Like most kids, I was obsessed with sugary cereals, especially Cinnamon Toast Crunch. My mom rarely let me have it, but the square morsels of cinnamon were my favorite morning meal, even though the choice was less than ideal for a growing 7-year-old.
Each stage of life requires a focus on different nutrients, from calcium and iron in childhood to protein and omega 3s in the golden years. HuffPost interviewed four dietitians to find the ideal breakfast for each stage of life.
Little Kid (2 to 6 years old)
Toddlers are notorious for being picky eaters, enjoying a limited rotation of familiar foods. This can cause some issues in the bathroom department, according to Sue-Ellen Anderson-Haynes, a registered dietitian and the founder of 360Girls&Women.
“Pediatricians tend to see parents of children around this age group complain more of constipation,” Anderson-Haynes told HuffPost. “As a matter of fact, constipation is the most common complaint of parents and affects about 30% of children (preschoolers and older children).” The solution? More fiber in fun and familiar foods, like high-fiber waffles and fruits.
Registered nutritionist Marissa Meshulam provided another solution for choosy little kids at breakfast ― a snack plate. Cut an egg into bite-size portions, slice toast into strips, slather it with some avocado and include some fruit for a balanced and diverse breakfast.
“The egg and avocado provide healthy fats for their brain development, the fruit provides some antioxidants, and the toast gives some fiber and carbs for energy,” Meshulam said. “The egg also contains vitamin D and iron, which are important for bone and muscle development.”
School Age (12 and under)
Crucial for this period are calcium and vitamin D, and children may not be consuming adequate amounts that are essential for bone development and strong teeth, according to several studies.
“It’s important to build up calcium stores while the child is young since once you get older, calcium absorption decreases,” Anderson-Haynes said.
One easy way to ensure your little one is getting enough calcium and vitamin D is a smoothie. Combine fruits for carbs and sweetness, nut butter, seeds or nuts for fat and satiety, and yogurt or milk (plant or dairy) for protein and calcium, according to Anderson-Haynes and Meshulam.
“You can even sneak in some veggies (like spinach or frozen riced cauliflower) for added nutrition that they won’t taste,” Meshulam added.
If you’re choosing an alt-milk, look for one fortified with calcium and vitamin D, as not all are created equally.
“One cup of milk or soy milk provides 200 mg of calcium,” Anderson-Haynes said. “That’s 20% of the recommended daily intake, which is 1,000 mg per day for children in this age group.” Look for a label indicating fortified, or check the nutrition facts panel for at least 300 mg of calcium.
Teenagers (13 to 17 years old)
Early starts and packed schedules can make it difficult for teenagers to get enough fuel for their busy schedules. Eggs, sausage, bacon and toast could be the filling and fueling start that powers teens through their day, according to Meshulam.
She suggests eggs and something like Applegate Organics Chicken & Apple Breakfast Sausage, which is organic and contains nothing artificial for a combination of protein and iron.
“Iron becomes increasingly important for female teenagers who begin menstruation, and protein is important for their growing muscles,” Meshulam said. “The bread provides them with fiber-filled carbs for their various activities.” Add in some fruit for fiber and antioxidants.
Getting adequate amounts of iron is crucial at this stage for both boys and girls. Beans are an excellent source. Swap black beans, pinto beans or chickpeas into a breakfast taco with an array of toppings and flavors.
″For example, 1 cup of cooked black beans provides about 5 mg of iron, about 30-40% of the iron needed for adolescent girls and boys, respectively,” Anderson-Haynes said. “Eggs or plant-based eggs made from chickpea also provide some iron to this meal. Vitamin C in the tomatoes helps absorb non-heme iron (plant iron).”
Young Adults (18 to 30 years old)
On their own for the first time, young adults often struggle to eat anything for breakfast. And while it’s not the most important meal of the day, finding some fuel is essential.
“Remembering the basic rule that ‘anything is better than nothing’ can help some individuals commit to having a regular breakfast to keep their brain fueled and their body going,” registered dietician Barb Ruhs said.
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If time is an issue, try one of the many on-the-go options like granola bars, instant oatmeal cups or frozen premade smoothies.
“If you wanted to get more focused on nutrition, I’d recommend at least two food groups: 1) whole grain bread (grains) and fresh produce (avocado), 2) Greek yogurt (dairy) with fresh fruit (berries) or 3) a breakfast burrito (eggs and grains),” Ruhs advised.
The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans found that most adults don’t consume enough calcium and vitamin D, which isn’t just for building bones and teeth.
“Calcium is important for bone metabolism, nerve conduction and endocrine support, while vitamin D is important for the absorption of calcium,” said registered dietitian nutritionist Kimberly Rose-Francis. With that in mind, options like Greek yogurt parfait, cottage cheese toast with salmon, or a banana pecan smoothie made with 2% milk could support your calcium and vitamin D needs.
Middle Age (40 to 60 years old)
You’re likely not eating enough fiber, as more than 90% of American men and women don’t hit their recommended dietary intakes. Rose-Francis said you can bump it up at breakfast with whole grains, fruits and veggies.
“A loaded vegetable omelet, whole grain pancakes and oatmeal are fiber-filled breakfast options,” Rose-Francis said. Fiber is essential for healthy digestion, promoting good gut microbes and regularity.
Seniors (60-plus years old )
Not just for gym bros, eating enough protein is essential at this stage to preserve muscle mass, which deteriorates naturally with aging.
“Scrambled eggs and protein shakes containing at least 16 grams of protein are good options for breakfast for seniors,” Rose-Francis said. “Protein-rich foods that are easy to chew may help to preserve strength and muscle mass.” Since appetite wanes at this stage of life, ensuring you’re eating enough is also vital.
Boosting brain function may also be on your mind at this stage of life, which means you should focus on getting your omega-3s by eating nuts and seeds, and antioxidant-rich produce like berries, which have been shown to help prevent cognitive decline.
“Frozen berries are easy to keep on hand, and it’s a great routine to top a whole-grain cereal/oatmeal daily with a handful of brain-boosting berries to maintain memory and infuse the diet with powerful antioxidants,” Ruhs said.
She also suggests a savory breakfast with salmon, which contains brain-boosting omega-3 fats, vitamin D, selenium, iron and marine-based antioxidants.
“Choose land-based (farmed) salmon if you’re looking for a mercury-free salmon with all the amazing benefits of their wild cousins,” Ruhs said.