5 grab-and-go breakfasts that get kids ready to learn

Gretchen McKay | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (TNS)

School is back in session and, for some parents, that means learning how to get a quick and nutritious breakfast into their children’s stomachs before they head out the door.

I don’t have school-aged kids anymore, but I sure remember how difficult it was after getting them dressed, readying their backpacks and making them brush their teeth to get them to eat something, anything! (Please!) And it only got harder as they entered their teens and timed rolling out of bed, pulling on clean clothes and running out the door to the last possible second.

A quick bowl of whole-grain Cheerios or banana slices smeared with peanut butter — my granddaughter Greta’s favorite preschool breakfast — are two easy solutions, but they come with a catch as the kids grow older: You have to actually get them to sit down to eat it.

Sadly, breakfast skipping among children and adolescents is more prevalent than you might hope. The latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show about 14% of kids ages 6-11 and 17% of adolescents aged 12-19 regularly head to class on an empty stomach.

And it only gets worse as they grow older. The CDC found that 75% of teens surveyed in the fall of 2021 said they were not eating breakfast daily, up from 66.9% in 2019.

The plain truth is that kids who eat breakfast do better in school. Studies show that breakfast eaters tend to have higher attendance, are less frequently tardy and experience fewer hunger-induced stomach aches.

“It is very hard to concentrate, retain knowledge and really learn when you are hungry,” says Judy Siebert, a dietitian with West Virginia University’s Medical Weight Management Clinic at J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital. “The brain only uses glucose for energy, so if that is low, it’s very hard to learn and retain new concepts.”

Behaviors are a concern also. All of us are more likely to act out when hungry (hangry!), says Siebert, who is also a consultant dietitian for Head Start.

It’s also important what you break the fast with. You want all macro nutrients (proteins, fats and carbohydrates) at each meal, she says. Sugary cereals — which light up the reward center in our brains — are no longer considered a good start to the day. Any cereal with more than 6 grams of sugar per ounce falls into the “candy ” category.

So what’s a plan for success?

If you’ve got something nutritious sitting on the counter or in the fridge that they can grab as they run out the door, there’s a good chance you could win the school day breakfast battle.

It’s important to think about how you’re fueling your kids’ bodies each morning, says Siebert. They should be eating something that won’t cause a blood sugar spike, then take a nose dive 90 minutes later. Instead, start the day with carbs, a high-quality protein and a healthy fat.

To that end, we offer four easy-to-make (and eat) breakfast dishes that kids can grab and go, along with a protein-rich yogurt parfait they’ll want to sit down for. Three of the recipes — banana muffins, carrot-oatmeal cookies and homemade granola — do double-duty as nutritious after-school snacks for those who play sports or have other after-school activities.

Quick and Easy Banana Muffins. (Gretchen McKay/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/TNS) 


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These super-moist muffins make good use of overripe brown bananas. They can be made in a regular cupcake pan or, for toddler-sized appetites, in a mini-cupcake pan. I added chocolate chips to half the batch. If your kids love nuts, toss in a handful of toasted walnuts or pecans.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1/2 cups mashed bananas (about 4 medium or 3 large ripe bananas)
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2/3 cup packed light or dark brown sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons milk
1 cup chopped walnuts, pecans, or chocolate chips, optional

Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray a 12-count muffin pan with nonstick spray or use cupcake liners.

Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg together in a medium bowl. Set aside. In a large bowl or in the bowl of your stand mixer, mash bananas. On medium speed, beat or whisk in melted butter, brown sugar, egg, vanilla extract and milk.

Pour dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, then beat or whisk until combined. If adding nuts or chocolate chips, fold them in now. Batter will be thick.

Spoon the batter into liners, filling them all the way to the top. Bake for 5 minutes at 425 degrees, then, keeping the muffins in the oven, reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees. Bake for an additional 16-18 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. The total baking time is 21-23 minutes, give or take. (For mini muffins, bake 12-14 minutes total at 350 degrees.

Allow muffins to cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then transfer to a wire rack to continue cooling.

Muffins stay fresh covered at room temperature for a few days.

Makes 12 muffins.


Carrot Cake Breakfast Cookies. (Gretchen McKay/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/TNS) 


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These breakfast cookies made with shredded carrot and maple syrup taste just like the dessert carrot cake — in other words, awesome! They’ll keep for at least one week if stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

1 cup oats
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons butter, melted
3/4 cup finely grated carrots (2 medium)
1/2 cup raisins (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In medium bowl, stir together oats, flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. In a large bowl, whisk together egg, vanilla, maple syrup, brown sugar and melted butter. Add dry ingredients to the wet ones and stir to combine. Add carrots and raisins, if using, and stir until just combined. Chill dough for a half-hour.

