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 it’s not just about selling traditional breakfast foods; experts say it’s equally important to help customers rethink—and plan for—the morning meal. Try some new ideas to steer parents in the right direction. (Hint: It’s 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. “A lot of the convenience foods don’t last long in your system.”
Protein provides enduring energy, which is especially important for kids in school who can’t 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 morning—even if it’s on cereal—for 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 available—and 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 night’s dinner reheated. This is great for kids who don’t like typical breakfast foods—assuming dinner was healthy. “Dinner tends to be a higher-protein, higher-complex-carb meal and the parents have already invested the time in making that meal,” 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 aren’t up for making them from scratch, the frozen section offers some good choices. Nature’s 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.) Nature’s Path has a line of EnviroKidz organic cereals. If parents want added vitamins and minerals, they can look to Cascadian Farm’s Multigrain Squares or Raisin Bran, or Shredded Oats from Barbara’s Bakery. Granola packs protein, but also calories and sugar, making it good to mix with low-sugar flakes or 0’s.
Planning for breakfast
Many families are short on time and appetite first thing in the morning. And when parents aren’t 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 can’t eat again before lunchtime.
“With breakfast, not only are kids fueling their bodies but they’re fueling their brains,” says Tanner-Blasiar, who notes that kids who eat breakfast score better on tests in the morning hours than kids who skip eating. What’s more, kids tend to model their parents’ 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 it’s not about judging lifestyles. She reminds parents that the social interaction that comes from sitting with their kids and eating—at breakfast or dinner—pays 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 that’s going on.
Food on the run
Inevitably families will have days when there’s an early sports practice, a hair disaster or an alarm that doesn’t 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 that’s 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 Farm’s 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 Barbara’s Puffin cereals (they don’t break into crumbs as easily as others), nuts and raisins
- Granola or energy bars: chewy varieties like Larabars—kids love the Apple Pie flavor; Barbara’s crunchy granola bars; and Kashi’s lower-sugar varieties, such as Cherry Dark Chocolate
- Amy’s pocket sandwiches
- Ian’s French Toast Sticks (lower in sugar than parents may fear, and high in fiber)
- De Wafelbakkers’ A + Cinnamon Waffles The flavor’s baked into sweet potato batter—so no need for syrup
Kelly Pate Dwyer is a Denver-based freelance writer.