The breakfast test

Help your kids pass morning's nutritional pop quiz with flying colours and full bellies


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You're rushing to get your children ready and out the door so they can make it to school on time.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 08/09/2014 (3009 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

You’re rushing to get your children ready and out the door so they can make it to school on time.

A sit-down breakfast is the furthest thing from your mind as you pop frozen waffles in the toaster and feed them to your kids while you comb their hair and get them dressed.

Or perhaps you might whiz through a fast-food drive-thru, where you can grab them a breakfast sandwich — the kind on an English muffin.

CP Healthy breakfast options.

You’re not taking advantage of the fresh start that September brings, says registered dietitian Gina Sunderland, who cites scientific data that suggests a healthy breakfast helps sustain not only kids’ bodies, but their minds.

“If kids engage early on in the school year, they start off on the right food and they get a really good start, their chance of success is so much better,” she says.

“No one can think straight when they are hungry and have a headache, they are not going to start the year well.

“They may even be perceived as a child that’s having some (academic or emotional) difficulty. And it can all go back to the fact that they are not adequately nourished heading into the classroom first thing in the morning.”

Need some ideas about how to improve your kids’ back-to-school breakfast routine? Here’s how you turn their breakfasts from grade F to grade A:

The failure: Fruit juice

Grade-A solution: Whole fruit

You’re not doing your kids any favours when you feed them fruit juice for breakfast, says Sunderland, a St. Vital mother to two teens. A typical glass of unsweetened juice contains as much sugar as a can of pop and the 150 calories they’re getting will not contribute to a feeling of fullness, because fruit juice does not contain fibre. The sugar in the juice hits their bloodstreams quickly, giving them a quick burst of energy but will leave them down and out 30 minutes later.

Whole fruit, on the other hand, contains all the fibre intact. That means the fruit will take longer to digest, therefore filling your kids up for longer and offering a sustained form of energy that will keep them going throughout the morning.

“I’ll cut up a couple of kiwis or a couple of apples and have them in little dishes. So when they come down for breakfast, they already have their fruit. It’s cut up. It’s washed. It’s ready to go,” says Sunderland. “From a fibre, vitamin C, potassium, nutrient standpoint, that whole fruit, hands down, is more satiating. It’s better than that glass of juice.

“Maybe (cutting up fruit) sounds silly for kids that are 15 and 17, but that’s the way they eat their fruits. It takes me 30 seconds.”

The failure: Cereals that look or taste like candy

Grade-A solution: High-fibre, low-sugar cereals

If your kids’ cereal looks and tastes like candy, it’s not a good breakfast choice, says Sunderland. “Those are the ones that really bother me. They are super-expensive. They are loaded with sugar.” And wondering why your child is constipated and complaining of a sore tummy? It could be the lack of fibre in his or her diet.

“When we can’t get rid of our waste, we get stomach pain, discomfort, nausea,” says Sunderland.

She recommends opting for a cereal with fewer than nine grams of sugar in a serving. And anything with four grams of fibre of more in a serving is a good choice.

Trevor Hagan / Winnipeg Free Press Gina Sunderland, a registered dietitian, and her sons, Reid, 17, and Joel, 15, with healthy breakfast foods.

The failure: Fast-food breakfast sandwich

Grade-A solution: Homemade whole-wheat breakfast burrito

Sunderland balks at some of the prepared breakfast sandwiches available at fast-food joints. (One popular restaurant’s version contains 500 calories, plenty of sodium and 30 grams of mostly saturated fat — the kind that can damage the heart.)

The solution? Sunderland scrambles up eggs and vegetables the night before and wraps them in whole-wheat tortillas with some cheese. “It’s so easy. I’ll make those wraps. I’ll have some parchment wrapped around them. My kids will throw them in the microwave for 22 seconds before they head out the door.” The quick breakfast burrito contains fibre, protein and a bit of fat, nutrients that help carbs release more slowly in the body so they can keep her kids energized longer.

The failure: Bottled or fast-food smoothies

Grade-A solution: Smoothies made with real yogurt and whole fruit in your blender

Bottled or fast-food smoothies usually contain lots of sugar.

“And some don’t even have yogurt in them,” says Sunderland, who believes the good bacteria in yogurt is essential for kids’ digestive health. (One fast-food company’s medium-sized fruit smoothie contains 15 teaspoons of sugar and no yogurt, unless you ask for it.)

Instead of falling for the hoax, make your own smoothie by tossing some plain, Greek yogurt, frozen berries and the sweetener of your choice in a blender. (Sunderland likes to use sugar-free sweeteners, but she also recommends using a bit of honey or maple syrup, leaving you in control of the amount you put in). The smoothie can be a complete meal for any kid on the go: the perfect combination of fibre-rich carbohydrate, protein, fat and antioxidants. Just pour into a portable cup, add a straw and go.

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