Food & Drink

Real breakfast real fast

You'd think it would be enough just to birth them.

But no. Five or six years later, along comes school – and 13 years of school mornings.

Rousting the kids out of bed, getting acceptable clothes on them, getting them out the door.

Who's got time to cook breakfast?

Not Melissa Bond of Charlotte. Her three – first-grader Reid, fourth-grader Lucinda and fifth-grader Brett Jr. – went back to Trinity Episcopal School last week.

You think you've got breakfast battles? Did we mention Brett Jr. is a vegetarian? A very picky vegetarian?

“I'm not one of those moms who has it down,” Melissa says. She knows one mother – one – who makes a hot breakfast every morning.

“I just can't do that. I want my children to be able to make their own breakfast at this stage. I feel like, they're of the age that it needs to be easy enough that they can do it themselves.”

“Easy enough” is the key here. Nutritionists feel the same way. Kids will do better in school if they have breakfast, and the best way to make that happen is to keep it simple, easy and nutritious.

As kids go back to school, it's worth boning up on your breakfast options.

Ginnie Collins is a registered dietitian with Charlotte Medical Center's Center for Cardiovascular Health, where she sees the results of bad habits.

No. 1 on her hit list for worst nutrition habit: “Skipping breakfast is at the top of my list. I'd rather see them eat fast food. But next on my list would be fast food.”

Fried meat biscuits, sugary breakfast pastries, even juice that's packed with sugar – all lead to kids who are slumped over their desks almost before the bell rings.

When you enforce the breakfast rule, you lay down a habit that will help now and later in life.

“Especially with the (childhood) obesity epidemic, try to get them on track early, before the pattern is set,” says Collins. “Breakfast affects performance.”

Later, in high school, it will get harder. Suzanne Havala Hobbs, a clinical dietitian at UNC Chapel Hill who writes a nutrition column for the Observer, was in her 40s when she married a man with two kids.

Now she faces school mornings with 12-year-old Henry and 17-year-old Barbara.

“The bottom line, for parents who are shopping for things for their kids to eat, time is a critical factor.” Her kids are always running late, so breakfast has to be portable.

Henry walks to school eating an apple, while Barbara takes a nonfat yogurt and a spoon.

“This may sound mundane,” Hobbs says. “But keep four or five or six kinds of fruit on hand. Peaches, plums, bananas, pears – having portable fruit on hand, kids will eat that.”

At Costco, Hobbs buys a big bowl of cut-up fruit for $12.99. Her family of four can go through it in a day, layered with yogurt and granola in a plastic cup for take-and-go breakfasts or scooped into bowls for snacks.

When you pick breakfast foods, especially cereals, read the labels carefully. But nutritionists are getting away from the idea of looking for particular numbers. It's not practical and too hard to remember.

Instead, look at language in the ingredient list. Ingredients are listed in order of use, so the first thing is the biggest amount and the last word is the smallest.

“I pick them by making sure the first ingredient is a whole grain,” says Collins. “That means ‘whole' is the first word on the label.” Collins aims for less than 7 grams of sugar per serving for breakfast, but if you can't remember that, make sure the sweetener is one of the last words.

“Another proxy for junk is ‘artificial flavors and sweetener,'” says Hobbs. “If there's a relatively short ingredient list and you can pronounce all the words, it's probably good. If the list is long and it has a lot of long words, it's junk.”

Collins' description of the ideal breakfast: A whole grain food, a protein source – skim milk, low-fat yogurt or cheese, nuts or peanut butter – and fruit.

“Any type of fruit. I hear people say ‘avoid bananas' or things that are too sweet, but there's no reason to avoid any type of fruit.” Even canned fruit without added sugar or unsweetened applesauce can be good for breakfast.

Although she always suggests nonfat milk, she steers clients toward low-fat yogurt and cheese rather than nonfat.

“I don't think they have flavor,” she says. “They don't provide that satisfaction you get from good-tasting food.”

And eggs aren't a bad thing, in moderation. Up to four whole eggs a week – more if you use whites only – is fine.

That's good news for Melissa Bond. Her picky vegetarian son, Brett Jr., does like scrambled eggs. (And if anyone tries to suggest eggs come from chickens and aren't vegetarian, “I give them the evil eye.”)

Bond has one rule at breakfast: “Always drink milk.”

“If I can get a glass of milk in them in the morning, then I feel successful.”