Rise and dine: breakfast guide

How to make the most important meal of the day work for your family

It’s the big, bad nutritional truth everyone knows: Kids skip breakfast. The stats are jaw-dropping: 31 percent of elementary school students and a whopping 62 percent of secondary school kids arrive at school with empty stomachs.

The result? Kids’ brains are (ironically) toast. According to Toronto registered dietitian Sue Mah, breakfast is what refuels and energizes a child. In other words, food goes in, grades go up. Studies show that kids perform better at school when they’re not hungry.

A nutritious breakfast, says Mah, should include foods from at least two of the food groups listed in Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide (hc-sc.gc.ca). That means some kind of protein (such as milk, cheese, eggs, yogurt or peanut butter), a carbohydrate (bread, cereal or muffin), plus some fresh fruit. But when you’re scrambling, stressed or dealing with picky eaters, covering those food groups can seem as distant as the moon. So read on for a bowlful of ideas to help you beat the breakfast blues.

The glitch Mr. Sleepyhead couldn’t pull himself out of bed — now he’s late and needs fuel pronto.

The fix a smoothie
• Fill your blender halfway with fresh or frozen fruit, spoon in a cup or two of yogurt or silken tofu, and pour in enough soy beverage, milk, juice or water to make this drink as thick as he likes it. Add protein powder, ground flax or wheat germ, if he’ll let you.
• Recommended combos: banana, chocolate soy beverage and peanut butter; mixed frozen berries, silken tofu and grape juice; mango chunks, vanilla yogurt and orange juice.

The glitch Little Miss Sunshine can only stomach a mouthful of breakfast, but she’s starving by recess.

The fix Fill reusable containers with these recess-friendly and nut-free snacks:
• Toss whole-grain cereal with sunflower and pumpkin seeds, shredded coconut and raisins. Pack with chocolate milk and an ice pack.
• Make a snacking selection of baby carrots, sticks of cheese and mini-pitas.
• Wrap and run! Many kids enjoy their breakfast burrito (whole wheat tortilla rolled around scrambled eggs, cheese and salsa) cold — just add an ice pack.

The glitch Your Petit Gourmand has declared cereal déclassé and wants a replay of dinner instead.

The fix Leftovers may be unconventional brekkie fare, but chances are you’ll hit three food groups when you try these:
• Cold pizza is splendido, especially if it’s piled high with veggies and made on a whole-grain crust. Punch up the protein by serving it with a milk sidecar.
• Give leftover spaghetti a breakfast makeover by cooking it up with a little olive oil, eggs, shredded cheese and broccoli from the back of the fridge.

The glitch Your Little Highness has requested the blue plate special — but who has time to make weekend foods like pancakes or eggs on a Tuesday?

The fix Preparation is the name of the game.
• Grab a zip-top plastic bag and fill it with the dry ingredients called for in her favourite pancakes. Label it and include instructions for the amount of milk and eggs you’ll need. Now you’re ready to whisk it up during the week.
• Cook bulk, freeze the leftovers and presto! Muffins and pancakes are just a zap in the microwave away.

Three ways to end the morning madness

Turn off technology Time is at a premium during rushed weekday mornings and there’s a slew of gadgets ready to hijack your ultimate goal — getting everyone fed and out the door fast! When your kids are focused on watching ’toons or texting BFFs, eating and all its inherent sensations (especially feeling full) take a back seat. It’s called mindless eating and it puts kids at risk for obesity.

Let routines be the boss Toronto parenting expert Alyson Schafer suggests laying down some rules to cut down your a.m. stress: “Make a set time breakfast is available, and after that the kitchen is closed.” No, you’re not going to send them out the door hungry — just try some of our to-go options on p. 36. Lead by example, says Schafer. Skip the “most important meal the day” lecture; just sit down and dig in.

Move those dawdlers It’s easy to get stressed when Princess Slowpoke averages one bite per hour and you’ve got less than five minutes to fly out the door. Whether there’s a slow eater or a winter-coat refusenik on your hands, avoid a.m. power struggles at all costs. Instead, offer choices, provide logical consequences, stay calm and set up a steady, reliable routine.

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