[Skip to Content]

Breakfast Basics

Medically reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD

It can be tough to get kids fueled up in time for school, childcare, or a day of play. But a good breakfast is important. Here’s how to make a healthy breakfast part of your morning routine.

Why Bother With Breakfast?

Breakfast is a great way to give the body the refueling it needs. Kids who eat breakfast tend to eat healthier overall and are more likely to be physically active — two great ways to help maintain a healthy weight.

Skipping breakfast can make kids feel tired, restless, or irritable. In the morning, their bodies need to refuel for the day ahead. Their mood and energy can drop by midmorning if they don't eat something for breakfast.

Breakfast may help keep kids' weight in check. Breakfast kick-starts the body's metabolism, the process by which the body converts the fuel in food to energy. And when the metabolism gets moving, the body starts burning calories. And some studies suggest that bodies burn calories better in the morning than late at night.

People who skip breakfast are more likely to be overweight because they may:

  • Snack more often throughout the day.
  • Overeat at later meals.
  • Eat late at night.

Breakfast Brain Power

It's important for kids to have breakfast every day, but what they eat in the morning is important too. To boost nutrition, choose breakfast foods that are rich in whole grains, fruits or vegetables, and protein while low in added sugar. Eating breakfast:

  • helps kids get more fiber, calcium, and other important nutrients
  • can help kids do better in school
  • improves memory and attention, which kids need to learn

Breakfast eaters get better grades and score higher on standardized tests. And kids who participate in school lunch programs have fewer absences from school.

Making Breakfast Happen

It can be hard to make a healthy breakfast happen when you're rushing to get yourself and the kids ready in the morning. These practical suggestions can help:

  • Stock your kitchen with healthy breakfast options.
  • Prepare as much as you can the night before (gets dishes and utensils ready, cut up fruit, etc.).
  • Get everyone up 10 minutes earlier.
  • Let kids help plan and prepare breakfast.
  • Have grab-and-go alternatives (fresh fruit; individual boxes or baggies of whole-grain, low-sugar cereal; yogurt or smoothies; trail mix) on days when there is little or no time.

If kids aren't hungry first thing in the morning, pack a breakfast that they can eat a little later on the bus or between classes. Fresh fruit, cereal, nuts, or half a peanut butter and banana sandwich are nutritious, easy to make, and easy for kids to take along.

What not to serve for breakfast is important too. Sure, toaster pastries and some breakfast bars are portable, easy, and appealing to kids. But many have no more nutritional value than a candy bar and are high in sugar and calories. Read the nutrition labels carefully before you toss these breakfast bars and pastries into your shopping cart.

You also may want to check out the breakfasts available at school or daycare. Some offer breakfasts and provide them for free or at reduced prices for families with limited incomes. If your kids eat breakfast outside the home, talk to them about making healthy choices.

Breakfast Ideas to Try

The morning meal doesn't have to be all about traditional breakfast items. You can mix it up to include different foods and still provide the nutrients and energy kids need for the day.

Serve a balanced breakfast that includes whole grains, protein, and fruit or vegetables. You could try:

  • whole-grain cereal with low-fat milk topped with fruit or nuts
  • whole-grain waffles topped with peanut butter or ricotta cheese and fruit
  • whole-wheat pita stuffed with sliced hard-cooked eggs and fresh spinach leaves
  • oatmeal topped with nuts and fruit and sprinkled with cinnamon
  • half a whole-grain bagel topped with peanut butter and fresh fruit (banana or apple wedges)
  • breakfast smoothie (low-fat milk or yogurt, fruit, and wheat germ or bran whirled in a blender)
  • vegetable omelet with whole-wheat toast
  • sliced cucumbers and hummus in a whole-wheat pita
  • lean turkey and tomato on a toasted English muffin
  • heated leftover rice with chopped apples, nuts, and cinnamon
  • shredded cheese on a whole-wheat tortilla, folded in half and microwaved for 20 seconds and topped with salsa

And don't forget how important your good example is. Let your kids see you making time to enjoy breakfast every day.

Medically reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: January 2021