If you are looking to take a step in a healthy direction this New Year, consider keeping things simple. Start with rethinking one meal first…breakfast.

In my pediatrics practice I see a lot of families looking to get their kids, and often their whole family, on a healthier track. Parents are worried about their kids falling into unhealthy eating patterns as maybe they have seen themselves do, and want to know how to make a change.

My first inclination is to teach these families everything: how to eat more veggies, switching from refined to whole grains, how to start cooking more each week, meal planning and prepping foods on the weekends. But taking a big picture approach can often feel overwhelming, especially when a family has become conditioned to eat comforting and often addictive convenience foods. Often reluctant family members may have hard time imagining themselves living without these foods in such a different reality from what they know.

Instead, in my first nutrition visit with a family, I ask them to bring a food journal with smartphone pictures and descriptions of one week of eating. Then after reviewing the journal I ask them to change one thing….breakfast.

Why breakfast? Because invariably when I review food journals I find that breakfast is the one meal that needs the most improvement. The usual items found in this meal are foods like sugary cereals, waffles and sausage. These choices are high in refined carbs and low in fiber. Because mornings are busy, older kids may grab a quick processed breakfast bar that is high in sugar, or worse, they may skip breakfast entirely.  Low fiber, highly sugary breakfasts may leave us hungry for more and unable to focus by late morning.

I urge families to get out of the cereal box! The American Heart Association recommends children over the age of two do not consumer more than six teaspoons of added sugar per day. For men the recommendation is no more than nine added teaspoons per day. However, many kids exceed this limit before lunchtime by eating typical American breakfast choices. They also miss an opportunity to get a serving of fruits and/or vegetables and the healthy fiber that comes with them. To help get families started on improving their breakfasts, I give them some new recipes using the Breakfast TAG on doctoryum.org . I often start with recipes like eggs with lots of veggies, as in our “Friteeni Fritattas” or a plant-based alternative “Tofu Veggie Scramble” which are both high in fiber and protein. Another favorite is oatmeal, either “Overnight Soaked Oatmeal” (soaked in the fridge) or “Steelcut Oatmeal with Apples” (in the crockpot or pressure cooker). These can made with no added sugar, as opposed to the pre-made flavored oatmeal packets which are often loaded with refined sugar. To make life easy all of these oatmeal recipes are made ahead of time with no cooking in the morning.

In my experience families feel like they can take home a few recipes from my office and manage to upgrade this one meager meal. Much to their surprise, after about a month of revised breakfasts many changes occur. First, they realize that they feel better if they eat more protein and fiber. Second, they really like the recipes and are surprised that healthy food can taste good. Third, they start to crave less sugar. And most importantly, they just FEEL better (and often they have lost weight as well).

The first week after the beginning of the New Year,  I saw a family in my office for a follow up for a nutrition consult for child. Mom, dad and their school-aged daughter all wanted to get healthy as a family, and at their first visit in December I gave them my breakfast recipes to try for a month. At the follow-up they reported that they did great, despite all the unhealthy eating typically experienced over the holidays (a true achievement!) In addition to enjoying our recipes, they found they enjoyed their healthy dinner leftovers for breakfast. Their daughter didn’t miss the sugary cereals she once craved, and she looked and felt great! With this new buy-in, I expect this family now has the momentum to tackle changes at other meals and snacks, and I introduced them to our Meal Maker Machine to help them customize recipes and save money using ingredients they already have. I look forward to seeing them in a few months to see how their progress is going and plan to check in with them by email along the way.

So if you want to get started with a New Year of healthy eating, consider getting the ball rolling with a healthy breakfast. Visit our recipe catalog to see many breakfast choices your family will love.

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