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Raising Healthy Children: Begin With Breakfast1

Rebecca A. Clinton and Karla P. Shelnutt2

With all the running around that happens in the morning as you get yourself and your children ready for the day, it can be easy to forget about breakfast. Think about your mornings—does your routine include a healthy breakfast for the whole family? Breakfast really is the most important meal of the day, and you should start your day and your children’s days off right by finding the time to eat this meal.

This publication is a guide to help you choose healthful breakfast foods for your family and to give you tips on how to make breakfast a healthy habit.

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Benefits of Breakfast

Breakfast is important for everyone. When you wake up in the morning, your body has undergone a long fast. Eating breakfast provides adults and children of all ages with the energy they need to start their day, as well as important vitamins and minerals needed to help with growth and development (Rampersaud, 2008). Plus, children who eat a healthy breakfast tend to have better concentration and are more prepared to learn (Nicklas, O’Neil, & Myers, 2004). Breakfast also provides nutrients needed by adults to help support their overall health and vitality.

Eating breakfast regularly is associated with a higher quality diet and better food choices because many breakfast foods are high in healthy nutrients when compared to the number of calories in the foods (Rampersaud, 2008). Choosing healthy breakfast foods also can help to maintain a healthy body weight and prevent obesity later in life (Rampersaud, 2008).

Recommended Intake

Breakfast should provide about one-fourth of your daily recommended intake of calories, vitamins, and minerals (USDA, 2008). For children, this means about 300–600 calories should be consumed at breakfast (Mayo Clinic, 2012).

When feeding your family breakfast, let MyPlate be your guide ( MyPlate includes five food groups—Grains, Vegetables, Fruits, Dairy, and Protein Foods (USDA, 2013). Breakfast is a great time to include a variety of healthy options. Aim for eating foods from at least three of the five MyPlate food groups. When selecting foods, choose whole grains, low-fat/fat-free milk products, lean meats or beans, and a variety of fruits and vegetables.

Whole Grains

Breakfast is a great way to add whole grains to your diet. At least half of your daily grains should be whole grains (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2010). Whole grains contain the entire grain kernel and are important for lowering your risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes, as well as helping with weight maintenance (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2010). Many breakfast foods contain whole grains, such as cereal, granola, oatmeal, waffles, pancakes, and toast. Not all brands offer whole grains, so read the ingredient list to determine which breakfast foods contain whole grains. Whole-grain foods have a yellow and black stamp that contains a grain symbol. This stamp lets you know that at least half of the grains in your breakfast item are whole.

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You may ask, what's so great about cereal? You see ads on TV highlighting different brands of cereals and showing happy faces of children, but are cereals really healthier options? Actually, when chosen carefully, they are! Research has shown that eating healthy cereal is associated with higher intakes of fiber and calcium as well as with lower blood cholesterol and lower body mass index (BMI) (Barton et al., 2005). Although a bowl of cereal is a simple breakfast, it does have many nutritional benefits.

When buying cereals, choose those made from whole grains with little or no added sugar. In general, cereals that contain about 100–200 calories per serving, at least three grams of fiber, and eight or less grams of sugar are good choices (Mayo Clinic, 2011). Also, choose cereals that meet 10%–25% of your daily needs for vitamins and minerals. The Nutrition Facts label on the cereal box can guide you in your choices. For more information from UF/IFAS Extension about understanding the Nutrition Facts label, visit

Healthy types of cold cereals include the following:

  • Toasted oats

  • Whole-grain flakes

  • Bran flakes

  • Shredded wheat

Cereal is quick and easy to prepare, which makes it a great option for busy families, and it is something that your children can do on their own. If your work schedule makes it hard for you to be there at breakfast time, you can teach your children how much cereal to serve themselves—have each child measure one serving of cereal into a measuring cup and pour it into a bowl so he or she can see what that amount looks like in a bowl. If your children are old enough to pour their own milk, you can use the same method to show them how much to use for a proper portion.

Cooked cereals also are great choices for children in the morning. There are many types of cooked cereals including oatmeal, cream of wheat, and grits. These cereals can be quick options in the morning, as there are many "instant," microwaveable varieties.

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Breakfast at School

School breakfast is a great alternative to serving breakfast at home. Schools provide affordable meals that must provide at least one-fourth of the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) for protein, iron, calcium, and vitamins A and C (USDA, 2008). Children may even be eligible for free or reduced-price breakfasts depending on the family income level. Check with your local school district to find out about your child's eligibility and how to apply.

Barriers to Eating Breakfast

It's important to get your children in the habit of eating breakfast at an early age. The results of national surveys have shown that many children stop eating breakfast as they get older (International Food Information Council Foundation, 2013). Children and adolescents may not enjoy typical breakfast foods so they just skip the meal. Many feel like they don't have the time or they're not hungry first thing in the morning. Another common reason for skipping breakfast is that they would rather sleep a little longer than eat breakfast. Some teenage girls might skip breakfast because they mistakenly think it will help them lose weight. Regardless of the reasons, breakfast is an important meal that everyone should eat. There are many ways to overcome barriers to eating breakfast, including thinking outside of the box, grab-and-go meals, and choosing wisely.

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Thinking Outside the Box

Maybe your children do not enjoy the typical breakfast foods such as ready-to-eat or cooked cereals like oatmeal. That does not need to be a reason to skip breakfast. The idea behind eating breakfast is to get your body ready for a new day. Many foods can be eaten for breakfast, whether they are leftovers from the night before or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. What's important is that you provide your children with healthy choices that give them the fuel and nutrients they need to get their day off to a good start.


