What your child’s mood swings might be telling you
You’ve probably heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. This is especially true for growing children who need to fuel up on energy before they head out for a busy day at school. Yet, the American Academy of Pediatrics estimates that 8 to 12 percent of school-aged children skip breakfast. Once they become teenagers, the numbers rise to 20 to 30 percent.
“For kids, a healthy breakfast will help with their concentration, their memory and their brain development, as well as their attention span,” said Cynthia Meins, a registered dietician at Cape Cod Hospital. “It can help lesson mood swings and boost their energy. A lot of studies have found that having a good breakfast positively affects their schoolwork.”
Kids need regular healthy meals. Those who don’t eat breakfast play nutritional catch-up all day, Meins said. This leads to unhealthy behaviors like snacking on less nutritious high-fat food and overeating at lunchtime.
“A lot of these things can lead to an increased risk of becoming overweight and obesity and a lot of the health risks that those involve, like diabetes and heart disease,” Meins said. “We’ve got grade school kids with high cholesterol and kids with BMIs that are off the chart. It’s scary.”
Meins offered the following tips to make sure your children get off to a good start every day:
Make sure to include all of the food groups
A healthy breakfast includes protein for brain power and to sustain children. Complex carbohydrates like whole grains provide energy as well as a lot of vitamins and minerals. Fruits and vegetables provide energy and necessary fiber.
Some ideas for protein include eggs, low-fat milk, low-fat cheese and low-fat yogurt.
“Hummus is great,” Meins said. “You can pair it with whole grain bread for your carbs or carrot sticks to get your veggies in.”
Another great way to sneak veggies into breakfast is to make homemade muffins with whole wheat flour and grated carrots or zucchini. If you swap applesauce for some or all of the oil, you’ve added a fruit and cut the fat. Spread the muffins with peanut butter or almond butter and you have included a healthy protein.
Non-traditional foods can make wonderful breakfasts
Children love pizza, tacos, quesadillas and burritos. Make them with low-fat, whole wheat ingredients and they are a great way to add nutrition in a way kids will enjoy.
“You could even do non-tradition breakfast food like tuna on whole wheat toast or a turkey sandwich with lettuce and tomato,” Meins said.
Give kids foods they like with healthy trade-offs
Most kids love sugary cereals, but they are mostly empty calories. If your child has a particular cereal he or she loves, incorporate a little bit of it in with a healthier whole grain cereal.
“You could make smoothies with low-fat milk or yogurt,” Meins said. “Cut up your fruit and you could even add kale or spinach if they would eat it. If they can get past the color, you don’t really taste the spinach.”
Encourage kids to try new foods
Some kids are notoriously picky eaters. This can frustrate parents at any meal, but it’s especially difficult at breakfast when everyone is racing to get out the door. Meins came up with a strategy with her own son that cut down on conflict over new food.
“When I introduced a new food to him, I told him he had to take one no thank you bite,” she said. “You don’t have to eat it, but you do have to taste it. He’s 25 now and there isn’t much he won’t eat.”
Breakfast on the run can still be healthy
“Put a bowl of fruit and nuts or trail mix on the table that kids can just grab on their way out the door,” Meins suggested.
A Kashi granola bar paired with yogurt and fruit provides complex carbs, protein, dairy and fruit. Instead of yogurt, you could offer single-serving containers of cottage cheese and sprinkle granola and fruit on top. Bare Naked cereal is healthy and comes in individual servings.
Read labels while shopping to make sure foods you choose don’t have too much sugar or salt or any trans fats, which are unhealthy. Fresh fruits are better than canned fruits because they don’t have added sugar and they have more fiber because the skin is not removed, as it is in canned fruit.
Meins acknowledged that it’s hard to work full time and have children. Time is often parents’ enemy, especially in the morning. Her best tip for time management is to prep as much as you can the night before.
“If you’re going to make something, get out your muffins pans, your baking sheets or your blender,” she said. “Set the table with plates and utensils. If you’re going to be making omelets or smoothies where you need to cut up vegetables or fruits, do that the night before.”