What's the Best Breakfast for Kids?

High-protein, low-sugar breakfasts may promote children's health

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Beth Bolt, RPh

Many parents tell their kids that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, yet still lean on quick breakfast staples like cold cereal. New evidence suggests, however, that the best breakfast for kids probably won’t come from a box.

Looking at what exactly makes for a healthy breakfast for kids is especially important when considering that more than a third of US children and teens were obese in 2012, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Several studies have also indicated that what kids eat for breakfast can affect their overall calorie intake, performance and long-term health.

The following are guidelines for parents who want to give their kids the best start in the morning.

Don’t Skip Breakfast

According to a recent National Public Radio (NPR) article, skipping breakfast is increasingly common in the US — especially among millennials. Despite the increasing tendency to skip the day's first meal, several studies have linked eating breakfast with improved performance at school and a reduced risk of heart disease.

For instance, a recent Harvard study found that people who "front-load" calories in the early part of the day — or eat breakfast and a main meal before 3 p.m. — can keep off extra pounds easier than those who eat a large portion of their calories after dark.

That's because skipping breakfast can leave a person hungry later in the day and cause them to eat more before sleep — when the body burns the least amount of calories.

Avoid Sugary Foods

Sugary foods, such as some cereals, can provide kids with the wrong start as well. According to NPR, breakfasts that contain refined carbohydrates and sugar can cause blood sugar spikes. A blood sugar spike can make a child feel hungrier than if he or she had skipped breakfast altogether.

According to the CDC, empty calories from added sugars and solid fats contribute to 40 percent of US children and teens’ daily calories. By eating a healthy breakfast, children can improve their cognitive function (especially memory), reduce their absenteeism and improve their mood.

Emphasize Protein

A recent study from the University of Pennsylvania's School of Nursing found that kids who eat a high-protein breakfast, such as eggs, tend to eat fewer calories at their midday meal.

Researchers gave 40 kids ages 8 to 10 the choice between cereal, oatmeal or eggs for breakfast. The participants were required to eat their entire breakfast. The children were later given lunch and allowed to eat as little or as much as they wanted.

The kids who had eaten the egg breakfast reduced their calorie intake at lunch by about 70 calories, the equivalent of a small chocolate chip cookie. Moderately active children in this age group need between 1,600 and 1,800 calories per day. That means 70 calories is about 4 percent of their daily calorie intake, which can add up quickly.

"It's really important that we identify certain types of food that can help children feel full and also moderate caloric intake, especially in children who are prone to excess weight gain," said lead study author Tanja Kral, PhD, in a press release.

Dr. Kral and team’s study was published Feb. 2 in the journal Eating Behaviors.

Review Date: 
February 15, 2016