Breakfast ideas for kids: Fuel their brains for learning

Dec. 14, 2021
There are simple breakfast ideas for kids that can get the family started off right in the morning. Source: Getty Images.
Getting the family off to the right start in the morning can start with simple breakfast ideas for kids. Source: Getty Images.

Do you want your child to have a better report card? Having your child eat breakfast is a great place to start. Having some easy breakfast ideas for kids makes that easier.

“It absolutely makes a difference,” said Karen Beers, a clinical dietitian at UCHealth Memorial Hospital.  She knows what she’s talking about. She taught high school before she became a dietitian, has three children of her own, and specializes in pediatric nutrition.

Beers has no trouble getting her own kids to eat breakfast because from the time they were little, it has been a family routine to get up early enough to eat breakfast together.

“It’s not always possible, but they know they’re expected to eat something before they go to school,” she said.

But what if you haven’t been able to establish that routine?

“Something I tell parents when they do have trouble getting their kids to eat breakfast is that breakfast food can be anything with protein that they will eat in the morning. A turkey sandwich? OK. Last night’s leftover stew? Why not?  Something is better than nothing.”

The preponderance of evidence suggests that eating breakfast really does help kids learn. After fasting all night, a developing body – and brain – needs a fresh supply of nutrients, she said.

“That’s what I tell them. Your brain hasn’t had anything to eat all night. Your cells want to be fed. Kids learn so much better when they’re fueled,” she said.

As a teacher, she was frustrated with schools that only supplied breakfast on test days, because they need breakfast to fuel learning every day.

Get some healthy school lunch tips and recipes.

Dozens of studies have consistently shown that children who eat breakfast perform better academically than those who don’t. In one study of 4,000 elementary school students, researchers measured the effects of eating breakfast by administering a battery of attention tests. Across the board, the breakfast eaters performed better than those children who had skipped breakfast.

She’s not surprised.

“Your brain can’t function if it doesn’t have fuel. Children don’t have the same reserves that adults do,” she said.

But what should they eat? It has to be quick (for mom or dad), nutritious and – in some cases – not too expensive. That leaves out sugary cereals and pricey microwave meals.

In a pinch, she said, “very lightly sweetened cereals in milk at least provide something – a little protein in the milk. Or start them out with a Greek yogurt, which has less sugar and more protein” than regular yogurts.

Here are some easy breakfast ideas for kids:

Shakes: Put a whole ripe banana (small to medium) in the blender with a cup of low-fat milk, a dash of vanilla and a couple of ice cubes. Sneak in a tablespoonful of wheat germ.  It’s easy to drink while getting ready for school.

Smoothies:  If time is an issue, prepare it the night before and whirl it up in the morning. Include some fruit, Greek yogurt, maybe a little protein powder or nonfat powdered milk. If you freeze some of the fruit ahead of time, it makes the mixture even more appealing, Beers said.

Toast: Stock up on whole-grain bread, English muffins or bagels. Toast one and add peanut butter or any nut butter they like. Top with a few raisins or chopped nuts. Maybe even some sliced apple or pear. It’s a portable snack they can take to the bus stop, if they’re running late.

Micro-scrambles: If your kids like eggs, scramble one or two, put it in a microwave-safe bowl and nuke it for 30 seconds at a time until it’s cooked.  These can be prepped the night before and, if you want to, add some grated cheese, diced ham, minced peppers or mushrooms, whatever they like. The next morning, just stir, cover and cook.

Other eggs: Some kids like hard-boiled eggs – and they’re also portable for kids on the go. Peel and put in a zip-lock bag with pepper and a sprinkle of salt, if they need it.  If you have time, you can also make a quick egg muffin by toasting a whole-grain English muffin, then adding a scrambled egg and a slice of cheese or ham on top. A breakfast sandwich is always good. Or bake eggs with add-ins in muffin cups and freeze them until needed. Then pop them into the microwave for a quick breakfast.

Burritos:  Stuff a warm tortilla with scrambled egg, maybe ham or cooked sausage, cheese, onions or peppers, spinach, whatever your child likes. Wrap them restaurant-style and they can eat them in the car or on the bus. “The big thing here is portion size. You want to make sure that it’s not too big, especially for kids with weight issues.’’

Parfaits: In a parfait glass (makes it more fun) or clear drinking glass, layer low-fat, low-sugar granola with their favorite Greek yogurt. Throw in a few berries (blueberries, strawberries, whatever they like) or other fruit to make it more interesting. If mom is busy, kids can even make their own. No cooking is needed.  “Or just scoop them all into a bowl,” she said.

Oatmeal: Don’t buy the flavored instant oatmeal; it’s full of sugar and salt. Instead, get the plain style and add your own mix-ins – diced fruit, raisins, dried cranberries, blueberries nuts or toasted seeds (like sunflower or pumpkin). Or try adding a scoop of peanut butter to it.  Adding your own sugar or brown sugar can result in way less than what comes in the flavored packages.

Waffles and pancakes: The trick here is to make extras on the weekends, put them in small freezer bags, and take out what’s needed on a given morning. Pop them in the toaster to thaw, slather with peanut or other nut butter while warm, and you have a hearty breakfast. Opt for whole-grain, if you can.

Muffins: Breakfast muffins can be hearty, filling and packed with nutrition. For a quick breakfast to-go, consider an apple walnut or a carrot muffin made with half whole wheat flour and a little wheat germ or ground flax seed as well. There are lots of recipes online. Some recipes even have more vegetables than flour, she said.

Leftovers: Pizza last night? A surprising number of kids will eat it leftover for breakfast (warm or cold). It’s got bread, meat and cheese and maybe even veggies!

“Is it ideal for a kid to eat pizza for breakfast? No. But is it better than sugary cereal? Probably.  At least they’re getting some protein, and it’s better than going to school on an empty stomach,” she said.

About the author

Linda DuVal is a freelance writer based in Colorado Springs and a regular contributor to UCHealth Today. She has written travel articles for major U.S. newspapers and national, regional and local magazines. She spent 32 years as an award-winning writer, reporter and editor for The Gazette in Colorado Springs.