"It helps children in every aspect of development — socially, emotionally, physically, intellectually. Eating breakfast is an investment in their lifelong well-being," said registered dietitian Carol Harrison of Toronto.
"I think sometimes it can be underestimated. We spend so much time thinking about signing kids up for expensive lessons for this and for that and something as simple as making sure they have breakfast every day can make such a difference."
But Harrison, a busy mother with children aged nine, 12 and 14 who has a nutrition consulting business called Citrus, acknowledged it can be tough to find time in the morning to make sure everyone gets a nutritious meal.
She advised getting the entire family on board.
"At dinnertime talk about the importance of breakfast and how as a family we can make it work," she said. "Find out all the reasons why the kids might not want to eat breakfast or why they find it difficult and do some brainstorming and come up with some sort of action plan — how about we commit to trying these three things to try to make sure we start our days off right with breakfast and then maybe revisit it a week later and see how things are going and then see if the plan has to be tweaked."
When children ask why they need to eat the morning meal, tell them about the immediate benefits.
"The long-term benefits are not really going to excite a child. It's how they're going to feel in the moment that's really going to motivate them," said Harrison. "So if you want to have energy to play with your friends at recess time and feel good during the day at school it's really important to have breakfast."
Research indicates that children who eat breakfast perform better on cognitive tests and in school. People who eat breakfast also tend to have a healthier body weight, she noted.
Yet close to 10 per cent of Canadians reported that they had not had breakfast the day before they were interviewed for the 2004 Canadian Community Health Survey, according to a Statistics Canada report called Canadians' Eating Habits compiled from the research.
Also discuss your family's unique morning time wasters which make it difficult to sit down to a morning meal and devise some solutions.
"In our house, for example, finding a hairbrush turns into an Easter egg hunt most mornings," said Harrison. "Although we might have 10 hairbrushes in the house no one can seem to find one. ... I've bought a hairbrush with a hole in the handle and I'm tying it to our towel rack in the bathroom so it's not going anywhere. So looking for a hairbrush won't take time away from breakfast."
Other tips: Have knapsacks ready at the door, choose clothes and set the table the night before, pack lunch ahead, make sure homework is done and forms are signed. Think through the activities that will take place the next day so you can make sure gym clothes are packed or goggles for swimming lessons are at the ready.
A young child could be given the job of checking the weather online for the next day and reporting the findings at dinner so everyone can plan accordingly, such as whether an umbrella or gloves will be needed or if more time will be required during the morning rush to shovel snow or clear off the car.
Ask kids to come up with five healthy ideas incorporating three or four food groups they'd like to eat before a grocery shopping outing so that you can have items on hand.
If they're stumped, go online or flip through some cookbooks. If friends are over for a playdate, ask them what they love to eat for breakfast. "Maybe something that their friend suggests will all of a sudden be very cool and interesting," she added.
Choose items from the food groups meat and alternatives, milk and alternatives, grain products, and vegetables and fruit found in Canada's Food Guide.
"Have a good source of protein so your child's energy and attention aren't petering out before recess," said Harrison. These can include eggs, beef, chicken, fish, tofu, nuts, seeds, nut butters and chunks of hard cheese. Greek yogurt has more protein than regular yogurt.
Dress up cereal with cut-up fresh fruit. Store nuts, seeds and dried fruit in containers that can be put out on the table so kids can help themselves.
Have crackers, pita bread, bagels and wraps on hand to build healthy breakfasts around.
"It's a good idea to serve whole grains as often as possible for kids because we know Canadians aren't eating enough whole grains," said Harrison.
When it comes to fruits and vegetables, the more variety the better. Choose fresh and in season and unsweetened frozen or canned at other times, Harrison said.
Cut-up fruit can go on hot or cold cereal, oatmeal, yogurt or as a side dish with scrambled eggs.
Frozen fruit is already washed and chopped. It's good with muesli or it can be stirred into yogurt. Or heat it up in the microwave to top pancakes, waffles or french toast. Stir a little bit of maple syrup into frozen berries. Make smoothies.
Fruit cups consisting of unsweetened mandarin oranges, peaches, pears or mixed fruits provide choices for grab and go.
Think beyond traditional breakfast foods. Make some extra dinner to have for breakfast. "My daughter would be happy to have a bowl of spaghetti and meat sauce for breakfast. Some kids love savoury foods at breakfast," Harrison said.
Consider baked beans or canned tuna or salmon on toast, congee (a type of rice porridge popular in many Asian countries that can include meat or fish) or an English muffin spread with pizza sauce and topped with cheese and then popped under the broiler for a few minutes.Here are 10 ideas for breakfast in five minutes or less from registered dietitian Carol Harrison:
— Breakfast to go: Fruity smoothie in a vacuum flask; bagel with almond butter and apple slices.
— Lunch for breakfast: Tuna salad made with sliced red grapes and chopped lettuce stuffed into 1/2 a whole-wheat pita plus yogurt.
— Make-ahead breakfast: Hard-boiled egg (they keep for a week in the refrigerator with the shell on), yogurt drink, fruit cup and bread sticks.
— Make-your-own yogurt parfaits: Use any fancy dessert cups. Toppings can include pecans, walnuts, dried cranberries, cherries or chopped apricots, raisins, vanilla, cinnamon, any chopped fresh, unsweetened frozen or canned fruit, dry whole-grain or high-fibre cereal, granola, coconut. Organize toppings the night before.
— English-style: Canned baked beans served over toast with orange wedges.
— Dinner leftovers: Reheat and add a glass of milk and piece of fruit.
— French toast, pancakes or waffles: Make extra on the weekend and freeze. Defrost in the microwave or pop into the toaster. Heat frozen berries in the microwave with a little maple syrup for a fruity topping.
— Canned lower-sodium vegetable soup: Add any leftover cooked meat, tofu or chicken, brown rice or a handful of frozen vegetables. Serve with whole-grain crackers and seasonal fruit.
— CLT sandwich: Cheese, lettuce and tomato layered on a whole-wheat English muffin plus grapes and yogurt.
Source: Registered dietitian Carol Harrison.