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Between pulling your kid out of bed for school, assessing his "sick" claims and battling over appropriate school outfits, there's not much time in the morning to consider healthy breakfast options. As a result, it's a great idea to have an arsenal of go-to picks you can rely on to get kids fed fast and out the door with a nutritious start to their day. Mayo Clinic research shows that kids who eat breakfast have better problem-solving skills, concentrate better in class, are more alert and creative and miss fewer days of school.
But what happens when your go-to "healthy" breakfast items harbor unhealthy ingredients? If you're like California mom Athena Hohenberg, you fight back with force: Hohenberg was plantiff in a class-action lawsuit against Ferrero (the company that owns Nutella), which forced the company to change the language on its jars of chocolate hazelnut spread.
To find nutritional morning fare without resorting to legal action, take a closer look at your breakfast go-tos. There are tons of on-the-go items that seem healthy, but aren't. Learn how to tell the difference and swap the popular picks with sensible, kid-friendly substitutes:
- Granola. Though this crunchy combo is touted as a top-notch pick for your morning lineup, be wary of packaged granola that tastes too good to be true. It's probably high in sugar and loaded with fat. To keep your kid's morning meal nutritious, look for granola that is unsweetened and low in fat. If you're feeling adventurous, recruit your budding chef and make it yourself! Mix in favorite nuts, oats and dried fruit for a naturally sweet (and nutritious) morning fix.
- Bagels. That super-sized everything bagel from your favorite breakfast chain has a similar nutritional value to regular-sized whole wheat toast, right? Wrong! These savory favorites are often loaded with calories and sugar from their density, white flour and toppings. Keep your kid's portions in check by swapping his standard bagel for a whole wheat English muffin or a few pieces of sliced toast, topped with omega-3 rich avocado instead of calorie-laden cream cheese.
- Yogurt. As a quick source of protein and calcium, the Mayo Clinic recommends yogurt as a breakfast essential for kids. However, beware before digging in: many popular yogurt brands marketed to children are packed with more sugar than a Twinkie! Choose low-fat brands with less than 15 grams of sugar per serving (such as Stonyfield's Vanilla Oikos organic Greek yogurt) to prevent a sugar rush—and subsequent crash—for your little learner.
- Cereal. This breakfast staple can be one of the most deceptive items on your child's morning menu. To keep cereal healthy, aim for brands with at least 3 grams or fiber, less than 5 grams of sugar and less than 150 calories per serving, served with low-fat milk. Power picks include General Mills' Cheerios, Kashi Go Lean and Kellog's All-Bran Original.
- Energy Bars. Since most energy bars are sugar-laden, highly processed and jammed with trans-fats, they'll probably do anything but keep little ones alert and focused throughout the day. With a little foresight, though, you can make energy bars work for you. Look for picks like Lemon Zest Luna Bars or protein-heavy Zing bars, which contain over 3 grams of protein and fiber, heart-healthy fats and 10 to 20 grams of sugar.
- Oatmeal. Grabbing breakfast on the road often means choosing oatmeal over greasy breakfast sandwiches, but think again before you order up: McDonald's oatmeal has more sugar than a Snickers bar and only 10 fewer calories than a Mickey D's cheeseburger! For a healthier alternative, whip up a batch of homemade apple oatmeal or toy around with your own flavor profile.
- Peanut Butter and Nutella. Though delicious, Nutella is seriously lacking in the nutrition department, as it has 21 grams of sugar per serving and a lot of fat. If you're not careful, peanut butter can also be an unhealthy breakfast companion since many popular brands are chock full of added sugar. Next time you're at the grocery store, pick out a sugar-free peanut, almond or cashew butter for your kid's toast. Or, opt for hummus, avocado or sugar-free jam.
- Fruit Juice. It's no secret why kids are crazy about juice; most popular brands are loaded with added sugar, too much of which can lead to tooth decay, poor nutrition and weight gain in kids. To keep your bunch going strong, look for juices containing 100 percent fruit juice and dilute the sugary solution with water. Aim for serving up "flavored water" and never give your child an undiluted version.
- Muffins. Since most store-bought brands are oversized and crammed with unnecessary trans-fats and sugar, the best way to keep muffins healthy is to make them yourself. Rather than toss recipes that don't seem healthy enough, try making smart substitutes (such as applesauce instead of butter, or honey instead of sugar) to tweak your favorites into nutritious and delicious eats!
Since mornings are already hectic enough, set yourself up for success by using the guidelines above, and trust your gut when you see ads for products that seem too good to be true. With a little background research and the smart substitutes above, you'll have the knowledge you need to create nutritious, easy breakfasts to get your little one ready to face the day.