There’s a lot of pressure to get breakfast right. After all, when kids eat well in the a.m., they have fewer behavior issues, do better in school, and are healthier overall. But getting kids on the bandwagon can be exhausting. We found three families eager for a change and matched them with an R.D. They were shocked by the power of a few simple changes, and you will be, too!
The Moran family: “My kids aren’t hungry in the morning. What do I do?”
The dilemma: Twins Kate and Emma Moran are pretty good eaters as far as 7-year-olds go — but only when they’re hungry. “On school-day mornings, they take two bites of toast and tell me they’re full,” says mom Diana. Later on, the girls nosh constantly. They snack through the afternoon, have dinner at 5:30 p.m., and then eat again with their dad when he gets home.
The expert plan: It’s time for the girls to reverse their eating patterns. “They’re taking in most of their calories late in the day, when it should be the opposite,” says Jill Castle, R.D., author of Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School. To prime the twins for a real morning meal, Castle had Diana switch up their afternoon routine: Instead of dishing out bottomless snacks after school, Castle suggested that Diana serve a mini-meal, like soup, and push back the “kid dinner.” That way the twins would be less inclined to double-dip with Dad. The rest of the time, Castle proposed keeping the kitchen officially closed.
Results are in! “The hardest part was closing the kitchen, but we mostly succeeded,” says Diana. Moving the kids’ dinner a bit later also took the edge off their appetite when Dad got home. Come morning, Diana served yogurt parfaits and smoothies in to-go cups. “They were definitely hungrier,” says Diana. “Jill’s advice was solid. We didn’t need an overhaul; we just needed to rebalance our schedule.”
The Devore family: “The empty carbs my son eats do nothing for him. I need ideas!”
The dilemma: Jaclyn DeVore knows her eldest child, Lawrence, 6, needs more than the buttered roll he craves most mornings. Because he has ADHD, concentrating in class is challenging enough for him. He certainly doesn’t need a growling tummy as well.
But the yogurt, whole-grain waffles, and oatmeal Jaclyn offers him end up languishing on the breakfast table. “Lawrence is very picky, especially when it comes to the texture of certain foods,” she says. “And he literally won’t go near any kind of fresh fruit. I end up caving because I figure something in his stomach is better than nothing.”
The expert plan: “Jaclyn is like a lot of moms,” says Castle. “She sticks with what she knows her son will eat. That’s understandable, but Lawrence will never learn to enjoy new foods if he isn’t exposed to them.” Since a barrage of new breakfast items would likely backfire, Castle recommended making nutritious additions to the foods he already eats, like adding low-fat cheese slices to the roll instead of butter. Another strategy: Brainstorm meal ideas with Lawrence. “Think beyond typical breakfast foods,” says Castle. “Even dinner leftovers can be tasty and nutritious.”
Results are in! As she anticipated, Jaclyn had to coax Lawrence to try any new foods. But the effort was worth it: Adding lean meats and cheese slices to Lawrence’s morning roll was a big success. “Both added some protein to his breakfast for longer-lasting energy,” says Jaclyn.
There was another happy payoff, too. “This was a great week for Lawrence at school, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence,” says Jaclyn. “Eating better helped him to concentrate.”
The O’shea family: “My child’s sweet tooth is really out of control!”
The dilemma: Eight-year-old Maura O’Shea comes to the breakfast table hungry. But what she wants is sugar, sugar, and more sugar. “I know that doughnuts and 1,000-calorie muffins aren’t healthy,” says mom Denise. “But my husband and I work a lot, so we need to make the most of the family time we get in the morning. A battle over what to eat is not a nice way to start the day! So we give her what she wants, and that’s how we got into this mess.”
The expert plan: “It’s easy to get caught up in the idea that breakfast has to be perfect,” says Castle. “But there’s a whole day of eating ahead to balance out your child’s nutrients.” The goal is simply to focus on finding a handful of healthy, easily prepared foods that your child likes.
For Maura, Castle suggested gradually tweaking foods she already enjoys so that they contained less sugar and more nutrition. One idea: Swap out store-bought pancake mix for a homemade version with whole-wheat flour. (To save time, Maura could make them on the weekend and reheat in the toaster oven.)
“White whole-wheat flour has the nutritional benefits of whole grain without texture or color that turns many kids off,” says Castle. And since whole-grain foods are more satisfying, they’ll help dampen Maura’s frequent requests for second helpings.
Results are in! “Maura couldn’t tell that her pancakes were made with part whole-wheat flour, or that the tortilla I used was whole wheat, so I’ll continue doing that for sure,” says Denise. The apple-blueberry muffins — an attempt to merge the worlds of produce and processed food — weren’t such a hit; they were a bit heavier and not as sweet as the store-bought muffins Maura was used to. But the blueberries themselves were keepers — a first for a girl who usually doesn’t touch fruit. “Denise should jump on that opportunity and find other ways to use blueberries — like in place of chocolate chips in pancakes,” says Castle. Not everything you’ll try is going to work, and that’s okay, says Castle. Just keep the healthy choices coming and something is bound to stick.
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