It varies family to family, but frequently I hear that breakfast is the hardest meal of the day for parents. You are trying to get ready for your day, you have to get the kids ready as well, and everybody has to get fed and out the door, ideally according to some schedule which will mean you get to keep your job.

It can be SO tempting to go for an easy breakfast option, especially for the kids. Cereal, a breakfast bar, or something similar is always a quick option. Most of these things though don’t have much nutrition to them and are mostly sugar. There are exceptions, of course, but most are sugar bombs and not truly great ways to start the day.

Meanwhile, Betsy and I prefer oatmeal for breakfast. It’s filling, relatively quick to make, and nutritious. One problem: Kids don’t like it. Sure, they like the instant stuff that’s full of, you guessed it, sugar, but the real oatmeal is a TOUGH SELL.

So, this my new breakfast strategy, which is working shockingly well: I let my kids put absolutely anything on their oatmeal. 

Chocolate chips? Sure.
Nutella? Yep.
Brown sugar? Okay.

My gamble here is that by letting them top it to their desire, they will actually eat it and that the oatmeal is healthier than other options.

Also, frankly, it’s 6:30am on a Tuesday and I just want them to eat something without complaining or yelling at me.

Choose a Good Oatmeal

Steel Cut oats
Good oats.

This strategy only works if you start with the good stuff. I recommend cooking steel-cut oats and if you don’t have the time to make them fresh each day, check out my tip on making a big batch in advance. It’s a lifesaver for busy weekday.

The nutrition for steel-cut oats is very similar to rolled oats (check out this helpful comparison chart). Both have about 5g of fiber per serving which is a good chunk of your daily recommendation. (Most Americans only get about half of the recommended fiber each day – source)

The big difference in steel-cut and rolled oats is on the glycemic index. Steel-cut oats are lower on the index and that means they make your body process sugar slower and they keep you full longer. I can actually feel this if I switch to rolled oats on any given day. I’m craving lunch earlier in the day.

Steel cut oats
Fresh batch.

Nutritional Breakdown

There are some restrictions on my “you can put anything on your oatmeal” approach. I don’t let my kids do more than one sweet item. So they can’t do sprinkles AND Nutella. First world problems right?

They can always add bananas, flax, chia seeds, or peanut butter no matter what other toppings they have.

So, let’s talk sugar, which is basically what I’m letting my kids add to their oatmeal with reckless abandon.

Here’s a comparison of the toppings I’m letting them choose from compared to normal breakfast options.

Breakfast Cereal: 8g-15g (depending on brand). Plain Cheerios only has 1g of sugar, but also has half the fiber and my kids will snack on it but not eat a whole bowl of it.

Breakfast Bars: 10-12g. Most of these have some sort of fruit spread or chocolate and only a few grams of fiber. Meh.

As a comparison, the toppings my kids get to choose from are:
Nutella: 2 teaspoons has 6g of sugar.
Chocolate Chips: 2 teaspoons has 5g of sugar.
Maple Syrup: 2 teaspoons has 10g of sugar.
Brown sugar: 1 teaspoon has 4.5g sugar.
Sprinkles: 2 teaspoons has 4g of sugar.

So, even though these toppings might look more intense than say a bowl of Frosted Flakes or whatever, they have less sugar in many cases, more fiber, and my kids will actually eat a whole bowl!

For us, it has become a fun part of our mornings and I look forward to seeing what combos they can come up with and I can feel good that I’m sending them on their way with a reasonably nutritious start.

Are breakfasts a struggle for you? Are you ready to embrace the crazy topping approach?!

Steel cut oats