Healthy Breakfasts: Just How Much Does Your Child Need?

Healthy Breakfasts expert Cheryl TallmanBy Cheryl Tallman,

It’s a fact – Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Studies have proven that children who eat a healthy breakfast perform better at school, have more energy and are less likely to be overweight. A healthy breakfast should include four types of food.

Healthy Breakfast = protein + fruits or vegetables + grains + calcium

PROTEIN: From our head to our toes protein is in every cell of the body and we need it every day. For adults, protein is used for repairing our bodies, but for children it is used to grow bigger bodies.

How much does your child need? Young children (age 1-10 years old) need between 16 to 28 grams of protein per day, depending on their age, gender and activity level.  Aiming for about 6-9 grams of protein at breakfast is a great way to start the day.

Sources of Protein: Common Breakfast Foods
Egg, 1 large – 6 grams
Bacon – 1 slice – 3 grams
Ham – 2 ounces – 12 grams
Milk, 1 cup – 8 grams (soy milk maybe slightly less – read the label)
Yogurt – ¾ cup – 5 grams
Soft Cheese – 1 ounce – 6 grams
Peanut butter, 2 Tablespoons – 8 grams
Nuts or Seeds:  ¼ cup – 6-9 grams

FRUITS OR VEGETABLES: “An apple a day keeps the doctor away!” Fruits and vegetables are packed with essential nutrients to keep your child healthy and growing strong. Fruits and vegetables of different colors contain different nutrients, so it is best to eat a colorful range.

How much does your child need?  Young Children (2 - 6 years old) should eat 3 servings of vegetables and 2 servings of fruit each day. Older children (over age 6), should have 3-5 servings of vegetables and 2-4 servings of fruit.  It is recommended that only one of the daily fruit servings come from juice.

Fruit & Vegetable serving sizes:
1 medium whole fruit (apple, pear, banana)
1/2 cup of cut up fresh, frozen or canned fruit
1/4 cup of dried fruit
3/4 cup (6 ounces) of 100% fruit or vegetable juice

GRAINS: Eating grains, especially whole grains, provides the body with energy. Along with other vitamins and nutrients, grains also provide us with fiber which helps the body digest foods and fight disease.

It is recommended that at least half of your daily grains should be whole.  Choosing whole grains is easy – read the labels on breads and cereals. For the most part, “whole-grain” food products will list the words “whole” or “whole grain” before the name (for example, whole wheat bread).

How much does your child need? Children ages 2-8 should get 3-5 ounces of grains per day, half should come from whole grains.

Whole-grain breakfast foods and the size of a 1 ounce serving:
Whole wheat breads & muffins: 1 slice
Buckwheat pancakes & waffles: 1 pancake/waffle
Oatmeal – ½ cup
Whole Grain Cereal  – ½ cup
Granola – ½ cup

CALCIUM: Everyone knows that calcium builds strong teeth and bones. It is very important to children, because their teeth and bones are growing. Recent studies indicate that as many as 50% of all children are not getting enough calcium in their diet.

So how much for children? Your child’s need for calcium increase as they grow. Here are the guidelines:
Age 1-3 need 500 mg per day.
Age 4-8 need 800mg per day.
Age 9 to 18 need 1300 mg per day.

Milk is the best source of calcium, because it also contains vitamin D which helps the body absorb calcium. An 8-ounce glass of milk has 300 mg of calcium, and one cup of yogurt has 400 mg of calcium. If your child is not a milk drinker or has a dairy allergy, there are plenty of other food sources for calcium such as soy milk, oranges, broccoli, and salmon.

About the Author:

Cheryl Tallman is the co-founder of Fresh Baby, creators of the award-winning So Easy Baby Food Kit, and author of the So Easy Baby Food Basics: Homemade Baby Food in Less Than 30 Minutes Per Week and So Easy Toddler Food: Survival Tips and Simple Recipes for the Toddler Years. Visit Cheryl online at to sign up for her newsletter and her blog feed.

See Cheryl’s article on Kid-Friendly Breakfasts, too

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