bar — Just grab and go.
- Yogurt parfait — Make the night before so it’s ready in the morning.
- Whole wheat toast with nut butter — Quick and easy, plus it provides a little protein to stay fueled until lunch.
- Smoothie — Bursting with flavor and nutrients, it can be stored in a container and sipped throughout the morning.
- Bagel with cream cheese — personalize with flavored spreads or sliced meats.
- Single-serving yogurt — Flavored or plain, both offer probiotic benefits. Save money by purchasing the large container and repacking into a smaller reusable container.
- Kefir — The drinkable yogurt. Forget the spoon and just sip your morning fuel.
- Breakfast burrito — Fill it up with eggs and a splash of salsa; easy to carry on the go.
- Homemade muffins or scones — make a dozen and keep them through the week or freeze some for next week, too!
- Granola — Just add a little milk and it’s ready! Overflowing with a variety of nutrients including fiber, protein and vitamins.
- Whole fruit — A great fallback option when nothing else is ready.
About the Nutritionist
Leika received her undergraduate degree in nutrition at Bastyr University. She has dedicated her career to community nutrition with an emphasis on childhood nutrition and parent education as a way to support the livelihood of the next generation. Her approach focuses on bringing kids and parents into the kitchen so that learning nutrition is fun and delicious!