Parents are continually looking for ways to get their kids to eat a nutritious breakfast before heading out the door each morning. Savvy retailers can help solve that dilemma with good merchandising. But itâs not just about selling traditional breakfast foods; experts say itâs equally important to help customers rethinkâand plan forâthe morning meal. Try some new ideas to steer parents in the right direction. (Hint: Itâs not always the cereal aisle.)
A great breakfast for kids (and adults) includes protein and complex carbohydrates, is low in added sugars and lacks artificial colors, flavors and preservatives, says pediatrician David Miller of East West Integrated Medicine in Chicago. âA lot of the convenience foods donât last long in your system.â
Protein provides enduring energy, which is especially important for kids in school who canât snack before lunch, says Marilyn Tanner-Blasiar, a pediatric registered dietitian in St. Louis. She especially likes kids to get a serving of milk in the morningâeven if itâs on cerealâfor the protein as well as calcium. Other strong protein sources include eggs, nuts and nut butters, yogurt, cheese and lean meats. Whole grains and fruit deliver valuable complex carbohydrates.
What to serve
While lunch and dinner menus are open-ended, Americans tend to hold a narrow view of breakfast as some combination of cold cereal, fruit, waffles, pancakes, toast, eggs, bacon or sausage. Lots of sugar, white flour and saturated fat.
So much more is availableâand it presents an opportunity for sales, as well as a chance for parents to save money. (Oatmeal, granola and waffles are all easy to make in large batches and cook or reheat as needed.)
The key, experts say, is getting the right nutrients, even if that means pizza for breakfast (whole-grain crust and light on the cheese, of course). A few of their ideas:
- Oatmeal with milk (dairy, soy or rice varieties), with fruit and nuts or flaxseeds mixed in. Miller encourages parents to buy unsweetened oatmeal and add brown sugar and cinnamon. A faster way to cut the sugar that can be found in instant oatmeal: Buy plain quick oats in bulk, then mix, half and half, with flavored oatmeal.
- Last nightâs dinner reheated. This is great for kids who donât like typical breakfast foodsâassuming dinner was healthy. âDinner tends to be a higher-protein, higher-complex-carb meal and the parents have already invested the time in making that meal,â Miller says.
- Peanut butter and jelly on whole-grain bread; or try using real fruit, like bananas, instead of jam.
- Waffles, light on sugared toppings. If parents arenât up for making them from scratch, the frozen section offers some good choices. Natureâs Path offers gluten-free wildberry buckwheat waffles.
- Smoothies with fruit, yogurt and/or milk. Bananas and frozen berries are especially good. Miller suggests adding a scoop of wheat germ. A scoop of peanut butter ups the protein and adds rich flavor. Skip or go light on juice.
- Wrap scrambled eggs, beans, any vegetables the kids will eat, plus cheese and salsa in a whole-grain tortilla.
- Whole-grain breakfast cereal with milk and fruit. Miller would rather a child eat unfortified whole-grain cereal than a fortified cereal with artificial ingredients. (Though if they do go the fortified route, Tanner-Blasiar reminds people to drink the leftover cereal milk because the vitamins, often sprayed on, can wash off.) Natureâs Path has a line of EnviroKidz organic cereals. If parents want added vitamins and minerals, they can look to Cascadian Farmâs Multigrain Squares or Raisin Bran, or Shredded Oats from Barbaraâs Bakery. Granola packs protein, but also calories and sugar, making it good to mix with low-sugar flakes or 0âs.
Planning for breakfast
Many families are short on time and appetite first thing in the morning. And when parents arenât hungry, they may let their kids off the hook. But most adults can graze through their morning or fix breakfast at 10 a.m., when hunger strikes. Most school kids canât eat again before lunchtime.
âWith breakfast, not only are kids fueling their bodies but theyâre fueling their brains,â says Tanner-Blasiar, who notes that kids who eat breakfast score better on tests in the morning hours than kids who skip eating. Whatâs more, kids tend to model their parentsâ behavior.
That wisdom is hard to pass along to customers. Few people love unsolicited parenting advice. But Debbie Walhof, an integrated-medicine pediatrician in Bend, Ore., says itâs not about judging lifestyles. She reminds parents that the social interaction that comes from sitting with their kids and eatingâat breakfast or dinnerâpays off long-term. Recent research by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University shows a positive correlation between family dinners and lower rates of teen drug use, presumably because of the communication and relationship building thatâs going on.
Food on the run
Inevitably families will have days when thereâs an early sports practice, a hair disaster or an alarm that doesnât go off. Grab-and-go is better than no breakfast at all. Think about foods that work in the car or on the bus (if thatâs allowed), and go beyond the toaster cakes and cereal bars that scare parents away with their high sugar content:
- Apple slices with peanut butter
- Hard-boiled egg
- Yogurt (Stonyfield Farmâs YoKids Organic yogurts in kid-size cups and squeezers have less sugar than other brands)
- Smoothies and wraps travel well if families have enough prep time
- Breakfast trail mix: cereal such as Barbaraâs Puffin cereals (they donât break into crumbs as easily as others), nuts and raisins
- Granola or energy bars: chewy varieties like Larabarsâkids love the Apple Pie flavor; Barbaraâs crunchy granola bars; and Kashiâs lower-sugar varieties, such as Cherry Dark Chocolate
- Amyâs pocket sandwiches
- Ianâs French Toast Sticks (lower in sugar than parents may fear, and high in fiber)
- De Wafelbakkersâ A + Cinnamon Waffles The flavorâs baked into sweet potato batterâso no need for syrup
Kelly Pate Dwyer is a Denver-based freelance writer.