Parents who model good behavior for healthful eating can influence the dietary habits of their children in a positive way.1

As gatekeepers of the food that’s purchased and consumed in the home, parents play a vital role in guiding their children’s eating behaviors, starting with the breakfast meal.1

Breakfast presents an opportunity for families to gather together —albeit briefly — and provide socialization and sustenance. Eating breakfast as a family is a newer consumption trend,2 a solid alternative for time-pressed families who often forego eating dinner together.

Eating breakfast is important for a number of reasons:

  • Breakfast Replaces Depleted Glycogen Stores: After sleeping and not eating for what is often greater than eight hours, glycogen stores are low and the liver starts to break down fat and protein to form glucose for energy. Without replenishment from the carbohydrates found in food and drinks, adults and children may feel fatigued and lack energy.3

  • Breakfast Delivers Better Cognitive Performance: Many studies, dating back to the 1950s, have consistently shown that academic performance improves among children and teens who eat breakfast, especially when it’s high quality.4

  • Breakfast Increases the Intake of Nutrients of Concern: Compared to those who skip breakfast, breakfast-eaters benefit from a host of nutrients often found in short supply in the daily diet — calcium, vitamin D, potassium, and fiber.5

  • Breakfast May Lower the Risk of Diseases Later in Life: Several studies indicate a link between breakfast-eaters and a lower risk of type 2 diabetes6 and heart disease.7

Although eating breakfast contributes to better health, not all breakfast meals are created equal. In order to provide maximum benefit, parents and children should eat a quality breakfast.5

According to a recent commentary published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, a quality breakfast contains the following components5:

  • Energy: 15% to 25% of daily energy requirements for age, sex, and activity level.

  • Nutrient-Dense Foods: Focus on nutrients lacking in the diet, such as calcium, potassium, vitamin D, and fiber.

  • Food Groups: The optimal number of food groups is three. Choices include whole grains, fruits/vegetables, and high-quality protein from sources like non fat/low fat dairy or lean protein.

Making time for the daily routine of breakfast is as important as knowing what to serve. The following solutions may help families who lack time in the morning5:

  • Make several servings of whole grain oatmeal ahead of time and store in the refrigerator. Add nuts and fruit in the morning.

  • Buy lowfat or nonfat yogurt, one of the most convenient breakfast foods available. Keep individual servings on hand or buy in bulk and portion out the night before. Add nuts, fruit, and whole grains for a nutrient-dense meal.

  • Prepare yogurt smoothies ahead of time. Add fruit and ground flaxseed.

  • Boil eggs the night before and refrigerate. In the morning, toast whole grain bread and grab a piece of fruit.

  • Combine nut butters with whole grain bread. Add a piece of fruit or low fat/non fat dairy.

  • Keep nutrient-dense trail mixes and energy bars on hand for easy grab-‘n-go.


The weekend, when more time may be available, presents another opportunity for parents to lead by example.

Having additional time gives parents the opportunity to teach children how to cook a more involved breakfast meal, such as multigrain pancakes. This nutrient-dense entree can deliver high-quality protein, calcium, Vitamin D, and fiber. Fresh fruit on top adds additional vitamins.


Parents play an important role in relation to the breakfast meal. They can model good behavior by eating a nutrient dense breakfast and by encouraging their children to do the same.

1. Savage JS, Fisher JO, Birch LL. Parental influence on eating behavior: conception to adolescence. J Law Med Ethics. 2007;35(1):22-34.

2. Nassauer S. No time for family dinner? Try breakfast. The Wall Street Journal. http://www.wsj.com/articles/no-time-for-family-dinner-try-breakfast-1416341562. Accessed April 22, 2015.

3. Holt SHA, Delargy HJ, Lawton CL, Blundell JE. The effects of high-carbohydrate vs. high-fat breakfasts on feelings of fullness and alertness, and subsequent food intake. Int J Food Sci Nutr. 1999;50(1):13-28.

4. Hasz LA, Lamport MA. Breakfast and adolescent academic performance: an analytical review of recent research. European Journal of Business and Social Sciences. 2012;1(3):61-79.

5. O’Neil CE, Byrd-Bredbenner C, Hayes D, Jana L, Klinger SE, Stephenson-Martin S. The role of breakfast in health: definition and criteria for a quality breakfast. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2014;114(12):s8-s26.

6. Donin AS, Nightingale CM, Owen CG, et al. Regular breakfast consumption and type 2 diabetes risk markers in 9- to 10-year-old children in the child heart and health study in England (CHASE): a cross-sectional analysis. PLoS Med. 2014;11(9):e1001703.

7. Cahill LE, Chiuve SE, Mekary RA, et al. Prospective study of breakfast eating and incident coronary heart disease in a cohort of male US health professionals. Circulation. 2013;128:337-343.

POSTED ON: May 25, 2015

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