Fuel their school day with these tips, tricks and recipes.

The importance of eating a good breakfast surfaced in the Gabel household when oldest daughter Brooke struggled with nausea following a long race at a swim meet. The family sought advice from a dietitian at Nationwide Children's Hospital, who taught Brooke, 10, and her sister, Summer, 7, the necessity of using breakfast to fuel up for the day. The girls also learned some recipes they could prepare on their own.

“Breakfast is always a topic of conversation at our house,” said the girls' mother, Dawn Gabel. The Worthington family has embraced the advice that Jessica Buschmann, a specialist in sports dietetics at Nationwide Children's, offered about incorporating a combination of food groups into the family's morning meal routine. A good breakfast should contain a mix of protein, carbohydrates, good fat, fiber and calcium. “It's important because every food group has its role in the body,” Buschmann said.

When done right, breakfast can improve focus and energy levels for kids and adults, said Amy Patton, a registered dietitian at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “According to the Centers for Disease Control, eating a healthy breakfast improves cognitive function and memory and reduces absenteeism and improves mood,” she said. “It kick-starts the metabolism and gives you the energy to get things done and focus at work or school.”

A healthy breakfast does not necessarily require a lot of work, but does take a little planning, Buschmann said. If you intend to serve oatmeal—a good source of fiber—be sure to have add-ins such as nuts, which offer good fat and protein, and fruit to add vitamins and minerals. A bagel with peanut butter and banana slices is another easy, multiple-food-group option—and one that can be eaten on the go, Buschmann added.

She cautions families to avoid labeling foods as good or bad. A more appropriate approach is to talk with children about options, she said. “You want to help them learn what foods they should be eating and what the better choices are.”

Parents should engage children in conversations about healthy food and let them make some decisions, said Kit Yoon, a health coach and acupuncturist at Bexley Acupuncture who helps people adopt clean-eating practices. Don't just tell children not to eat sugary cereals; instead, explain why these aren't the best choice for their brain and body, said Yoon, who recommends combining grains, fruits, good fats and proteins at breakfast. (See the recipes below for two of her favorite on-the-go options that incorporate multiple food groups.)

It also can be helpful to enlist your kids in planning and preparing a healthy meal. “If [children] make it themselves, that tends to help them want to try it,” Yoon said.

She encourages parents to make sure they are modeling good eating habits. When children see parents consistently making and enjoying healthy choices, it can be contagious, Yoon said.

John Croke of North Linden gets his 4-year-old son, Desmond, to eat well by offering him the healthy foods that he and his wife, Julienne Krantz, enjoy. Desmond has gotten used to eating breakfast potatoes made with sweet and regular spuds because that's what his dad, the artistic director at The Cooking Caravan, prepares. He's also tried avocado toast because his father was eating it.

At home, Croke employs many of the philosophies he uses at work, where Caravan employees try to nourish and educate children through hands-on cooking classes, musical workshops and theatrical performances. The team likes to teach kids how to make smoothies because blenders are easy to operate, and kids can generally find a fruit or vegetable they want to add. A child who won't touch a salad might drink a smoothie made with spinach if it also contains some of his favorite fruits, Croke said.

He also recommends preparing healthy food in batches that can be served throughout the week. He usually makes several servings of his Colorful Hash (recipe below) on Sunday that he can heat up and serve later. The hash also incorporates another tip that Croke likes to share with parents: “Mix something new with something they like,” he said.

RECIPES

Colorful Hash (courtesy of John Croke)

Ingredients:

5 medium-size potatoes, cubed into bite-size pieces 3 medium-size sweet potatoes, cubed a little smaller than the potatoes 2 tablespoons olive oil Salt and pepper, 1 teaspoon each 1 tablespoon fresh herbs (optional; Croke recommends sage, rosemary and thyme) 1 tablespoon butter Half of a yellow onion, diced 1 garlic clove, minced 6 oz. ground pork sausage or breakfast sausage

Preparation:

Place a large sheet pan on the center rack of an oven and preheat to 425 degrees. Preheating the pan is essential to crispy potatoes with a quick cook time. While the oven is preheating, combine the potatoes, sweet potatoes, olive oil, salt, pepper and herbs (if using) in a mixing bowl. When the oven is preheated, carefully remove the pan with a clean towel or oven mitt and add the potato mixture. Shake the pan to evenly distribute it. There should be one layer, so all potatoes are in contact with the hot pan. Bake for 15 minutes. While the potatoes are cooking, heat a skillet over medium heat. Add the butter, then the onions. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent, about 4-5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for an additional minute. Add the sausage, breaking it into smaller pieces, and cook until brown. When the potatoes are done, use a flat metal spatula to scrape and stir them while incorporating the sausage mixture. Put the hash back in the oven for about 15 minutes, or until the potatoes and sweet potatoes are fork-tender.

Notes:

This makes many servings. Reheat in the morning and throw a cooked egg on top for a quick and filling breakfast.

Omit meat for a vegetarian option.

If you don't have a sheet pan large enough for this recipe, scale down the potatoes, or use two smaller pans.

Peel the sweet potatoes if you prefer.

Banana Carrot Muffins (courtesy of Kit Yoon)

(These are gluten-free.)

Makes 12 muffins.

Ingredients:

2 cups rolled oats 2 eggs 1/2 cup almond butter (or another nut butter) 2 ripe bananas, mashed 1 cup shredded carrots 1/3 cup raisins 1/3 cup chocolate chips 1 teaspoon vanilla 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 2 teaspoons baking powder 1/4 teaspoon salt 1/4 cup honey

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix all ingredients together well. Scoop batter into lined muffin pan cups, filling three-fourths of the way. Bake for 20 minutes. Eat warm or freeze some for later.

Kit's Breakfast Cookies (courtesy of Kit Yoon)

(These are gluten- and sugar-free.)

Makes about 8 cookies.

Ingredients:

3/4 cup rolled oats 1/2 cup nut butter (such as almond, cashew or sunflower seed butter) 1 egg 2 tablespoons honey 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 1 teaspoon baking powder Dash of salt 1/4 cupcocoa nibs (optional) 1/4 cup raisins (optional) 1/4 cupsunflower seeds (optional)

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix all ingredients together well with a standmixer or by hand. Dough will be very sticky. Scoop into balls and bake for 8 minutes. Eat warm or freeze some for later.