Are you frustrated and worried about your kids that won’t eat breakfast? Find out if you need to be worried, and 8 powerful tips that could help your child get some food in their belly before school.
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It’s a terrible feeling when your kid doesn’t eat breakfast before school and you know they’ll be starving in a couple of hours. Or, worse, they don’t eat lunch well at school either and the whole day is a struggle for them.
Try as you might to tell them that they need to eat breakfast, they still don’t. And, the cycle of not eating breakfast and starving while they’re at school continues.
What can you do?
A lot, actually. I’m going to share my tips and tricks as a pediatric occupational therapist so you can help your child eat breakfast before school!
Why Kids Need to Eat Breakfast
Understandably, your stress is probably through the roof about this “skipped” breakfast if it’s causing your child to struggle in any way. It’s common knowledge that eating breakfast gives kids the energy and focus they need to learn, play, and socialize at school.
But, sometimes, skipping breakfast becomes such a way of life that we miss some of the more subtle consequences that not eating a good breakfast can bring…
- Tantrums, outbursts, and difficult behaviors that teachers have to manage in a classroom full of other kids
- Trouble paying attention to lessons or concepts because they’re tired, weak, or their stomach pains are so distracting
But, My Kid Doesn’t Seem to Struggle When They Skip Breakfast
Having said that, some kids seem to be just fine skipping breakfast, in fact, a lot of adults too. This is widely up for debate as to whether it’s a good practice or not, among nutrition experts.
Regardless, the point is that some people, including kids, seem to be just fine eating little or no breakfast.
As a parent, I’d still offer breakfast, but if your child chooses to skip the meal and doesn’t have any difficulty with learning, interacting, or physical side effects at school, it may not be worth worrying much about.
This is even more true if your child eats lunch well at school, they’ll often make up for the calories they missed at breakfast.
However, if a child is consistently struggling to eat lunch too, then eating a breakfast at home is a priority.
Why Some Kid’s Won’t Eat Breakfast…
You probably have a sense of whether or not your child’s skipping breakfast is creating a problem for them or not. If your child is having any of those signs we talked about earlier, then you may be wondering why they just won’t eat.
There’s a variety of possible reasons. Here’s some of the most common…
#1. They are a very picky eater!
Extreme picky eaters, or kids with PFD or ARFID, have lots of challenges around food. And, while they may understand that they “should” eat, they don’t care because eating is so hard for them.
#2. They aren’t in tune with their appetite.
Some kids don’t recognize or pay attention to “appetite” cues the way you or I do. They don’t really feel hungry so they aren’t going to eat, especially if it’s a busy school morning with lots of distractions in getting ready for school.
This is related to their interoception sense.
#3. They’re too worried to eat
Lots of kids have anxiety in the morning before school. They might be worried about leaving you, socializing, learning, or all their sensory needs.
Anxiety is an appetite killer.
Sometimes anxiety is obvious, and sometimes it’s incredibly easy to miss. Make sure you consider this as a potential reason for a skipped breakfast.
If you know or suspect anxiety is a factor, then make sure you talk supportively with your child and begin to address the anxiety, which will help them eat breakfast! Check out our post on helping kids with anxiety.
#4. They’re too full.
If your kid has a big late dinner or hearty bedtime snack, they truly may not be hungry before it’s time to leave for school.
Consider each of these possibilities, and if you aren’t sure what’s causing the poor breakfast eating, then ask your child, “Hey, I was wondering why you don’t eat breakfast?”
Be casual, if they sense you’re upset or stressed, they might clam up and not share any insights. But, kids as young as preschoolers surprise me with what they’re able to articulate when we give them the chance too!
What is a “Good” Breakfast”?
You can’t make your child eat. I know it’s frustrating. But, it’s a fact. And, accepting that will help decrease your frustration, but there are some things you can do to give them the best chance at eating a good breakfast.
But, before we go any further, we need to be clear about what a ” good” breakfast is. A good breakfast is: your child eating enough food to sustain their attention and learning until lunch.
It’s not a certain amount of protein, or no sugar foods. A “good” breakfast will look different for every family. For every child.
How to Help Kids Eat a good Breakfast
Now that we’re all on the same page, let’s get to the 8 ways you can increase the odds that your child will eat a good breakfast.
1. Limit bedtime snack – We just talked about how late meals can cause poor appetite’s in the morning. If a bedtime snack or large late dinner are sabotaging breakfast, then consider moving up those meals to an earlier time, or if possible, eliminating a bedtime snack.
