Breakfast has been called “the most important meal of the day”, and for a good reason. The morning meal is linked to better school attendance, higher grades, concentration, problem-solving, punctuality, and improved health and coordination according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. So, what is the big secret to getting teenagers to eat a balanced breakfast meal?
5 Key Tips for Getting Teenagers to Eat Breakfast
- Increase Food Options
- Involve Your Teen In Menu Planning
- Exemplify Healthy Habits
- Keep On-The-Go Healthy Foods On Hand
- Plan Ahead
It may not be manageable to gather everyone around the table for breakfast in the morning, but there are small adjustments and healthy decisions that can be made to make sure a balanced breakfast is included in the schedule when it comes to a teen’s morning routine.
If your teen doesn’t eat breakfast, do your best to increase the food options, involve your teen, exemplify healthy habits, keep on-the-go healthy foods on hand, and plan ahead. The best breakfast is simply one that meets the teen’s nutrient needs and sets them up for success throughout the day.
Read on for answers to all your questions about getting your teen(s) to eat their breakfast.
What To Do If Your Child Won’t Eat Breakfast
It can be tempting to throw in the towel when a child refuses to eat in the AM hours. However, there are steps that require little effort but make all the difference in providing an appetizing and appealing breakfast spread for your teen.
Increase the Options
Break the monotony and offer a variety of nutrient dense combinations, such as:
- Whole grains (toast, rice cakes, pancakes, waffles, bagels, English muffins, etc.) with nut butter or avocado spread
- Fortified whole grain cereal with milk (or milk alternative) and slices of fruit
- Oatmeal with fruit, nuts, and seeds
- Smoothie made of ingredients such as frozen fruits and veggies, milk, or 100% juice, spinach, seeds, nut butter
- Parfait made of Greek yogurt, homemade granola, and fresh fruit medley
- Eggs served in a variety of ways
Transform your Counter into a Breakfast Bar
Turn breakfast into a customizable meal by offering food in the form of a breakfast bar. This can also allow teens to feel more in control over the nutritious options available. Presenting cereal, waffles, homemade muffins, fruit, nuts, cheeses, breads, eggs, and even more in this exciting way can turn an otherwise ordinary meal into an exciting opportunity to start the day sunny side up.
Spice it up
Spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt (in moderation) can help to highlight flavors or compliment certain components of a breakfast dish and change it up just enough to make it more enjoyable and exciting. Seasonings like turmeric (curcumin) can also be excellent ways to aid in gut health and protect against inflammation.
What To Do When Your Teenager Won’t Eat
Despite your best efforts, your teenager may still opt out on the breakfast dish. While this can be frustrating, hope is not lost! The following tips can help to keep nutrients available even if your teen avoids eating in the AM.
Keep Staples on Hand For When They are Hungry
Teens crave increased independence, and that includes the timing and choice involved in their food habits. Keep teen-friendly kitchen staples on hand so that your teen can choose nutrient-dense foods for themselves.
You might also want to stock up on on-the-go healthy foods for your teen to grab when they are on their way out the door in the morning. Some examples include overnight oats (can be made a week in advance in bulk), fruit, whole-wheat muffins, individual servings of Greek yogurt, hard-boiled eggs, breakfast burritos (can be meal prepped ahead of time- just pop in the microwave and go), pre-prepared smoothies, etc.
Involve your Teen in the Process
Explaining and integrating a teen into the learning and meal preparation process can help them to understand and develop the skills needed to take charge of their health. This goes beyond breakfast, and can play a powerful role in teaching them life-long skills that increase their chances of leading a healthy life later on.
Ask About Supplementation
If you are feeling like you are out of options, ask a dietitian or healthcare team about supplements that can ensure your teen is getting the vitamins and minerals they need. Be sure to head into an appointment understanding important considerations and be ready to address potential concerns about supplementation for your teen. It’s also important to give your teen a say in this process, and to help them understand how supplements can be an integral aspect of their healthy lifestyle.
Why Do Teenagers Skip Breakfast?
In the teenage years, there are so many decisions to make and competing demands on a teen’s time. Opting out on the morning meal may not seem like a big deal, but it can have long-term consequences if the habit persists over time. Read on to explore some of the common reasons for skipping breakfast.
It’s Not a Priority
Between growing pains, grades, and other obligations, breakfast can seem more like a burden than a blessing. Some teens skip eating in the morning because they lack the understanding of how crucial the meal can be for their overall health and routine. Teaching your teen about nutrition facts and labels can be an important part of their learning process when it comes to making informed food choices down the line.
Keeping a Tight Schedule
Especially for families with multiple children, it can be difficult to factor nutritious meals into an already busy day. However, prioritizing a plan for breakfast can actually simplify the morning routine and save time and other resources in the long run, not to mention the added health benefits of making breakfast a regular part of the morning routine.
Picky & Particular Eaters
Teens with particular tastes and preferences may claim an absent sense of appetite when it comes to breakfast. This can be difficult to navigate, especially first thing in the morning. If your teen is a picky eater or doesn’t seem to appreciate the options you offer for breakfast, see options below to explore more ideas for giving them the best breakfast possible.
What Is the Best Breakfast for a Teenager?
Many families and teens feel like planning a balanced breakfast is an “all-or-nothing” endeavor. The best breakfast for a growing teen is simply the one that meets their nutrient needs.
