It seems to me anyone who bothers to have a favorite meal of the day favors breakfast. Ironically, it’s also the meal most often skipped completely; particularly during the week, when precious morning minutes are often spent sleeping or getting ready for the day.
Breakfast is referred to as the most important meal of the day for a reason; several, in fact. For both adults and kids, it’s vital to refuel after your overnight fast (break the fast – get it?) in order to provide much-needed energy and restore blood glucose levels, both of which will help maximize mental and physical performance. If you’re a parent, you’re right to insist your kids eat a little something before they head out the door.
As with every meal, breakfast should be a balance of protein, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats. The first meal of the day is also an opportunity to boost our intake of important nutrients; fruits and even vegetables and whole grains will provide essential vitamins and minerals to keep kids at top form while providing energy. ‘Empty’ calories in the form of Pop Tarts, frozen waffles with syrup and sugar coated cereal with technicolor marshmallows will provide a burst of energy but not much else; even the once virtuous muffin now more closely resembles a giant cupcake in most coffee shops. Cereal bars are big business these days; better than nothing but hardly filling and nowhere near as nutritious as they portray themselves to be – many varieties contain more sugar and less fiber than a package of cookies. Although food companies spend billions convincing us we don’t have time to cook, it is possible to make something delicious from scratch in very little time, and those few minutes are a sound investment in your kids’ health as well as your pocketbook. Here’s a tip: breakfast doesn’t have to be prepackaged to be portable.
Elements of a good breakfast:
Carbohydrates are your body’s preferred source of energy and essential for proper brain function; your brain and neurons cannot burn fat and need glucose to get them through the day. Complex carbohydrates (as opposed to simple sugars) such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables, contain fiber, which means the food will be digested more slowly over the course of the morning, keeping glucose levels on an even keel and delivering a steady supply of energy to kids’ minds as well as their bodies.
Protein provides your body with building blocks that keep tissues, nerves and organs functioning properly; they are also used to produce neurotransmitters, which are necessary for mental performance, connecting your brain with your nervous system. Lean sources of protein include 1% and skim milk, soy milk, yogurt, cheese, beans, nuts and seeds, and lean meat.
Fats act as mood regulators, and a stable mood always makes it easier to get through the day. Healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fats – those found in nuts and oils such as canola and olive, are the best choices. Fish has been referred to as “brain food” because of its high quantity of omega 3 fatty acids, which support brain cel structure and support mood and behavior. However, fish is a tough sell first thing in the morning – flax oil is the highest plant source of omega 3s – a teaspoon contains as much as a 3 oz. fillet of salmon, and is easily drizzled into muffins, pancakes and smoothies. Ground flax seed is likewise a good source of omega 3s as well as fiber, and is easily added to other foods. Walnuts – the only nut that contain a significant quantity of omega 3s – are also a good source of protein and easy to throw into granola, sprinkle over cereal, or grab a handful on the way out the door.
Vitamins and minerals are important, and always better to get from whole foods than from a supplement. B vitamins, particularly vitamins B6 and B12, are believed to play a key role in brain function. B vitamins are water-soluble, meaning they cannot be stored in the body and need to be replenished daily. Good sources include nuts, legumes, dried apricots, dates and figs, greens and whole grains; vitamin B12 is found primarily in meat, eggs and dairy products. Antioxidants such as vitamins C and E and beta-carotene help protect the brain from harmful free-radicals; sources include berries (fresh or frozen), spinach, sweet potatoes, red peppers, wheat germ, walnuts, kidney beans and black beans. Some foods contain lesser-known nutrients that act as building materials needed to produce neurotransmitters. These foods include potatoes (with their skins), fish, legumes, egg yolks, whole grains, soybeans, peanuts, almonds, bananas, yogurt, milk, and cheese.
Water is essential for brain and body function, but it can be hard on the environment to bring bottled water to school every day of the week – it’s a good idea to get your kids to drink a glass before leaving in the morning, and to invest in a reusable aluminum water bottle and get your kids in the habit of tossing it into their backpacks.
Here are some new ideas for nourishing morning meals that are quick to prepare – either in the morning, or in advance to stash in your cupboard, fridge or freezer to grab on your way out the door:
Pumpkin Blueberry Muffins
PB&J Granola Wrap
Breakfast Pizza Burrito
Blueberry Brain Boost Smoothie
Fruit & Oat Granola Bars from the White House
Maple Bran Waffles
Ham & Cheese Croissant Rolls
Banana Bread Muffins
What’s your favorite breakfast on mornings when time is tight?