Breakfast tips for real-life weekday mornings

You’ve heard it a million times: breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  You probably also have heard of studies suggesting that kids who eat breakfast will be more focused, do better in school and and consume more nutritious diets overall. As a nutritionist and journalist covering food for nearly half my life (damn, I’m old), I’ve reported this information dozens and dozens of times, sharing lots of tips for how to put together optimal morning meals.

Given all that, I’d love to say that I serve my boys bowls of warm whole grains (quinoa! oatmeal! millet!), topped with antioxidant-packed fruit, heart-healthy nuts and protein-and-calcium-rich milk every day. I’d like to say that I sit at the table with them, sharing heart-warming conversation over bites of breakfast. But I’d be lying.

So let me tell you how breakfast typically goes down at my house—because it’s not perfect, but I think we have a good thing going.

Every day starts with juice.

100% fruit (or fruit plus vegetable). Served in an 8-ounce mason jar, no refills. Sometimes it’s apple/cranberry. Sometimes it’s orange. Sometimes it’s a mashup of flavors created by mixing juices from fruits and vegetables that are not necessary the ones emphasized on the label. (Fine.)  But the juice is always delivered at 6:30 sharp, the very instant my husband is depositing our boys’ sleeping, slumping bodies onto two dining-room chairs.

First, I offer a bagel or some toast.

My primary goal on weekday mornings is to get groggy, grumpy kids fed, dressed, brushed and out the door in under 50 minutes. Years of nutrition study has taught me nothing if not this: Simple carbs supply fast energy—so bread in some form wins. (That’s what they want anyway.) I buy whole-wheat bread products, but a leftover (white) baguette is fair game too. Typically the topping is cream cheese or butter. If I can convince them to go for avocado or peanut butter, awesome. But any fat is bound to give a bit more staying power than bread alone.

No dice? I propose a yogurt parfait.

If our standard “carb special” is a bust, I offer yogurt. Typically, it’s Greek. Usually vanilla. Sometimes strawberry. Or plain, and I let them add a little maple syrup. We almost always have berries, fresh or frozen (the little dude prefers them still frozen) and top with granola.

Sometimes, I present pancakes.

On weekends, we often make whole-grain, or buttermilk, cakes from scratch. We cook up extras and stash them in the freezer for weekday mornings. Once, my friend Maria told me how she always makes pancakes any time her kid asks for them, no matter the day, because these little ones are not little for long. That stuck with me. But I’m not nearly as organized as Maria, so I keep my freezer stash, and a box of Trader Joe’s whole-grain mix, on hand for such requests and days when we get the urge to deliver something special. I let the kids add their own syrup, but from a squeezy bottle, the condiment kind you can get at a co-op. My friend Amanda taught me this trick and it not only keeps the kids’ sugar consumption in check but also saves us from rinsing loads of of expensive syrup down the drain.

I whip up green smoothies.

My kids won’t drink them—they’re for me and Jon—but many of the kids who come to visit love them. My standard formula (serves 2) is this: 3 cups of almond milk, 1 orange, 1 banana, 1-2 cups of strawberries (frozen) and a bunch of spinach. The recipe is a riff on one by Kris Carr, who has many more to try.

Occasionally, I serve leftovers.

Turkey meatballs. Salmon. Chicken and/or veggie stir-fry and rice. My older dude eats this stuff up; his little bro, not so much.  If this sounds strange, consider what kids around rest of the world eat for breakfast (click—it’s a beautiful New York Times photo story): fish, fermented soy beans, squash, olives, cheese. Nutritious stuff. And, as it turns out, our dinner-for-breakfast days are probably the healthiest ones of all.

Under dire circumstances, I take my show on road.

We’ve all had those days: you’re flying solo, needing to drop multiple kids at multiple locations then make an 8 am meeting. When this happens to me, I do one of the following: 1) load the kids in the car and hand them each a chocolate-chip granola bar and a banana or an apple, (I bring a Ziploc for the peels or cores) or 2) wake them up at the crack of dawn to head to the bagel shop for a “special breakfast” that includes chocolate milk. It’s easier to keep them moving once they’re out of the house. This kind of “bribe breakfast” isn’t the healthiest morning offering but it does deliver nutrients and, as part of the breakfast repertoire, it is definitely essential.

What do you feed your kids in the morning?