Grab-and-go breakfasts are ideal for families who are tight on time in the morning or for children who are not hungry first thing in the morning. Yogurt parfaits, fresh fruit salads, or hard-boiled eggs can be prepared the night before, packed, and are ready to go in the morning (Mayo Clinic, 2011). Other grab-and-go breakfast ideas include a plastic bag or container with cereal in it for the car trip to school, or breakfast bars that just need to be tucked in the backpack. Another simple grab-and-go option is packing fresh fruits to eat when there is little time to enjoy a sit-down meal. Bananas, apples, and grapes are all great examples of fruits that can be transported easily. Drinks packaged in individual serving containers, such as fat-free or low-fat milk and orange juice (100% fruit juice), are also easy to transport. Pair some of these options together so your child can have a well-rounded breakfast even when there is only time to grab…and go!

Choose Wisely

Skipping breakfast is often associated with a desire to control weight. This is not an effective way to control weight as people tend to eat more at other meals and have more snacks throughout the day when they skip breakfast (USDA, 2008). People who skip breakfast often do not make up the nutrients they lost by not consuming this meal. Therefore, eating a healthy breakfast is a better way to control body weight. An important part of weight control is making good choices at meals and snacks. If you are using MyPlate as your guide (, then you are probably consuming healthy choices.

Boost Boring Breakfasts

Breakfast may seem like a boring meal to some people, especially if they eat the same foods day after day. Use these tips to keep breakfast fun for the whole family:

  • Switch it up every once in a while and let your child eat breakfast at school.

  • Make breakfast smoothies together. Combine orange juice (100% fruit juice), bananas, pineapple, and strawberries in a blender and blend until smooth. To boost the calcium and protein content, add fat-free/low-fat milk or milk powder or fat-free plain or vanilla yogurt to the smoothies (Mayo Clinic, 2011).

  • Add a banana, berries, or raisins to your cereal, and you'll instantly include a serving of fruit at the meal and add variety (Mayo Clinic, 2011).

  • Leftovers for breakfast? Last night's rice and black beans plus some scrambled eggs wrapped in a whole-grain tortilla make quick and easy breakfast burritos (Mayo Clinic, 2011).

  • Make yogurt parfaits together the night before. Add your favorite fresh or frozen fruits to low-fat yogurt. Sprinkle with low-fat granola in the morning right before eating.

  • Top whole-wheat toast and whole-grain pancakes, English muffins, or waffles with a serving of fruit and serve them with fat-free/low-fat milk or orange juice (100% fruit juice).

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Learn More

For more information about breakfast, or nutrition in general, contact one of the following reliable sources in your county:

  • Family and Consumer Sciences (FCS) Educator (look in the blue pages of your telephone book) through UF/IFAS Extension. Find the UF/IFAS Extension office in your county at

  • WIC nutritionist at your county health department (also in the blue pages of your telephone book).

  • For referral to a registered dietitian (RD) in your area, you can call the Florida Dietetic Association at (850) 386-8850, or check the yellow pages of your phone book.


People do not consume breakfast for many reasons, but there are many more reasons why people should consume breakfast. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day because it provides essential nutrients and calories needed to start your day in the right direction. Small steps to a healthier breakfast can help your family in the long run, whether it is increasing the number of days you eat breakfast a week or adding a more nutritious food choice to your breakfast. The benefits of breakfast will continue throughout life, so help your children start this habit today!

Recommended Websites

Kids a Cookin' – This Kansas State University program focuses on child involvement in the kitchen. The site offers meal suggestions and overall tips about eating healthy for all meals including breakfast.

KidsHealth – This website from the Nemours Center for Children's Health Media (part of the nonprofit organization, The Nemours Foundation) provides parents and children with useful information about health, nutrition, and physical activity.

USDA – Eat Smart, Play Hard – This program from the USDA's Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) encourages and teaches children, parents, and caregivers to eat healthy and be physically active every day.

Whole Grains Council – This Whole Grains Council website provides consumers with information about whole grains. It includes background on whole grains, the importance of whole grains, and resources to help consumers purchase whole-grain products.


Barton, B. A., Eldridge, A. L., Thompson, D., Affenito, S. G., Striegel-Moore, R. H., Franko, D. L., Albertson, A., & Crockett, S. J. (2005). The relationship of breakfast and cereal consumption to nutrient intake and body mass index: The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Growth and Health Study. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 105(9), 1383–1389.

International Food Information Council Foundation. (2008). Breakfast and health. Retrieved from

Mayo Clinic. (2011). Healthy breakfast: Quick, flexible options to grab at home. Retrieved from

Mayo Clinic. (2012). Nutrition for kids: Guidelines for a healthy diet. Retrieved from

Nicklas, T. A., O’Neil, C., & Myers, L. (2004). The importance of breakfast consumption to nutrition of children, adolescents, and young adults. Nutrition Today, 39(1), 30–39.

Rampersaud, G. C. (2008). Benefits of breakfast for children and adolescents: Update and recommendations for practitioners. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine 3(2), 86–103.

U.S. Department of Agriculture. Food and Nutrition Service. (2008). Benefits of breakfast. Retrieved from

USDA. (2013). MyPlate. Retrieved from

U.S Department of Health and Human Services and USDA. (2010). Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Retrieved from



This document is FCS8901, one of a series of the Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, UF/IFAS Extension. First published: April 2010. Latest revision: July 2013. Visit the EDIS website at


Rebecca A. Clinton, MS, RD, former dietetic intern, Food Science and Human Nutrition Department, and Karla P. Shelnutt, PhD, RD, assistant professor, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.