She pours a little milk into a bowl. Then she spoons a few bites of cereal out of the box onto the milk, just like the picture on the box. Then she drinks the milk. “I don’t see how Americans can live on this?” she remarks.
This was the experience of a European foreign exchange student at our table her first morning in America. She had never seen breakfast cereal before, so she could be forgiven for not knowing what to do with it. But even when showed how to do it right, her opinion remained the same. How do American kids start the day with little more than just milk and sugar?
One thing that has changed little in the last 50 years has been the American breakfast. It’s mostly refined carbohydrates – flour and sugar – with very little protein. Maybe a bit of fat, especially if fried foods like pancakes are involved. The current health crisis reflects our children’s love of sugar. Childhood obesity is at epidemic proportions and type 2 diabetes – strongly linked to diet and obesity – is a major health threat. This may be the first generation to live shorter, sicker lives than their parents.
Checking our shelf, I find three breakfast cereal options. Lucky Charms – 22 grams of carbohydrates, 10 of sugar. Pumpkin seed granola – 37 grams of carbs with 10 of sugar. Even the healthiest-sounding option – oatmeal – reads 38 grams of carbs with 12 of sugar. Even with the milk, protein stays low at under ten grams per serving. And the milk adds to the carbohydrate load.
I want my kids to start the day with a healthy breakfast, but if I serve up eggs, unsweetened yogurt and fruit, the kids turn up their noses. What’s a modern parent to do?
For starters, we can exchange fast carbs for slow carbs. Refined carbohydrates are absorbed rapidly, spiking blood sugar. Slow carbs from unrefined grains enter the system more slowly resulting in more control over insulin release and slower rising glucose levels.
Add some fat or oil. Butter and nuts taste good and will slow the absorption of carbohydrates. You can make muffins or cookies using whole grains and nuts or nut butters. The kids feel like they’re having a treat for breakfast and not something “healthy.”
Add protein to the low carb breakfast. Eggs – prepared in any manner – are a great cheap source of protein. One of our favorites is to make an eggnog milkshake using eggs and protein powder sweetened with a banana. It’s not hard to get the kids to drink a milkshake. But there are other alternatives including low fat sausage or turkey bacon. Even vegetarian meat substitutes may work, so experiment.
Just putting healthy, whole foods on the table like cut apples and orange sections will tempt the kids to fill their tummies with nutrition before they hit the junk. After all, nutrition is about what we eat, not what we avoid.