Ask JJ: How To Think Outside The Cereal Box?

Ask JJ: How To Think Outside The Cereal Box?
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Ask JJ: Do you have any healthy breakfast ideas for my kids? They want Pop-Tarts and Frosted Flakes, but I know we need to do better.

Everyone's heard that "breakfast is the most important meal of the day," but the wrong breakfast can do more harm than good.

Typical go-to breakfast choices for the younger crowd include cereal, waffles, pancakes, and muffins. And while all those foods might be convenient, they also guarantee a mid-morning blood sugar crash that will leave your kids restless, cranky, and unable to concentrate. By lunchtime, they'll have a hard time staying awake, much less learning long division!

You're not alone in your desire to do better for your children. Parents often start the school year with the best intentions, so much so that integrative pediatrician Dr. Sheila Kilbane likens back-to-school to New Year's Day: full of resolutions to eat well and embrace a healthier routine.

She explains, "I love being a part of this because not only are the parents stoked to start the school year off on the right foot, especially in terms of nutrition, but so are the kids. That's why I always engage families during this time and recommend they consider small shifts in their diet."

Build off the energy of a new school year by making some healthier choices for family meals, starting with breakfast. You and your kids need a big boost of protein, fiber, and healthy fats every morning to stay full and focused.

Here are four quick and easy breakfast options to replace empty carbs and sugar with great nutrition:

1. Chia seed pudding. Chia seeds come by their superfood status honestly. Not only do they have plenty of filling fiber, they also pack in lots of energizing protein and brain-enhancing omega-3 fatty acids.

Chia seed pudding doubles as a healthy breakfast or a naturally sweet dessert option, and it's so simple that older kids can make it themselves. That gives them the ownership and independence they crave and empowers them to start making their own healthy eating choices. (Don't miss the yummy Berry Coconut Chia Seed Pudding recipe at the end of this post!)

2. Breakfast wraps. Sometimes your hectic morning schedule calls for a meal on the go. Breakfast wraps made with brown rice tortillas or coconut Paleo wraps are a quick, nutritious option without energy-crashing sugar and gluten.

For savory wraps, try pairing scrambled eggs and guacamole or make a classic BLT with nitrite-free bacon.* (For extra fiber and omega-3s, substitute avocado slices for the iceberg lettuce.) Want a sweeter wrap? Layer thinly sliced apples with Greek yogurt and walnuts, or go with fresh berries and almond butter. Easy to grab-and-go, and so yummy that leftovers won't be a problem!

3. Protein shakes. Protein shakes are the ultimate in breakfast convenience. They have the valuable nutrients you and your family need, and the flavor combinations are endless. Use a high-quality, dairy- and soy-free protein powder for adults and older kids. For little ones, freshly ground flaxseed or chia seeds provide plenty of protein.

Protein shakes are also the perfect chance to sneak in leafy greens, plus tasty fiber from raspberries, unsweetened shredded coconut, or cacao nibs. Just be sure to leave out dairy (a frequent source of food intolerances) and fruit juice (as much sugar as cola) and use almond or coconut milk instead.

4. Dinner for breakfast. Eating breakfast for dinner is always a hit, but kids get just as big a kick out of doing the reverse. If your kids are tired of traditional breakfast foods, try more savory dishes usually reserved for the evening meal.

Americans are actually in the international minority when it comes to associating sweet foods with breakfast. Think globally and try your family's healthy dinner favorites in the morning. A hot bowl of quinoa pasta with no-sugar-added marinara is filling and nutritious. The same goes for sloppy joes over brown rice or gluten-free chicken tenders with a side of sweet potato fries.

Dr. Kilbane continues, "If you can just focus on breakfast and play around with different combinations so you have a variety of recipes that your kids will enjoy, you will see how much better everyone feels. You may even notice your kids don't pick up every virus that hits their classroom!"

The key to fighting breakfast boredom is being willing to think outside the cereal box. Keep it simple and fun, stay open, and you'll see positive results this school year.

Berry Coconut Chia Seed Pudding
makes 2-4 servings

1 cup fresh blueberries and/or raspberries
1-1/2 cups organic unsweetened coconut milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
1/3 cup chia seeds

Combine the ingredients in a glass bowl, and stir well. Refrigerate overnight or up to 6 hours and enjoy!

*As with all recipes and eating tips, please use your family's food sensitivities to guide your menu choices.

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