Getting Kids to Break Their Fast
Some kids, I understand, bound out of bed in the morning eager to eat breakfast.
Not mine. Even when they bound, they mostly won't eat.
When they were little (they're now 12 and 15) and I exerted more control, they started the day with nice bowls of oatmeal. But they lost their taste for that, and neither ever developed a liking for cold cereal. We went through a long home-made pancake phase.
Nowadays, they'll occasionally team up to cook a bacon, scrambled eggs, whole-wheat toast, fruit, and milk/juice brunch on the weekend. On weekday mornings, though, my daughter usually just heats up a mug of skim-milk Ovaltine -- a fairly nutritious option that's better than nothing.
My son? Nada.
But I refuse to quit trying to get both to eat breakfast. As dietitian Angela Ginn-Meadow points out, breakfast is important in part because, as compared to other meals, it's easy to pack with key nutrients such as fiber, Vitamin C, calcium, and folate. Breakfast is thought to help kids concentrate during school. And it makes sense to fuel your body first thing for the day ahead.
Plus, I just know it can be done. "On Parenting" blogger Stacey Garfinkle tells me that breakfast is
"actually my most successful meal with the kids! Here's why, I think: First, the kids are well-rested, so sometimes breakfast can be the best family meal of the day. Experts tell us parent-folk to have family meals, but no one said they have to be dinner. Second, it's a good meal to let the kids individualize -- and choose -- what they're eating. It's easy and healthy to throw a few scoops of cottage cheese and fruit into a bowl for one and heat up some oatmeal with fixin's for another.
Inspired, I went looking for advice as to how to get my kids to belly up to the breakfast bar. Here's what I learned:
- Ease into early eating. As Ginn-Meadow notes in today's "Eat, Drink and Be Healthy" column, it may not be possible to touch all nutritional bases as you get a kid into the habit of eating breakfast. "We have to beat the breakfast barriers such as not being hungry in the early morning," she says. "Start with something light, such as 100-percent juice or one or two pieces of whole-wheat toast," she suggests. "Then, later on, add a low-fat yogurt or hard-boiled egg."
- If time is the issue, organize your morning, and your kids' mornings, to allow time to eat; lay out clothes, pack lunches, and gather homework papers the night before. Stock up on quick-fix options such as cold cereal with milk, fruit, yogurt, whole-wheat bread and toaster waffles, cheese, cottage cheese so lack of time's no excuse.
- If traditional breakfast foods don't appeal, branch out. As Garfinkle suggests, "Just like it's sometimes fun to have breakfast for dinner, try dinner for breakfast options, too." A turkey wrap, a slice of leftover veggie-topped pizza, pasta with sauce all make fine breakfasts, Ginn-Meadow confirms.
- Accept less-than-perfect choices. James Hill, president of the American Society for Nutrition, says in my column today, "It's better to eat breakfast, no matter what you eat. Then, once you're a breakfast eater, you can work on improving your choices." So, if it takes allowing an occasional doughnut (with milk and fruit!) to get your kid into the habit of dining in the morning, you might want to relax your standards for a while.
- Set an example. Kids may be more inclined to dig into breakfast if their parents do so, too, Ginn-Meadow says. Here's where my family falls short: I eat breakfast, but not until I've seen everyone off to school and work. As for Dad, a cup off coffee's all he can stomach in the morning. We need to work on this.
Here are some other great ideas from the American Dietetic Association for getting your gang into the breakfast groove.
Have you succeeded in getting your kids to do breakfast? Please share your strategies!
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