Drop tablespoon-sized balls of dough onto baking sheets, leaving 1 or 2 inches between each. Bake 13-15 minutes, until cookies are brown at the edges and just set on top. Let cool for a few minutes before transferring to a rack to cool completely. Will keep in an airtight container for up to 5 days or freeze for up to a month.

Makes 2 dozen cookies.

— Adapted from “The School Year Survival Cookbook” by Laura Keogh and Ceri Marsh

Homemade granola adds a crunchy finish to a fruit and yogurt parfait. (Gretchen McKay/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/TNS) 


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For granola

Yogurt parfaits are a quick, healthy breakfast for busy mornings. And they hit four food groups: fruit, dairy, protein and grains. I used fresh blueberries and strawberries, but any fruit (fresh or frozen) works: banana, grapes, raspberries, pineapple or mango. The granola can be bagged for an after-school snack.

4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 1/2 cups mixed raw nuts and/or seeds, such as cashews, pecans, walnuts or pepitas
1 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
Generous sprinkling of ground cinnamon
1/2 cup melted coconut oil
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup dried fruit, such as raisins or dried cranberries and cherries
For yogurt cups
3 cups low-fat plain or vanilla yogurt
1 cup sliced strawberries
1 cup blueberries

Make granola: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large mixing bowl, combine oats, nuts and/or seeds, salt and cinnamon. Stir to blend well.

Add oil, maple syrup and vanilla. Toss well, so that all the oats and nuts are lightly coated. Pour granola mixture onto your prepared pan and spread it in an even layer.

Bake until lightly golden, about 24 minutes, stirring halfway. Remove from pan and allow to cool completely, then add dried fruit. The granola will further crisp up as it cools. You should end up with about 8 cups of granola — more than enough to also allow for snacking.

Prepare yogurt cups. Layer 1/3 cup yogurt into the bottoms of 4 tall glasses. Top with strawberries, blueberries and a spoonful or two of granola. Alternate layers of fruit and granola with yogurt until glasses are filled to the top.

Serve parfaits immediately to keep granola crunchy.

Serves 4.

— Gretchen McKay, Post-Gazette

Egg cups made in the oven can be filled with your favorite meats, cheeses, and veggies. (Gretchen McKay/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/TNS) 


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These low-cal egg cups can be made the night before and warmed in the microwave. Add any favorite protein and/or veggie or cheese. I made half with bacon and cheddar and the other half with cooked, crumbled breakfast sausage and diced red pepper.

Nonstick pan spray
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 strips bacon, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
12 large eggs
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 ounces grated or shredded cheddar cheese

Set a rack in the top third of the oven and preheat to 300 degrees. Generously spray the wells of a 12-cup standard muffin tin with nonstick pan spray.

Add 1 tablespoon olive oil and cook over medium heat, stirring often, until crispy and browned, about 6-8 minutes. Remove bacon from the pan using a slotted spoon and let cool.

Crack eggs into a large bowl and add milk, salt and pepper. Whisk until the mixture is homogeneous and there are no streaks of unincorporated egg whites. Stir in cooked bacon and cheddar cheese.

Evenly distribute the mixture into the wells of the muffin tin, filling them about three-fourths of the way. Bake until the egg bites puff up and the tops no longer look wet, 25-30 minutes. (They will puff dramatically in the oven, but collapse once cooled.)

Let cool slightly, then remove from the tin using an offset spatula or butter knife. Enjoy warm or at room temperature.

Makes 12 large egg cups or 24 minis.

— Adapted from allrecipes.com

Whole-wheat waffles are sweetened with raspberries and vanilla. (Gretchen McKay/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/TNS) 


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Waffles are so much easier than pancakes because you can make them ahead of time and simply warm them in the toaster on the morning they’re needed. In addition to being served on top, fresh raspberries are stirred into the batter for a touch of sweetness.

1 cup raspberries, plus additional for serving if desired
1 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup milk
Maple syrup, butter, fruit or yogurt, for serving

Preheat oven to 200 degrees and set aside a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a wire rack.

Cut raspberries in half with kitchen scissors or mash lightly with a fork.

Combine flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt in a medium bowl.

Stir together butter, eggs, vanilla and milk in a separate bowl and gently add it to the flour mixture. Stir in mashed raspberries.

Heat waffle iron and cook according to manufacturer’s directions. (I used my trusty mini-waffle maker from Target.) If more than one person is sitting down for breakfast or running out the door, keep waffles warm in the preheated oven on the prepared baking sheet until you finish cooking all of the batter.

Serve warm with syrup, butter, nut butter, fruit or yogurt and additional berries.

Makes 12 waffles.


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