I’m sure you’ve been told on countless occasions that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Eating breakfast is important for kick-starting your metabolism and for maintaining your focus all day long. According to a study, regularly eating breakfast is associated with better concentration, memory, and success in school (1). Because of these facts, parents are urged to make sure their children consume well-rounded breakfasts every morning before they are either dropped off at daycare or school. However, with picky eaters, this plan quickly becomes saturated with problems. Issues that crop up include distaste for certain breakfast foods, lack of hunger, or just disinterest in eating breakfast in general. Your child may only like a few breakfast items but he/she is growing tired of eating the same things. Because of this, your child may lose the desire to eat breakfast altogether, making your morning a bit more stressful as you try get your child to at least swallow something! Rest assured that there are ways to not only get around these issues, but to also make them completely disappear!
Let’s first examine the breakfast deal-breaker that you as a parent can easily help fix: disinterest in eating breakfast. In this case, children might not see the need to eat breakfast because it’s too early for them to consider eating a meal. Also, they may view breakfast as a meal that only they are being forced to eat. As you prepare them for their day, they might notice that you are not focusing on breakfast, so why should they. Children model their behaviors after others who are more experienced, so clearly parents are their primary role models. Therefore, by setting aside your time in the morning to sit down and eat breakfast with your children, you are performing a desirable behavior that your attentive little one will definitely notice. Seeing you take the time to eat a meal for breakfast will help show your children that consuming breakfast every morning is important not just for them but for everyone.
Next, we’ll deal with the second fixable problem: a low variety of breakfast foods that your child likes. While this might seem like the most difficult of the three to conquer, simply adding variety in small doses can help expose your child to different foods without being too overwhelming. Make sure to only introduce one new food at a time and to include it with other items that your child already enjoys. By associating a new food with something children love already, they are able to positively experience a new food. If their first experience with a new food is negative, however, don’t assume that they will never like it. Before they admit they like something new, children must actually be exposed to a new food item between 8 to 10 times (2). Another idea is to find a creative way to introduce a new food item, such as cutting it up into different shapes. Children are very visual and love to see colors and shapes. By getting down onto their level through manipulating their interests, you can increase the likelihood that they will enjoy a new food.
Hunger potentially may be the most difficult issue you will have to overcome because this isn’t something that your child may be able to control. However, there are definitely strategies you can use to encourage your child to be hungry in the mornings. To help your child at least get used to the idea of eating breakfast in the morning, give them small servings of foods such as yogurt, fruit, or even cheese cubes. You can also give your child “liquid breakfast”, which may be easier for them to consume. Making fruit smoothies with yogurt, fruit, and fruit juices is a nutritious and delicious breakfast choice that your child can sip. Another great idea is to encourage your child to help make his or her own breakfast. Children are more likely to consume things that they helped create. Once your child gets used to eating in the mornings, he or she will become used to the routine and will prefer not to skip it (3).
There are a few considerations to note as you try to encourage your child to be hungry for breakfast in the morning. Oftentimes on television programs, in movies, or even in past generations, children would not be allowed to leave the table until they finished eating everything on their plates. This is actually not a good mentality to have because it can give children the idea that they should overcome their feeling of satiety. Because of this, children may actually develop problems with overeating in the future (4).
Instead, allow children to stop when they are full so that they can learn to listen to their tummies! However, by the same token, you do not want to compensate by giving children food every time they are hungry. For instance, your child does not finish his or her breakfast and then asks for a snack and hour later. In this case, confirm with your child that he or she is full and remind him or her that the next meal (lunch) in x number of hours. By giving children this sense of time, you will help teach them that there are special times that we should eat (5).
Below I have included a couple new breakfast food ideas that you can give your child. Try following the above suggestions in order to enhance you and your child’s experience with breakfast!
- Yogurt and granola parfait: put it in a fancy cup and your child might even view this as a dessert!
- Banana dog: peanut butter on a banana with raisins inside a whole grain bun
- English muffin pizza: tomato slices, mozzarella cheese on a whole wheat English muffin
- Whole grain cereals with fruit, such as Life, Chex, Special K, and Kix
- Homemade granola bars
Here is a recipe for homemade granola bars:
2 cups old-fashioned oatmeal
1 cup sliced almonds
1 cup shredded coconut, loosely packed
1/4 cup flax seeds
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2/3 cup honey
1/4 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed
1-1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1 cup dried fruit, chopped (apricots, dates, cranberries, blueberries, raisins, etc.)
Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F. Butter an 8 by 12-inch baking dish and line it with parchment paper.
1. Toss the oatmeal, almonds, and coconut together on a sheet pan and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned. Transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl and stir in the flax seeds.
2. Place the butter, honey, brown sugar, vanilla, and salt in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat.* Cook and stir for a minute, then pour over the toasted oatmeal mixture. Add the dried fruit and stir well.
3. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Wet your fingers and lightly press the mixture evenly into the pan. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until light golden brown. Cool for at least 2 to 3 hours before cutting. Wrap in individual servings and store in your pantry.
*Melted butter and sugar can burn, so make sure to keep the kids away from the stove.
written by Kristen Engler