You’ve heard it for years. “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” Why is this so? And what is healthy about a cinnamon roll or donut? Katelyn Wolfe, MS, RD, CSP, LDN, a Le Bonheur dietitian, breaks it down for you.

Through research and literature review, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has found the following statistics:

  • Breakfast can help improve test scores for students in multiple subjects.
  • Kids who eat breakfast behave better than those who do not.
  • Breakfast eaters have improved memory and pay attention better than non-eaters.
  • Kids that eat breakfast get more important nutrients such as calcium, dietary fiber, folate and protein.

And, it is not just kids that benefit from eating breakfast. Breakfast serves as an ignition lighter for your metabolism. Our bodies refuel by two methods: sleeping and eating. If we go several hours before eating our first meal of the day, our bodies slow down on a cellular level, which slows our “metabolism.” A slow metabolism is associated with weight gain and obesity. To boost metabolism, we need to eat breakfast and then make sure that we eat every three to five hours thereafter while we are awake. Unlike babies, we do not need to wake in the night to eat, though.

What are the smartest picks for breakfast? Here are my recommendations:

  • Pick a cereal with “whole grain” listed as the first ingredient on the ingredients list. Most cold and hot cereals are also fortified with B vitamins and iron, which are all important for metabolism and health. Cereals should also have no more than 9 grams of sugars per serving. Check out the “sugars” on the nutrition panel before you put the cereal in your cart at the store.
  • Aim to include a low fat or fat-free dairy in the meal. That would include 1 percent milk or skim milk (fat-free milk) or low fat or fat-free yogurt. Not a milk fan? Soy milk and almond milk are both fortified with calcium and vitamin D for bone health. Another option for a dose of calcium would be calcium-fortified orange juice. Be careful with this option, though, because it is higher in sugars and does not contain any protein.
  • Include a serving of fruits or vegetables. Think fresh fruit cut up in cold cereal or oatmeal, or mix fresh fruit into a cup of yogurt. You can also get crafty with the blender by combining fruit with yogurt or milk and ice for a yummy and healthy smoothie. With children, make fruit skewers using popsicle sticks and chunks of fruit and grapes.
  • Are you a meat eater at breakfast? Substitute turkey or veggie versions of bacon or sausage to reduce the amount of total fat, or try eggs either boiled or cooked using non-stick spray in place of butter. Try to limit meat or eggs to just a couple of days per week, as these are traditionally higher in saturated fat and cholesterol.

What breakfast options should be avoided or used only on special occasions?

Due to their high fat or high sugar content, try to steer clear of eating or drinking these on a regular basis:

  • donuts, large muffins, croissants or other pastry items
  • regular bagels loaded with cream cheese (1/2 bagel lightly smeared with cream cheese is fine)
  • regular bacon, sausage, bologna or any fried meat
  • cereals with more than 9 grams of sugar per serving (must check the label)smoothies made with sugar added for taste
  • juice portions of greater than 8 oz. (4 oz. for children)