Although the cereal aisle’s siren song lures children in with bright packaging, featuring everything from superheros to thinly-veiled synonyms for “box full of sugar,” the results of fueling up on this convenience food often leave parents cold. According to the American Heart Association’s guidelines, added sugars—such as those found in many sweetened cereals—should be limited to less than 25 grams, or 6 teaspoons, per day for children aged 2 to 18. To put that amount into perspective, many sweetened cereals easily contain 10 or more grams of sugar in a single serving—that’s half of a full day’s amount! Starting the day off that way can lead to blood sugar spikes, crashes, and a lack of sustained energy for learning. Choosing healthier cereal options often results only in a collection of stale boxes full of stuff your family knows they should eat, but won’t. Even those of us who love to slurp up a bowlful of Os or flakes sometimes need a different way to break our fast. So here are six healthy breakfast ideas to get you to think out of the box at breakfast time.
Raising the Bar
Sometimes kids are looking for more solid sustenance for the first meal after waking. Especially for kids with smaller appetites, you may wish to serve up some sort of nutrient-dense nugget, like homemade granola bars or energy balls. These can be loaded up with healthy fats from nuts and nut butters, fiber from dried fruits, and fortified with protein powder or powdered peanut butter. Be sure to choose recipes that use moderate amounts of natural sweeteners. Other breakfast bar recipes abound, including simple bakes that use whole-grain flours and yogurt along with dried fruits and nuts.
The Smoothie Crew
If you have some cool customers at home who would rather take their breakfast in a cup, embrace the smoothie trend—and invest in some reusable straws. Even picky eaters will happily sip up leafy greens pureed with fruits and yogurts. Feel free to take creative license with smoothie recipes. You can even use them to help minimize food waste. A banana that seems overripe for eating may be a perfect smoothie filler. Many fruits can be blended straight out of the freezer, so be sure to keep a steady supply!
Breakfast in Bulk
Sometimes you can double or triple the yield of your efforts by making bigger batches. If you treat your family to a weekend waffle brunch, make extras and stash them in the freezer. They’ll taste fresh days later and be met with smiles when they pop up out of the toaster. Or look for make-ahead bran muffin recipes, where you can stir together one batch of batter and bake them up a few at a time as you want them.
Savor Something Savory
Sometimes what excites morning appetites is just the opposite of the sugary sweets normally on offer. If you or your little ones would rather jump-start your day with a little spice, turn to foods like pizza and burritos for inspiration. A basic dough or tortilla topped with scrambled eggs, sausage, and cheese, along with veggies like mushrooms, spinach, or a salsa garnish gives you a balanced breakfast and a chance to check off a serving of vegetables first thing.
Back to Basics
Cereal grains haven’t always come puffed, flaked, or frosted. For longer lasting nutrition, try cooking up some good old-fashioned oatmeal or other gluten-free whole grains like grits or polenta. Steel-cut or Irish-style oats cook well in a small slow cooker overnight—just make sure to add extra liquid for prolonged slow cooking. Use seasonal fresh or dried fruits to add sweetness.
Flash in the Pan
Sometimes, the planning ahead part is the problem in getting a good meal on the table. If you forgot about setting a slow cooker and your freezer stash has been depleted, there are a few easy stovetop standbys that are less hassle than you would think. A French-style cheese omelet takes mere seconds to cook. Or go for the kid-friendly classic egg-in-a-hole, using whole-grain bread, of course. Huevos rancheros are also quite easy and can be made for everyone at once by simply using a big enough skillet.
So as the school year kicks into gear, try some of this out-of-the-box thinking for your family’s morning meal. The extra nutrition in a better breakfast option is a perk worth getting up for. And the benefits of starting off with a good meal will sustain your kids through the school day.
All photos courtesy of Patrick Stigeler, Artisanal Imaging, LLC., all rights reserved. This article was originally posted in 2017 and has been revised and reposted.