The old axiom is true: Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Starting the day off right is a must, whether you’re heading out to school or the office, or learning and working from home. Brains and bodies, both big and small, need a healthy dose of protein for long-lasting energy and to prevent a mid-morning crash. While the carbs found in cereal and toast are great for a quick burst of energy, it’s protein that fuels the body and brain with all-day energy.
Check out some of our favorite easy, tasty and fun recipes to start the day off on the right foot.
Beans offer a great source of vegetarian protein as well as fiber and iron. And though it may seem strange to mix them into something sweet, like a mango and white bean smoothie from the Some the Wiser blog, your kids won’t even know they’re there. Beans add a creamy, rich texture to smoothies, creating a more substantial breakfast than juice alone. If your kids fear green things, skip the mint leaves in the recipe.
Cute and bite-sized for little hands, a recipe from the Lemon Tree Dwelling packs everything you like about breakfast into adorable breakfast egg muffins. One large egg contains about 6 grams of protein and is also a great source of vitamin D. Top that egg off with a little bacon, cheese and milk, and you have a tasty powerhouse that will please grown-ups and kids alike.
3. Chia seeds
In addition to containing a lot of fiber and omega-3 fatty acids, chia seeds have a ton of protein and will help to fill little tummies (and keep them full for hours to come). You can turn these tiny little seeds into a creamy pudding that tastes like dessert. Healthy Little Foodies uses only three ingredients for banana chia pudding, and it’s sweetened with fruit. Using coconut milk makes it extra rich and creamy (and a great vegan option), but any milk on hand will work great.
The protein found in dairy, like milk and cheese, helps to build and maintain strong bones. Diary also provides your kids with important nutrients like calcium, potassium and vitamin D. You can make sweet and filling cottage cheese pancakes, from Mom’s Dish, that will keep your kids going strong all morning, compared to plain carb-rich pancakes. You can use any type of flour you prefer (a great option for those who are gluten-free!), but make sure to reach for small curd cottage cheese for the best texture. You can even freeze these pancakes for super-quick breakfasts on busy mornings.
Make your own homemade energy bars — for less money than you would pay at the store — and customize them to your heart’s content. In addition to being a great source of vegan protein, nuts are loaded with antioxidants, healthy fats and fiber. Krolls Korner’s 5-ingredient energy bars contain both nuts and nut butter, along with oats and any of your favorite mix-ins. Try dried fruit (cranberries, blueberries or currants), chocolate chips, coconut flakes or seeds. Bonus: The kids will love choosing their favorite mix-ins and help to stir together these no-bake bars.
6. Protein powder
Grown-ups generally mix protein powder into smoothies, but this can be less than appetizing for kids. Did you know you can also bake with protein powder? Heather and Lisa from the Made in a Pinch blog offer a clever twist on banana bread with their healthy and incredibly good banana protein muffins. With less sugar and more protein than traditional banana bread or muffins your grandma used to make, these muffins are perfect for busy mornings. You can use plant-based or dairy-based protein powder in this recipe.
Though we often think of oats as being rich in carbohydrates and fiber, they also have a higher amount of protein than most other grains. With the addition of dairy (in the form of yogurt and milk), overnight oats with yogurt and berries by the Yummy Toddler Food blog have even more protein. All you need is a bowl and a spoon to mix everything together, then pop your oats in a container (like a Mason jar) and let them sit overnight in the fridge. Your kids can customize their own jars by adding different types of fruits, cinnamon, or sweetener (like honey or brown sugar).
In addition to being a great plant source of protein, tofu also contains all nine essential amino acids, plus iron and calcium. If you love the taste of scrambled eggs, but want to skip the actual egg, reach for a block of firm tofu and try out a delicious tofu scramble from Nora Cooks. Nutritional yeast and turmeric give this scramble a traditional look and flavor, and a little non-dairy milk adds moisture. Stir in your favorite add-ins, like cooked greens, sliced peppers, or diced tomatoes, or top it with avocado slices and serve with a slice of toast or an English muffin.
9. Lean meat and poultry
Lean meat and poultry, like pork, chicken or beef, are a great way to get protein and other nutrients (such as iodine, iron, zinc and essential fatty acids) into your diet. The perfect combination of sweet and savory, French toast wrapped sausage dippers from Food Fun Family will delight the kids on mornings when you have a little more time to prep breakfast. For the healthiest option, reach for chicken sausage instead of pork.
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Editor’s note: This article was originally published in September 2021, and updated in August 2022.