For a kid who gets decent grades and is headed to college next year, my 17-year-old son can be a knucklehead about breakfast. If something isn't at his fingertips as he stumbles out the door on his way to early-morning football practice, he'll go without.
And it shows, not only on the field but also in the classroom.
You don't have to graduate summa cum laude to understand the value of a healthy breakfast, but try telling that to high school- and college-age warriors, running through life juggling academics, sports, social lives and stress. They may be able to calculate logarithms, analyze complex works of literature and block a quarterback sneak, but they are blindsided by the importance of one small meal.
"It is surprising that so many young people don't acknowledge the importance of a good breakfast, " says Cindy Gershen, owner of the Sunrise Bistro in Walnut Creek, Calif., and the driving force behind the City Wellness Challenge, a community movement to improve nutrition. "Statistics show that good breakfasts improve brain function and competition, so for kids who want to get an edge, it's a no-brainer."
That's something University of California-Berkeley sophomore Jenifer Gross learned at an early age. Rather than grab a gooey cinnamon roll on her way to class - or worse yet, just a steaming caffeine-laced latte - Gross makes herself a scrambled egg white with whole-wheat toast and fruit every morning.
"If I'm running late, I'll grab a bowl of Cheerios and fruit," she says. "Even if it's one of those too-early-to-be-hungry mornings, I'll make myself have at least a protein bar on my way to class; otherwise, I just get lightheaded and can't concentrate."
We all have heard nutritional experts extolling the value of a healthy breakfast. A full belly aids concentration, improves coordination and aids in weight loss - if that's an issue.
So, why don't more teens make it a priority?
As my son would say, "It's all about timing - or lack thereof."
Not to mention the finicky appetites of growing young adults. But stock the right ingredients - nutritious components for easy, teen-pleasing meals - and your kids can grab breakfast on the run.
Smoothies, yogurt parfaits and breakfast burritos are just some of Gershen's favorites. Her parfaits are nothing more complicated than layers of shredded wheat cereal, plain yogurt and fresh berries.
"The beauty of something like a parfait is that you can make them up to four days ahead, " she says. "Then, it's easy to grab and go in the morning. Plus, they are healthy, inexpensive and nutrient-rich. It's how to put a tiger in your tank."
Getting the kids involved is what chef Gigi Gaggero is all about. Her Kids Culinary Adventures, based in Belmont, Calif., features a wide array of classes, summer camps and birthday parties dedicated to infusing a joy of cooking in young people.
But even she says teens are difficult, not only because of their numerous time constraints but also because of their changing appetites.
That's why she suggests such breakfasts as Belgian Waffle Sliders. These are waffles sandwiched around peanut butter and bananas, for example, a chocolate-hazelnut spread with berries or a sausage patty and scrambled eggs.
Use your favorite waffle cone recipe - or purchased waffle cones - for an unusual on-the-go breakfast.
"You can make the waffle cones ahead of time, on the weekend, then just have your child scramble up some eggs, cheese and/or meats and stuff the cone," she says. "They can be wrapped in foil to be eaten on the way to class, if necessary."
Gaggero uses her slow cooker to dish up steel-cut oats, which have much more flavor and texture than the regular kind but take so much longer to cook. Slow-cook them overnight, she says, and in the morning, all kids need to do is spoon the oatmeal into to-go cups and top it with dried fruit, toasted nuts and brown sugar.
Of course, nothing beats a serene morning repast, with kids and parents - or roommates - sitting around a cozy table and talking about their upcoming day.
But if you think that'll happen in a house- or dorm room-full of teens, then you need to wake up and smell the coffee.
SAUSAGE AND EGG MUFFINS
These can be made the weekend ahead and refrigerated.
Makes 16 servings.
16 slices wheat bread, crusts trimmed
1/4 cup butter, melted
16 ounces shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 pound sausage meat, cooked and drained
3 cups milk
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 chopped scallions, optional
1 chopped red bell pepper, optional
To prepare bread: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease muffin tins. Using rolling pin, roll and flatten bread slices. Cut into squares or use pastry cutter to cut circles. Brush bread slices with butter. Press lightly into muffin cups.
To assemble: Set aside 1/2 cup cheese. Sprinkle remaining cheese and crumbled sausage in each bread-lined cup. In bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, onion powder and mustard. Pour egg mixture into cups. Add scallions and red peppers. Sprinkle with remaining cheese.
To bake: Cover loosely with foil. Bake for 30 minutes. Uncover. Bake for 15 minutes. Cool completely. Store in refrigerator in airtight container.
To eat: Microwave just before walking out the door.
BELGIAN WAFFLE SLIDERS
This batter keeps in the refrigerator for at least 1 week. Or make the waffles ahead of time and freeze them. Adding a little cinnamon and nutmeg is delicious, too.
2 cups all-purpose flour
1-3/4 cups milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon white sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
To make waffles: Preheat waffle iron. In large bowl, use hand beater to beat eggs until fluffy. Add remaining ingredients. Beat just until smooth. (Note: Batter can be made ahead, but make sure to stir again before cooking waffles.) Spray preheated waffle iron with nonstick cooking spray. Pour mix onto hot waffle iron. Cook until golden brown.
To assemble: Fill waffles with favorite healthy spreads, such as bananas and peanut butter, chocolate-hazelnut spread or fresh fruit. Top with second waffle. Serve.
HEALTHY BREAKFAST BURRITO
Recipe adapted from Cindy Gershen, Sunrise Bistro in Walnut Creek, Calif.
Makes 1 serving.
1 whole-grain tortilla
1 egg, scrambled
1/2 cup fresh spinach
1/4 cup cooked brown rice
1/2 cup black or pinto beans
1 ounce shredded Monterey Jack cheese
Heat tortilla over an open flame or in microwave. (Note: This makes it is easy to fold.) Roll up egg, spinach, rice, beans and cheese in tortilla. (Note: Leftover cooked meats and vegetables can also be added.) Wrap in wax paper. Heat in microwave before leaving house.