As parents, we worry an awful lot about what our sweet darlings eat at school. And we aren't the only ones fretting. The government, first lady Michelle Obama, school systems, nutrition experts and even food manufacturers are attempting to get wee ones to eat better by offering more healthful food through legislation, increased funding and education. • It's a valiant and necessary effort to stem the rising tide of childhood obesity, but still there are those days when Junior passes by the broccoli on the lunch line and tosses the turkey-sandwich-on-whole wheat-no-mayo, packed so lovingly, in the trash. Good-for-them food can be a tough sell to young eaters. • Yes, lunch is important, but as a parent, I've always tried to send my wolverine off to school with a decent breakfast. Just like dinner, I have more control there, or so I think. Bookend the days with healthy meals and a rogue lunch here and there won't matter as much. Think about the morning meal this way: Your children may not have eaten in 12 hours and they need something to recharge. Going without, or eating something without much nutrition, doesn't start them on a good path for the day.
To offer a healthful breakfast, you'll need to know your children's likes/dislikes, plus their disposition, especially in the morning. I've got a kid who would eat lunch three times a day, so sandwiches and soups always play well in the morning. Really.
Who says that breakfast needs to be traditional breakfast food? Morning nutrition comes in other forms than eggs. Lentil soup in a mug, anyone?
The school bells — and the early alarm clocks — are getting ready to ring all over the Tampa Bay area. Here are some breakfast ideas to suit vegetarians, omnivores and even the morning grouches.
For the kid who loves lunch: If you're lucky enough to have one of these, breakfast is an easy proposition. Consider a grilled cheese sandwich on whole wheat with a few thin slices of tomato or Granny Smith apple tucked inside. Need more? A cup of fresh berries or a mug of chicken noodle soup.
For the young vegetarian: A 5-Minute Multigrain Cereal (recipe included) is heavy on fiber and protein with enough carbs to keep your conscientious eater raring until lunchtime. It includes raisins, but you could substitute other dried fruits such as cranberries or cherries. A black bean burrito is also a quick morning alternative.
For the running-late car eaters: Sure, you could give them a cereal bar and a juice box, but how about a homemade breakfast sandwich tossed into the backseat on takeoff? (Wrap it in foil to keep warm.) Make it on a small bagel, English muffin, croissant, their favorite bread or even a pita. Between the slices, layer scrambled eggs ("scramble" them so they'll cook in a sheet, like an omelet), shredded or sliced cheese and a slice of Canadian bacon. Or regular bacon. Or turkey bacon. Or sausage. They won't eat eggs? Substitute a tomato slice. Wraps are good portables, too. Try lettuce, cherry tomatoes, shredded chicken and cubed feta or milder shredded cheese, tossed with a little salad dressing and folded into a spinach wrap.
For the fruit eater: Fresh fruit is good for a body because it includes both fiber and carbs. But fruit doesn't have protein, which helps the fuel last longer. Adding tofu, peanut butter or dairy bolsters a fruit smoothie that will please the palate and give them longer-lasting energy. Two possibilities: Pomegrante-Berry Smoothie or Banana-Peanut Butter Smoothie (recipes included).
For the picky eater: These children are a challenge, especially because they'll want to eat the same things over and over. If the foods are healthy, let them do it. Another tactic is to offer foods that look appetizing, almost partylike. Make kebabs of cheese cubes and fruit, such as cheddar and apple chunks. Grapes go nicely with ham cubes. A parfait of yogurt and granola might also be appealing. Don't give up on your picky eater. Keep offering different items mixed with the familiar. Sometime it takes a dozen or more tries to get a child to taste something new.
For the lover of sweets: To this child, cake and cupcakes sound like a delicious breakfast. Not a lot of nutrition there, plus the sugar high might give way to a crash right about geometry time. Try a sandwich of cinnamon toast with thinly shaved turkey, a carrot muffin (not chocolate chip!) slathered with cream cheese, or two small frozen whole wheat waffles, toasted, spread with maple butter and sandwiched with a maple-flavored turkey sausage.
For the morning grump: Don't expect a lot of pleasant chitchat. And, for heaven's sake, don't ask these kids what they want to eat or risk getting bitten into yourself. Talk about breakfast the night before when they are more amenable to the discussion. Plan the meal then and stick with it in the morning. If they're invested in the decision, they might be more likely to eat. Basically, go with what they like, but make sure there's some protein in the mix. You should have a handle on their likes and dislikes. Cereal is easy, but look for something that's not sugar-laden and nutrient bereft. Breakfast bars and yogurt might work, but so might a calming cup of hot tea and toast with peanut butter.
For the self-starter: For a teenager on his own in the morning, leftovers are a perfect choice. (They also work for younger eaters with an assist from an adult.) Lasagna, pizza, spaghetti, chicken, just about anything, really, can be zapped in the microwave and ready in mere minutes. (Messy eaters may want to get dressed after eating red sauce.) Make it easy on him and put a single portion in a microwave-ready container so he doesn't have to heat up a big container. And show him how to use the microwave — high isn't a good choice for most reheats. More time at 50 percent power will heat the food thoroughly without turning the outside to rubber.
For the big eater: Your challenge here isn't what, but how much . . . and how much time you have to prepare food. She may want biscuits and gravy, but save that splurge for the weekend. An omelet loaded with veggies and cheese, plus whole wheat toast, is a good choice. If she balks at the veggies, consider eggs scrambled with a few grape tomatoes and garnished with shredded cheese and a small bagel. (Those monster ones are multiple servings of bread — nearly all that's recommended for an entire day.) Always, always offer fresh fruit or at least fruit juice.
For the dieter: Teens and tweens watching their calorie (or fat or carb) intake might be tempted to skip breakfast. Don't let them. A ravenous teen will likely be unable to resist something fatty-delicious at lunch. A hard-boiled egg and an orange is less than 200 calories. A scoop of low-fat cottage cheese and some fresh strawberries is also less than 200. Likewise a nectarine and string cheese. Spend time online or with a calorie book to come up with a few combinations that will satisfy your weight-watching kid.
Janet K. Keeler can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8485.