This means that the “best” breakfast plan can be a combination of homemade meals, school-offered options, or on-the-go alternatives. What matters most is that the teenager has options and opportunities to fuel themselves by having access to nutrient-rich foods at the beginning of the day.
“Go-to” To-Go Options
Have alternative and on-the-road options handy just in case your teen needs to rush out the door or take something to-go. Fresh fruits like an apple or banana can easily be grabbed on the way out the door. Instant oatmeal, overnight oats, or homemade trail mix can also be great ideas to keep your teen fueled on the go.
Options offered at school can be a great way to start a teen’s day off right. Whether it’s everyday or only certain days of the week, the MyPlate Guide to School Breakfast can help you decide if this option is right for your teen.
Give their Favorites a Healthier Makeover
Instead of giving in to less-nutritious fast food stops, make it a priority during the week to recreate some favorites for your teen. For example, if your teen has an IHOP craving you could make whole wheat pancake batter the night before, invest in a countertop skillet, and design a simple pancake bar with healthy, nutritious topping options to bring the feel of their favorite foods home in a healthier way. It may require some effort on your part, but a little effort goes a long way in this case, and the whole family is likely to benefit from being offered better breakfast choices.
Small Swaps & Supporting Long-term Changes
The best breakfast for your teen might be one where they make small changes to something they regularly eat. For example, instead of coffee and donuts they may trade the pastry for fresh fruit and a homemade granola bar. Healthy eating patterns are intended to be a lifelong habit, so small changes may not seem like progress, but baby steps are still steps.
It’s important to remember that lasting changes require small adjustments each day. Instead of pushing a teen to make drastic changes quickly, such as ditching the donuts and coffee altogether, be patient and remember that they are learning to enjoy nutrient dense foods and balance their daily choices.
Eventually they can learn to make healthy choices on their own, but in the meantime it is important to support the process without trying to control the changes your teen is making.
Side Effects of Not Eating Breakfast
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics lists the following as common side effects of skipping breakfast:
- Poor energy
- Poor concentration
- Poor academic performance
- Tendency to overeat and/or make poor health decisions later in the day
- Poor impact on long-term health
- Affects your mood and self-confidence
- Hunger from skipping breakfast can cause spikes and crashes in blood sugar which leads to unhealthy cravings later in the day
- May increase risk factors for weight gain and disease
Benefits of Eating Breakfast
Also from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, benefits of eating breakfast are:
- Starts your day off with important nutrients
- Helps you perform better at school
- Keeps you full and energized for your day
- Improves brain function and concentration = better grades
The facts are clear, make sure your teen is getting breakfast whenever possible, even if it’s something small and quick. Something is better than nothing!
But what if you are interested in fasting? Check out my Guide to Intermittent Fasting for Teenagers.
Is It Normal For a Teenager Not to Eat?
Unfortunately it’s normal, but not healthy for teens to skip breakfast. Whether it be time constraints, sleeping in, a busy extracurricular and school schedule, health concerns, lack of food preparation skills, or lack of responsibility, teens go through phases of not eating breakfast. It’s your job to help make sure that these phases don’t become long-term habits of skipping breakfast.
If teens regularly skip breakfast, the decision can quickly become an adjusted trend, and they will stop feeling hungry in the morning for a good meal to start the day.
The habit of skipping breakfast can feel natural since many adolescents miss the morning meal. However, it is imperative for a growing body to receive the nutrients it needs. One might even say we live in a time where teens eating breakfast needs to be more normalized.
Making small, simple, significant changes can have beneficial effects for long-term health beyond the teen years. Remember, the best breakfast is one made for fueling teens to face the day.
The best type of breakfast is the one that works best for your teen, whether that be something quick and on-the-go, or a homemade sit down balanced meal. With a little planning ahead, a few minutes of preparation can set your teen up for success the rest of the day.
What Can I Feed My Picky Teenager? If they don’t love what you are serving for dinner, let them pick the side dishes. Keep their favorite fruits, vegetables, and healthy snacks on hand. Try to get them involved in the planning and food preparation process as much as possible. Let them pick some meals and help cook. Recreate some of their favorite restaurant meals at home.
Being a parent is challenging when your responsible teenagers are not responsible about their eating habits. It can be hard when your teenager is a picky eater. Do your best and try not to let them survive on a diet of chicken nuggets, pop tarts, and pizza rolls alone.
How Long Can a Teenager Go Without Food? Growing teenagers should be eating about 3 meals a day and 1-3 snacks, they should be fueling their bodies about every 4 hours. However, many teenagers choose not to eat and skip meals for many reasons. Don’t be worried if this lasts a day or so, but do your best to encourage eating.
Have healthy snacks and on-the-go foods available for your teen. Do your best to help your teenager with meals if they have a busy week for sports competitions, school exams, projects, etc.
What Can a Teenager Cook for Dinner? Start with basic food preparation skills for teenagers such as boiling water for pasta, cooking eggs, making pizza with store-bought dough, flipping pancakes, chopping veggies for stir frys, etc.
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Ellis S. Healthy Eating for Healthy Teens. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2020. Accessed at https://www.eatright.org/food/nutrition/dietary-guidelines-and-myplate/healthy-weights-for-healthy-teens
Ellis E. Breakfast: Key to Growing Healthy. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2020. Accessed at https://www.eatright.org/food/nutrition/eating-as-a-family/breakfast-key-to-growing-healthy
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