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Obesity in children and teens is an emotionally painful and physically debilitating condition that can be hard to fight. A higher-protein breakfast, however, is a good way to start.

The Right Breakfast Can Be the Most Important Meal of the Day For Kids Fighting Fat

By a higher-protein breakfast, I don't mean a great big greasy omelet or maybe hamburgers with Cheerios. A higher-protein breakfast for many children and teens fighting obesity often is just some breakfast at all.

All over the world, obesity in children and teens seems to be associated with not eating breakfast. In March 2011, the International Journal of Obesity published a study finding that children in Hong Kong who skipped breakfast gained the most fat during their primary school years (and that children who also skipped lunch gained even more).

In June 2010, researchers in the Department of Pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas reported findings that children who skipped breakfast weighed more and had broader waistlines even than children who ate meals ready to eat cold cereals, usually with milk. And brain scientists at Tohoku University in Sendai, Japan have even found that children who eat foods that are lower on the glycemic index (rice rather than bread, protein foods and fat rather than carbohydrate foods) grow larger brains and have higher IQs.

American studies, oddly, tend to support the breakfast cereal industry. But the finding of researchers all over the world is that eating breakfast, preferably a low-sugar breakfast that provides at least 15 grams of protein helps children and teens control their appetites throughout the day, especially after school and at night. Children and teens who eat more at breakfast gain less fat and have more active brains. But how can you be sure of getting at least 15 grams of protein at breakfast?

  • Eat ready to serve Greek yogurt. A one-cup serving provides 15 grams of protein. Yogurt is also a good way to get some healthy fat from sliced nuts or the antioxidants of berries, although I cannot envision many American children and teenagers taking the advice of SHAPE magazine, for instance, to embellish their breakfast yogurt with ground cloves and dried mulberries. Just getting children to eat the yogurt at all will do the trick.
  • Eat ready to serve beef jerky or smoked salmon, but only two ounces (60 g) or so. More than that amount is too much sodium. Beef jerky is a macho food that will get some kids to eat breakfast.
  • Eat 1/4 cup (about 50 grams) of soy nuts on cereal. These dried and salted soybeans add flavor and crunch to breakfast cereal.
  • And if you are the adult supervising breakfast, you may enjoy cottage cheese with salad ingredients, dried or fresh fruit, or nuts for your own high-protein start to the day.

What about the traditional sit-down breakfast of the English-speaking world, bacon and scrambled or fried eggs?

While these are great sources of protein, overweight children and teens who have enough time in the morning to eat these foods usually eat too much. Ready to eat foods in portions that provide enough protein without too much are the best way to control appetite.

  • Deshmukh-Taskar PR, Nicklas TA, O'Neil CE, Keast DR, Radcliffe JD, Cho S. The relationship of breakfast skipping and type of breakfast consumption with nutrient intake and weight status in children and adolescents: the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 1999-2006. J Am Diet Assoc. 2010 Jun,110(6):869-78.
  • Tin SP, Ho SY, Mak KH, Wan KL, Lam TH. Breakfast skipping and change in body mass index in young children. Int J Obes (Lond). 2011 Mar 29. [Epub ahead of print]
  • Photo courtesy of e-wander on Flickr: www.flickr.com/photos/e-wander/3187727896