The breakfast rut: when we serve the same one or two cereals every day because they are a safe bet and we know they will provide a decent start to the day. Maybe now and then, we ring the changes with a piece of toast and jam. But basically, breakfast is breakfast.
Breakfast (in my experience) is the meal which is least likely to be varied and yet - you are missing a trick here, my friends - it is the meal at which the majority of children who are picky eaters eat best.
I don’t think there is any ‘proper’ research on this but I have seen it with so many families, so, just out of curiosity, I asked parents in the Facebook group which I co-run (Parenting Picky Eaters) which meal or snack was their child’s best eating opportunity. Here are the results:
Morning snack: 1.6%
Afternoon snack: 4.3%
Evening meal: 13.6%
I can imagine that the stats for snacks are smaller as not all children are offered these. What jumps out though, is that while lunch and the evening meal are pretty much on a parr at 15.2% and 13.6%, breakfast is the best meal for almost five times as many people.
Why is that and what can we do with this insight?
My hunch is that there are a few reasons why breakfast is such a good meal for children who are picky eaters.
1) They are not tired
This needs no explanation. Every parent on this planet knows the impact tiredness can have on children’s ability to do...well, pretty much anything, really. And it’s the same for us! I am both horrible and incompetent when I have not had enough sleep.
2) They are usually just offered safe foods
I think this might be because parents are keen for children to get enough fuel to be prepared for their day so are less likely to push the boundaries. It may also come down to how we think about breakfast. Culturally, we have a pretty fixed idea of what breakfast entails and that is not necessarily super varied. It’s also (at my house, anyway) a bit or a rush sometimes in the morning chaos, so not necessarily a meal we give much thought to.
3) They are not over-stimulated
At the end of a busy day (or even a busy morning) at school, children are often very stimulated - they have been playing, learning, socially interacting - this doesn’t leave them with much scope to process all that sense data which comes from food. Neither does it make it easy to sit at the table and concentrate. Many children who are picky eaters exhibit some level of sensory sensitivity so this is a really important factor.
4) Typical breakfast foods are relatively easy to eat
Bread, pastries, cereal, toast, milk - these are not the foods that experience (and research) tells us picky eaters find difficult. Instead, it is meat, vegetables and to a lesser degree, fruit that are the most challenging food groups.
5) They are hungry
Breakfast does what it says on the tin - it 'breaks' our 'fast'. Usually, children will not have eaten for several hours preceding breakfast, and they will be very ready for some food. It sounds obvious, but natural appetite is a big motivator when it comes to eating.
How to capitalise on breakfast
Quite simply, change it up! Always make sure there is at least one safe food available, but think of ways to use your child’s best meal to introduce novelty. Step one is serving safe foods which they (and you) would not normally associate with breakfast. Why can’t you serve crackers at breakfast time, or put ham and cheese on the menu, continental style?
Secondly, make small changes to safe foods rather than remaining in the rut. Swap brands, cut toast in new ways, if they like peanut butter, try almond butter. Build on what they already like. Try bagels, cracker bread, croissants… the bread aisle is your oyster. Try new kinds of cereals and even making your own cereal with your child if you are feeling inspired.
If you are feeling like you are up for some changes but are not totally sure how this could work for you, Simone Emery has a free breakfast challenge which you will love. Join here. If you have a go at some breakfast changes, come on over to our Facebook group and tell us how they went for you. We’d love to hear.