It can be easier than you think to give your kids a hearty, healthy breakfast starter without opening a box of processed cereal… which isn’t really food. Who knew? I grew up reading the backs of breakfast cereal boxes every morning, munching on my favorites: Cap’n Crunch or Frosted Flakes. As a teen it was Cracklin’ Bran and Cheerios, which were actually thought of as healthier. In those days, we didn’t yet have high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), the processed sugar noted for its mercury content and penchant for driving obesity in children. There was no such thing as genetically modified ingredients either. In a small way, those cereals were less toxic than the same brands today. Parents believed they were healthful products. But they were still plenty sugary, and full of colors and preservatives.
The addition of HFCS and GMO grains into these products has not improved their image, or made them healthier, to say the least. Click here for why I tell my patients to avoid GMO foods and here for why to avoid HFCS. Families are wising up. Bloomberg Businessweek recently featured a horrified Tony the Tiger on its cover. He’s wearing a gas mask and recoiling from a glowing green bowl of Frosted Flakes. Bottom line: Sales for Kellogg are off, way off, as parents realize what’s in that stuff – but the weird part is, Kellogg doesn’t seem to be getting the memo, as it promises new products like …peanut butter and jelly pop tarts – ?
You don’t need that. Neither do your kids. And you don’t need to wait for a Big Food corporation to tell you what to feed your family. Here are a few items that give a stronger start for your child’s brain and body. Some come together quickly in the morning rush, and others can be made ahead so they are ready to pull out of the fridge when your family is leaving for school.
Eggs Any Way, of course. Healthiest if you can get eggs from chickens who are not GMO grain fed, but who can peck and eat their usual fare of bugs or feed that is organic. Scramble, fry, or hard boil some ahead of time and eat them as an instant protein and fats boost in the morning. Here are some grain-free ideas for sides with eggs:
– Chop green pepper, onion, and leftover potato or French fries and toss in a hot skillet with olive oil, coconut oil, salt, pepper, and paprika or red pepper. Cook through and serve with egg on top. You can chop these veggies the night before as part of your dinner prep, and set aside for morning.
– Crack an egg into half an avocado, sprinkle with salt, pepper, and a dash of turmeric. Drizzle with olive oil. Bake at 400 degrees for 5-10 minutes or til yolk is firm to your liking. Eat right out of the avocado rind with a spoon!
– Toss leftover hearty vegetables like roasted Brussed sprouts or cauliflower into a hot skillet with olive oil or coconut oil. Add pine nuts or pumpkin seeds. Sear til hot, serve with your over-easy egg on top (my favorite). Got leftover pesto sauce? Stir that in as you reheat your vegetables and coat them well.
– Hearty greens seared with a soft boiled, over-easy or gently fried egg are delicious, if not a bit sophisticated for kids palate – but you might be surprised. I often set aside greens washed for dinner to use some the next morning. Kale, chard, baby bok choy, arugula and a few spears of asparagus work well. I quickly sear these in coconut and toasted sesame oils, with fresh minced garlic if I have time, and good quality garlic salt if I don’t. Spinkle in sesame seed or pumpkin seed for protein, fiber, minerals and healthy oils.
Breakfast Meats – Go with organic, non-GMO fed animals here if you can. Side of fruit chunks or veggie hash, or even reheated quinoa or rice from last night. Breakfast meats go direct from freezer to skillet, with a small amount of olive oil and chicken or beef broth, simmer covered til done.
Grains? Many of us are minimizing or cutting out grains altogether. But if you’re not there, there are a few options for breakfasts. If you need to skip gluten but your kids like toast, gluten free bagels and breads (and waffles and English muffins and so on) are everywhere, and if they aren’t in your neighborhood, you can order them. Warning: These can be as sugary or starchy as any other processed breakfast food, but they can be a bridge piece when kids are leaving behind processed wheat and dairy diets and moving into a broader-palate.
– Gently heat an organic corn tortilla (skillet or microwave if you must) and wrap it around a scrambled egg. Add some salsa, fresh cilantro, and cheese (if allowable) to your child’s liking; add mashed ripe avocado if cheese is a no-go. You might succeed with a cheese substitute based on pea protein called Daiya for kids used to cheese with tortillas.
