Nutrition: Smart breakfast choices

By Rosie Schwartz, RD on July 23, 2012
You’ve likely heard the saying “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” hundreds of times, yet how often do you or a family member simply run out the door, starting off the day with an almost empty belly? A lack of appetite and time issues often factor into these less than ideal breakfasts. But the potential consequences are much more far reaching than most people realize.

“Breaking the fast” with an imbalanced meal can have both short- and long-term negative effects. In the short-term, blood sugar fluctuations can result in an inability to focus at school and even behavioural issues. Are your kids irritable and craving junk food after school? Check out their breakfast menu and you may find some reasons why.

With the start of a new school year, it’s the perfect time to turn over a new leaf. But rather than just putting the focus on your children, make it a family affair.

Eating a balanced breakfast decreases the likelihood of being overweight or developing diabetes later in life. Numerous studies have found that smart morning choices have a major impact on the total calories consumed through the day. Kids who seem to have bottomless stomachs after school and at dinner are often the ones who aren’t eating well in the morning. Breakfast can also boost metabolic rates or calorie burning capacity, helpful for those who seem to gain weight easily.

As well, think of breakfast as an eating opportunity – a time to fit in various nutrient-rich choices. Those who skip their morning meal are more likely to fall short of their quota of fruit and vegetables or whole grain servings.

Give your breakfast menu a makeover. High-carb favourites such as a bagel with cream cheese, a monster muffin, toast or even just cereal and fruit, won’t help you lay a foundation of healthy eating.

Instead, go for maximum nutrition by choosing smart carbs – whole grains and fruit and vegetables – and be sure to include enough protein. Somehow here in North America, we’ve turned high protein foods such as meat, poultry and fish into dinner fare. Consider adding a couple of ounces of these foods or lower-fat cheese and eggs to your morning meal.

A recent study in the International Journal of Obesity on adolescents who skip breakfast found that when they ate a higher protein morning meal, they felt more satisfied throughout the day. Test it out and see how your family fares. You’ll be sold.

Try these tips for breakfast success

Go for leftovers.
Sticking to typical breakfast foods may not be appealing to many kids and can be one of the reasons that they’re not hungry in the morning.

Post your options.
Do you or your kids waste time staring in the cupboard or the refrigerator every morning? Sometimes figuring out what to eat takes more time than actually preparing or eating breakfast. Make a list of fast options and post it on your fridge so you don’t have to waste any time contemplating the menu.

Choose from at least three out of the four food groups.

For instance, have some lower-fat cheese cubes, whole grain crackers and an apple.

Try prepping your breakfast the night before.
For example, French toast prep work can be done the night before: lightly beat an egg, add a drop or two of vanilla extract, a dash of salt and place in a dish. Add a slice of whole grain bread to the mix and let it soak overnight in the fridge. Then cook it in the morning in a non-stick skillet sprayed with cooking spray. Serve it with yogurt and berries. Or put some tomato sauce and cheese on a whole grain pita or tortilla before bed, refrigerate, then pop it in the microwave for 30 seconds or a few minutes under the broiler in the morning.


Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian in private practice and is author of The Enlightened Eater’s Whole Foods Guide (Viking Canada). Like Rosie on Facebook at facebook.com/EnlightenedEater for her tips on healthy eating.

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, August/September 2012.

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