When I was seven my parents got called into a parent-teacher conference because I was having trouble in the late mornings at school. During recess I would fight with the boys (literal kicking matches—I won a lot) and would also get frustrated during lessons when I didn’t feel like I understood. My parents couldn’t figure out what was wrong. Nothing was happening at home, I wasn’t complaining about school, why was I acting out?
Then one evening my mom heard a story on NPR about the importance of protein for brain function but also for staving off hunger and a light bulb went off in her head: I was hungry! The next morning she made sure that I had protein in my breakfast and, like magic, the problems disappeared! From then on, she was adamant that I have some sort of protein every morning.
So imagine my chagrin a couple of weeks ago when I started getting messages from my 7-year-old’s math teacher wondering why my normally helpful, engaged kid was suddenly having trouble. Had something happened at home? She asked. Were there problems with friends? We had long talks and strategy sessions with him but to no avail.
And then one morning it hit me: he was hungry. In the weeks leading up to the change he had been going through a breakfast strike where he would only eat a tiny bit of his breakfast each morning and in my attempt to respect his listening to his hunger cues, I had tried to be flexible about it. But now it was clear: the kid wasn’t eating enough.
So I told him my story and we sat down to strategize, not about his behavior, but about what he would like to have for breakfast that had protein in it. At first the conversation didn’t go very well because he is not a fan of nuts, peanut butter, meat, or tofu. And he is choosy about his eggs, plus asking my husband to whip up a batch of eggs each morning (breakfast is the meal he’s in charge of each day) when we are often rushing felt like a bit much. But we managed to come up with a list of options and, you guessed it, the problems in math class disappeared overnight.
So, in honor of our newly re-established commitment to protein consumption at breakfast, I wanted to share this list of quick and easy ways to get protein in, even with the morning rush:
1) Cheese Slices– with some toast or a muffin
2) “Cheesy Toast”– melt mozzarella or cheddar on a piece of bread in the toaster oven
3) Eggs– hard boiled and mini-frittatas can be made ahead of time, which can make things easier
4) Nuts– by the handful or mixed into cereal, granola, or oatmeal
5) Yogurt– especially Greek, which has more protein that the regular version. Use plain and top with some honey, maple syrup, apple sauce, or frozen berries
6) Avocado Toast with Cheese– Top avocado toast with feta, cheddar, ricotta, etc. Good fats, fiber, and protein!
7) Smoothies– make sure to include peanut butter or Greek yogurt to boost the protein and good fat
8) Peanut Butter/Almond Butter/Sunbutter– on toast, bread, or rice cakes.
9) Smoked Salmon– my 7-year-old’s favorite. On toast or half a bagel.
10) Bacon– one minute per slice in the microwave, not the tastiest way to eat it, but the fastest
11) Leftovers– who says soups, pastas, pizza, steak, etc. can’t be for breakfast?
12) Quesadillas– this is actually a traditional breakfast in Mexico. Throw together in a frying pan or toaster oven.
13) Hummus and Pita– filling and delicious! What more can you ask for?
14) Deli Meat– a slice or two with some toast or bread
15) Beans– with rice or on toast as the British do it
What is your favorite way to get some protein into breakfast? Do you have a favorite breakfast that might surprised some?