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Kids in the Kitchen: Plan ahead for more healthful breakfasts

Carol Price Spurling Correspondent

Eating well on weekday mornings can be rough, no doubt about it. Too often we rush out of the house hungry, and then succumb to something from a vending machine.

If your family does take time to eat at home, the appeal of an instant yet nutritious breakfast is hard to resist. But instant doesn’t necessarily have to mean cold cereal from a box, or a packaged breakfast bar.

Just a little planning ahead and a shot of imagination can transform breakfast from a tasteless health disaster into a few moments of delicious, nourishing indulgence. Try spending an hour or two on the weekends with your children in the kitchen, baking snack breads, scones, or even breakfast puddings to keep in the refrigerator. Or, visit a good deli/bakery and grocery foods store with your children to stock up on decent muffins, bagels, cream cheese, fruit, yogurt and granola. They’ll love the special time with mom or dad, and for the rest of the week, an economical, healthy and tasty breakfast will be a snap.

One common breakfast pitfall for children is too much sugar. Cold cereals are notoriously sweet; so are most fruit juices. I’ve found my child and I will last until noon much better if we eat a piece of fruit in place of juice, along with something more substantial, like a bowl of oatmeal with cream, or some whole grain toast with butter and honey.

And as you’re peering into the refrigerator at 7 a.m. wondering what to fix for you and your kids, don’t forget nature’s fast food: eggs. They take just a couple minutes to fry, scramble, soft boil, or even to transform stale bread into French toast. Older children can easily learn to fix eggs for themselves if you give them a couple of lessons on the weekends. Basic cookbooks such as the “Joy of Cooking” or “Fanny Farmer” will offer instructions for cooking eggs.

Try these breakfast ideas below, or look in cookbook author Mollie Katzen’s inspiring all-breakfast cookbook, Sunlight Cafe, for even more ideas, many of which can be made well ahead of time.

“Granola with plain yogurt, sliced banana and a splash of orange juice.

“Banana bread with cream cheese.

“Fruit and yogurt smoothie, with a little wheat germ and protein powder mixed in.

“Bread pudding or fried polenta squares, warmed, with maple syrup.

“Pumpkin custard or vanilla custard with berries.

“Whole grain or sourdough toast with almond butter and honey.

“Homemade granola bars with a glass of milk.

“Croissant filled with fried egg, slice of cheese and a piece of ham.

“Real oatmeal with diced dried apples, raisins or dried cranberries, cinnamon, a little brown sugar and cream.

“Cinnamon toast and applesauce.

“French toast with yogurt and fruit preserves.

“Poppy seed bagel with lemon cream cheese.

Breakfast Bread Pudding

Your children might enjoy tearing stale bread into small pieces to make bread pudding; beating eggs is also good kid fun. Store stale loaf ends in the freezer in a plastic bag until you have enough to make this comforting and economical dessert-turned-breakfast.

2 cups dried bread cubes

4 cups milk

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup brown sugar

4 slightly beaten eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla (or try maple, lemon, orange, or almond flavoring instead)

1/2 cup dried fruit (raisins, finely diced dried apples or apricots, cherries, etc.)

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 tablespoon butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a baking dish and spread bread cubes evenly in it. Mix milk, salt, sugar, eggs, vanilla, dried fruit and cinnamon in a separate bowl, pour slowly over bread, being careful to moisten all the bread. Dot the top with bits of butter. Bake approximately 30 minutes until firm and top is browned. Serve warm with cream or maple syrup. Keeps well in refrigerator for several days.

Yield: 8 servings

Approximate nutrition per serving: 212 calories, 5.7 grams fat (2.6 grams saturated, 24 percent fat calories), 8 grams protein, 32 grams carbohydrate, 114 milligrams cholesterol, 1 gram dietary fiber, 237 milligrams sodium.

Pumpkin Muffins

From Mollie Katzen, adapted from Sunlight Café

Nonstick spray for the pan

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt (rounded measure)

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon allspice

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

1 tablespoon grated or chopped orange zest

1/3 cup dark brown sugar, packed

1 cup mashed pumpkin (or squash or sweet potato)

1 large egg

1/2 cup milk (plain soy milk will also work)

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

4 tablespoons (half a stick) unsalted butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lightly spray 8 standard-sized muffin cups with nonstick spray.

Combine the flour, salt, baking powder, spices, granulated sugar and orange zest in a medium-sized bowl, and stir until well-blended. Crumble in the brown sugar, and mix with a fork and/or your fingers until thoroughly combined.

Measure the pumpkin (or squash or sweet potato) into a second medium-sized bowl. Add the egg, milk and vanilla, and beat with a fork or a whisk until well-blended.

Slowly pour this mixture, along with the melted butter, into the dry ingredients. Stir with a spoon or a rubber spatula from the bottom of the bowl until you have a uniform batter. Don’t overmix.

Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin cups. (I find it easiest to use two soup spoons for this: one to scoop up the batter and the other to push it into the cup.) For smaller muffins, fill the cups about 4/5 of the way. For larger muffins, fill them even with the top of the pan. If you have leftover batter, spray one or two additional muffin cups with nonstick spray, and put in as much batter as you have.

Bake in the center of the oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until lightly browned on top and a toothpick inserted all the way into the center comes out clean. Remove the muffins from the pan and place on a rack to cool. Wait at least 30 minutes before serving.

Yield: 8 to 10 medium muffins

Approximate nutrition per serving (based on 10): 198 calories, 5.6 grams fat (3 grams saturated, 26 percent fat calories), 4 grams protein, 32 grams carbohydrate, 34 milligrams cholesterol, 1 gram dietary fiber, 207 milligrams sodium.

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