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Nutrition Tip: Start the Day Right With a Nutritious Breakfast

Like most working moms, I used to start the school year vowing to begin each day with a sane, unrushed, healthy breakfast. But within a few weeks, those plans would give way to the reality of lost socks, misplaced homework, enforced tooth-brushing—and breakfast on the fly.

The truth is, a quick breakfast can be healthy if you look at it as the first piece of that day’s nutrition puzzle. Hot and cold breakfast cereals are fast and easy. Pair a bowl of oatmeal or cereal with low fat milk and banana slices or blueberries, and you’ve gotten the day off to a pretty good start.

Preparing a healthy meal really starts at the grocery store, where you should check the nutrients in each item before filling up your shopping cart. Zero-in on two things:

  • the Nutrition Facts label—which tells you the calories and percentage of recommended nutrients per serving for one day
  • the ingredients list on the label of prepared foods—which lists each ingredient used to make the product, with the predominant ingredient first, the next most prominent second, and so on in descending order

Pay close attention to the ingredients list. If the cereal your kids like has some type of grain listed first, that’s a good sign. But if fructose, high fructose corn syrup, or sucrose—in other words, sugar—is listed first, you’d best leave that item on the store shelf because added sugars are taking the place of more nutritious ingredients.

But sugar isn’t always bad. Some foods—such as fruits—contain naturally occurring sugars. Bananas or juicy oranges straight from the tree or your grocer's produce aisle are naturally sweet. But if you see sugar listed as an ingredient in canned, frozen, or packaged fruits, you'll know it was added in the same way it’s added to cereals or other prepared foods.

Make a healthy breakfast part of your children's morning routine. Studies show that students who eat breakfast perform better in school.

Ed. Note:   This blog is part of a series of nutrition tips from FDA nutrition expert Shirley Blakely, Ph.D., R.D.