Experts say breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but when it comes to the foods kids are eating—things like cereal, muffins, pastries and sweet extras like jam, juice and sweet spreads—most make up a good portion of the sugar in their diets.
In fact, according to a 2017 survey by Public Health England, an executive health agency, children get half of their daily allowance of sugar at breakfast.
What’s more, 84 percent of parents surveyed thought the foods they fed their kids were healthy.
When it comes to serving up a healthy, low-sugar breakfast, there are plenty of options if you plan ahead and think creatively.
Here, learn the types of foods to focus on, those to avoid and ways to cut sugar from your kid’s breakfast.
1. Read labels
When purchasing cereal and other breakfast foods, the best thing you can do is read labels and compare brands.
So-called healthy cereals that post claims like “a good source of fiber,” “gluten-free,” and “made with real fruit,” can be just as high in sugar as kid-friendly cereals that have bright, artificial colors and marshmallows, for example.
As the new Nutrition Facts labels continue to be rolled out, it will be easier to decipher labels and understand how much natural and added sugars are in the foods you buy.
Need more tips about what to look for and what to avoid in breakfast cereals? Check out my blog post, How to Pick a Healthy Cereal for Your Kids.
2. Pick protein
When you think breakfast, toast, waffles, pancakes and bagels usually come to mind.
If you’re looking for ways to cut sugar from your kid’s diet however, think about high-protein options which will also satisfy their hunger until lunch.
Serve hard boiled eggs or a frittata which can be made ahead of time and save you time in the morning, or incorporate leftover vegetables into a hash with eggs. You can also think out of the traditional breakfast box altogether and serve high-protein options like beans, tempeh or tofu.
Add a healthy fat like avocado and you have a low-sugar, filling breakfast.
3. Serve dessert for breakfast
Keep breakfast interesting by serving dessert—seriously! Think low-sugar pudding, breakfast cookies and baked oatmeals.
Superfood Triple Berry Chia Pudding from Skinnytaste.com and Paleo Pumpkin Chia Seed Pudding from AgainstAllGrain.com are two recipes I like.
4. Make your own parfaits
Yogurt can be a healthy breakfast option for kids, but most yogurts, whether they’re marketed to kids or adults, are loaded with sugar.
To cut sugar from your kid’s breakfast, read labels carefully for hidden sugars like fruit juice, cane sugar, sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup.
A safe bet is to stick to plain yogurt or plain Greek yogurt, and add fresh or frozen berries, vanilla extract and nuts, seeds or a low-sugar granola for healthy breakfast that’s high in fiber and protein.
If you’re tight on time however, there are some healthy, low-sugar yogurts. I like Siggi’s or plant-based yogurts like Lavva.
For more tips about what to look for in yogurt, check out my blog post How to Pick a Healthy Kids’ Yogurt.
5. Make over muffins
Muffins may seem like a healthy breakfast especially those made with fruit and vegetables and topped with nuts, but most muffins are sugar bombs.
For healthier options, look for recipes for low-sugar muffins or egg muffins you can make yourself.
6. Nix the juice
Orange juice, apple juice and organic fruit juice boxes are marketed to parents as a healthy option, but they’re also significant sources of sugar.
In fact, a 3.5 ounce cup of apple juice—about one serving for kids—has 9 grams of sugar.
If you still want to offer your kids juice, try making green juices with 80 percent vegetables and 20 percent juice. Also, watch portion sizes—4 to 6 ounces is fine.
7. Swap jam and jelly for whole fruit
Jam, jelly and fruit preserves seem like a healthy breakfast option—they’re made with fruit after all—but they’re actually highly concentrated sources of sugar.
Although store-bought options are fine when you’re in a rush, a better idea is to serve whole fruit: sliced, smashed or blended.
Whole fruit is also a great swap for honey and maple syrup.
8. Make a green smoothie
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 9 in 10 kids don’t eat enough vegetables.
Although it definitely takes a change in mindset, serving vegetables for breakfast is a great way to get more in your kid’s diet.
Although I don’t suggest you make smoothies to sneak vegetables, they can be an easy way to serve vegetables for breakfast and a low-sugar option.
On Sunday or the night before, set aside individual portions of green leafy vegetables and fruit, then add a protein source like almond butter and a healthy fat like chia seeds or flaxseeds and you have a healthy, low-sugar breakfast.