– Rice is a usual accompaniment to eggs, in Pacific-Asian eating styles. Have some on hand to reheat for morning – brown, black (“royal“) rice, or white if nothing else can satisfy your child for now. Serve with hot sauce or salsa.
– Gluten free pancake mixes can be had from Bob’s Red Mill or Pamela’s, available in most supermarkets. Both take moments to prepare. If you have a little more time, mix these up instead: Pumpkin Pancakes – a grain free and hearty starter with protein, nice fats, and nutrient-dense, grain-free carbs.
Lunch Meats with Fruit – If you don’t have time to cook anything, this cold combo works well (for school lunches too): Salami or pepperoni that is gluten free and minimal for additives or even organic is a hearty starter. Side with honeydew melon, water melon, pineapple chunks, raw whole almonds, or goat cheddar, if dairy works for your child. Try a lime aioli with this for dipping the fruit (use honey and no garlic, with lime instead of lemon juice). Assembles quickly with an immersion blender – make ahead and keep in fridge to use for dips or salad dressings.
Hot Porridges: Fast, easy, and grain free: Try Cashew (or Macadamia) Coconut Porridge by blending all these in a pot and heat gently, and enjoy:
2 TBSP almond butter
1/4 cup shredded coconut
1 TBSP ground flax meal
1/4 cup finely chopped raw cashews or macadamia nuts
1/3 cup full fat canned coconut milk
1/2 cup canned pumpkin or sweet potato puree
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon raw honey (or maple syrup)
For grains, you can cook your own oatmeal (gluten free or not) or hot brown rice cereal. Some kids like coarser, crunchier textures in hot cereal; some don’t. For the crunchers, add chopped nuts or sunflower seeds. For the smooth kids, oatmeal can be turned into quick oats either buy buying it already finely ground, or by putting it in a food processor yourself, so it is nearly a powder before cooking. If oats don’t fly, whole grain brown rice cereal may be an option. It’s coarser than the infamous Cream Of Rice cereal, with more fiber. Traditional Chinese medicine practitioners love to recommend congee, which is brown rice cooked slowly for days, with water added often, until it is a soft, broken down, easy to digest porridge. If you have the opportunity to keep a pot of this on your stove, some kids will do better with this option. Add coconut oil and an gentle sweeteners like pear puree, a small amount of maple syrup, coconut sugar, or lucuma powder.
Either way, hot cereals are perfect for enhancing with healthy fats and extra protein. Stir in ground flax meal, ground cashews or almonds, sesame seeds or tahini, ghee, butter, coconut manna, or whole canned coconut milk. Chopped nuts or raisins are obvious add-ons too. Sweeten to taste with a little maple syrup (the real deal, not the processed fake stuff), coconut sugar, raw local honey, or stevia drops or powder for a no-sugar option. Cinnamon rounds out the sweetness while also exerting a beneficial modulating effect on blood sugar.
Hot Drinks: Hot chicken broth, especially if you have roasted a chicken this week and made your own, is a good choice for kids with tender stomachs and low appetites in the morning. Heat and enjoy plain or stir in gentle digestive aids like a fresh ginger root slice, some chopped cilantro leaves, scallion pieces, or baby bok choy leaves. Hydrating and nourishing with minerals for adrenal glands, and soothing fats for the brain.
A heftier option is to make cocoa – here is my recipe for a dairy free version, which uses sugar, or not.
Smoothies: The possibilities here are almost endless. Most kids I work with must avoid certain proteins – dairy, gluten, soy, egg and so on. There are many products that can go into a smoothie to add protein, without using those sources. Check out my smoothie recipe page here. Products I use often to boost protein in these are Apex Glycemovite, Thorne MediBolic, UltraCare For Kids, Systemic Formulas Metabo-Shake, ImmunoPro organic whey powder, or free amino acids. Be creative – anything goes. For example, turmeric powder (a great anti-inflammatory) with unsweetened cocoa (which adds antioxidants and zinc) create a fruity, fragrant flavor that is more than either item alone. Add your own sweetener to taste!
Leftovers: Did your kids love last night’s dinner? Nothing says it can’t be for breakfast. Reheat and enjoy.
There are so many ways to eat differently in the morning besides opening a box of processed, sweetened grains with questionable ingredients. Build a routine that works for your family. It doesn’t have to be hard. Once you’ve got the new routine down, you might be surprised how easy it can be.