Again, this is only necessary if skipping breakfast is having negative effects on them at school. If your child consistently eats a huge late dinner, lunch, and skips breakfast, but it doesn’t seem to affect him, then you don’t have to cut back on eating later in the evening.
2. Go to bed earlier – Some kids are soooo tired in the morning that they aren’t awake enough yet to feel hungry. Sometimes, the lack of breakfast eating is more of a sleep problem rather than an eating problem.
At the same time, some kids need more time to wake up in the morning before they’re able to eat. In either case, focusing on an earlier bedtime may give a child the full rest they need and help them not feel so groggy in the morning.
For the kids that need more time in the morning to get hungry, this can allow you to wake them up a little earlier. Sometimes, even 15 minutes can make a difference.
3. Menu plan breakfast with your kid – If your child is straight up not interested in breakfast, then on the weekend, have them plan out breakfast with you for the week. Or, you could try just planning the breakfast the night before together. Depending on the child, and your personal circumstances, one way may be more effective than the other.
If they don’t want to plan it out, go ahead and do it alone, but let them know the night before what’s for breakfast so they know what to expect.
As you menu plan, make sure you have at least 1 food that they normally like to eat. If they’re struggling to eat breakfast at all, this probably isn’t the meal, at least on school days, to try out different foods they’ve refused before.
4. Serve what they LOVE – I talk about the importance of giving our kids a variety of foods a lot.
But, if your child is barely eating any breakfast and then falling apart at school, I worry about variety at dinner time. It’s more important for them to have the sustenance they need at school so serve them what they love for breakfast.
And, the food doesn’t have to be breakfast food. We get sort of caught up in cultural norms around pancakes, waffles, toast, cereal, and eggs, but chicken nuggets and french fries are 100% perfect for breakfast! Or, any other food they love.
That also includes foods you think are too processed or high in sugar.
You can work towards having those types of foods with less frequency in the future, but right now to help get them into the habit of eating breakfast, give them what they’re motivated to eat!
When you’re ready to add more nutrition, try our pumpkin waffles/pancake recipe, it’s delicious.
5. Reduce the hurry – I don’t know about you, but the time before school can get pretty hectic at my house. All that chaos can make it hard for kids to focus on eating. It’s easy to get swept up in all the hurry and ignore their growling stomach.
Try to make mornings calmer by having bookbags and lunches packed the night before.
6. Try a smoothie – For kids that don’t have a big appetite before school, or are in a hurry, offering a simple but tasty smoothie they can drink might be a win. Some kids find it easier to multi-task getting ready for school while they sip their smoothie. If you’ve tried smoothies in the past, and your kid didn’t accept them, then try again with highly palatable flavors and textures.
Some smoothies are full of nutrition, but have a lot of strong flavors and textures.
Use fruits your child typically likes, adding just a few with their favorite yogurt or milk. This is my favorite smoothie for kids, it’s packed with nutrition and doesn’t have any overly strong tastes or textures.
7. Keep portions small – Sometimes, we’re so desperate for our kids to eat a good breakfast we give them a big heaping helping. That can be very overwhelming and turn off a kid’s appetite. Instead focus on a smaller portion they’ll have more success with.
They can always get seconds. This is a great tip for all meals, get our 9 Ways to Improve Eating to help your kid eat well at all meals.
8. Try something fun! – A lot of kids will respond to novelty. You can make a slice of peanut butter toast and with a few slices of banana and a couple of raisins turn it into a teddy bear.
I’m not about elaborate time-consuming food art, unless you love and want to do it, but some simple twists to foods they like could pique their interest enough to give breakfast a try!
Fun Breakfast Ideas for Kids
Here’s some more inspiration for fun breakfasts, but remember you don’t have to stick to just breakfast foods.
Didn’t see any ideas you like? You can still add fun and keep it simple by cutting waffles or pancakes into sticks and putting a little dip bowl of syrup or honey on the side.
Or, you could cut up some sausage, fruit, or toast and push a few animal bento picks into the food!
It’s your turn, is your kid struggling to eat breakfast? Let us know in the comments below which tip you’re going to try first!
More on Feeding Kids
Alisha Grogan is a licensed occupational therapist and founder of Your Kid’s Table. She has over 17 years experience with expertise in sensory processing and feeding development in babies, toddlers, and children. Alisha also has 3 boys of her own at home. Learn more about her here.