A Unique Child

The most important meal

  • The most important meal
  • The most important meal
  • The most important meal
  • The most important meal

A healthy breakfast is vital for growing children, says founder of Grub4Life, Nigel Denby, so make sure you get your morning menu right…

Nowadays, most nurseries serve breakfast. The vast majority serve the same foods every day, but it’s often one of the only meals in the nursery day where our children choose what they eat. It’s usually prepared and served by childcare providers, not cooks – staff often work the session in rotation, e.g. one breakfast shift per week, and it’s fair to say that it isn’t the most popular amongst staff! Sadly, this can all result in the benefits of a nursery breakfast being overlooked and a missed opportunity to get children off to a good start to the day.

There have been countless studies and trials comparing breakfast eaters versus breakfast skippers. The general consensus is that there’s a range of health benefits for breakfast eaters and a greater risk of obesity amongst breakfast skippers:

  • Breakfast eaters are less likely to be overweight or obese than breakfast skippers.
  • Breakfast eaters tend to go on to make healthier food choices throughout the day.
  • Breakfast eaters have improved levels of cognition and improved academic performance.
  • Children who regularly eat fortified breakfast cereals have higher levels of circulating iron, B vitamins and vitamin D than children who eat other breakfast foods or skip breakfast altogether.
  • Regular breakfast cereal eaters are more likely to have lower levels of bad cholesterol and higher levels of good cholesterol in their blood than non-cereal eaters.
  • The percentage of children under five who don’t eat breakfast at all is estimated to be around four per cent.
  • The number of children skipping breakfast increases as they progress through primary and secondary education – around 14 per cent of children in secondary education regularly skip breakfast.

Habits children pick up in the early years can stay with them for a lifetime and that’s especially true when it comes to food. We were surprised, then, that despite the large number of nurseries who offer breakfast, there’s very little guidance out there about what should and shouldn’t be served. Most advice focuses on food groups, for example, starchy foods, rather than specific foods, e.g. specific cereals or breads. It’s all a bit vague and not very practical. So, here’s your practical guide of foods to serve for healthy nursery breakfasts…

Breakfast facts and figures

  • Breakfast should provide around 20 per cent of a child’s daily nutrition; but don’t worry about the numbers – just remember it’s a substantial part of the day’s food.
  • Most of the energy at breakfast should come from cereals, breads or other baked goods like crumpets and muffins. Cereals and bread are the most common starchy breakfast foods.
  • It’s important to try to include one 40g serving of fruit at breakfast.
  • Breakfast is also a good opportunity to include a serving of dairy food or non-dairy alternative. These foods are important sources of protein and calcium and could include milk with cereal, yoghurts or cream and cottage cheese.


Offer a mixture of wholemeal and white bread. Children don’t need as much fibre from wholemeal foods as adults, they can fill up on fibre and miss out on other nutritious foods. Too much fibre can also cause constipation in some children.

Flour is fortified with calcium in the UK, but most breakfast cereals are fortified with iron, B vitamins and sometimes vitamin D. As such, children who only eat bread or toast at breakfast may miss out on these important nutrients. Try to encourage children to have a little bread and some cereal. Fortified breakfast cereals are an especially good source of iron for vegetarian children.


Choose spreads which are made from unsaturated oils like sunflower oil, or olive oil. In the UK, spreads are fortified with vitamin D in the UK which helps the body use calcium to form healthy bones. Butter isn’t and it also contains high levels of unhealthy saturated fats. (You can find out more about vitamin D in TN 2.6 – Ed.)

Jams, marmalades and toppings

There is nothing wrong with offering children small amounts of jam or marmalade with bread and toast, but staff need to supervise the amounts taken: 1 tsp or 5g per slice of bread is about right. You can serve reduced sugar jams and marmalades if you wish, but avoid serving varieties with artificial sweeteners.

Chocolate spreads should not be served as these usually contain nuts. Cheese spreads and cream cheese may be served, and yeast extract can be served occasionally, but not every day – if yeast extract is consumed at high levels it can significantly contribute to a child’s salt intake.


Bananas are excellent sliced over cereals or mashed and spread on toast or bread, and other fruits can be used to make smoothies or fruit kebabs if you have enough staff to prepare them. Dried fruit can be served when added to cereal (1 dessert spoon is an appropriate child’s portion) but it should not be served in isolation as it’s more likely to stick to the teeth and contribute to dental caries.

Fruit juice should not be served neat at any time to children under five; serve it diluted, 1 part juice/10 parts water.

Dairy foods

Children under two should be served full cream milk. Children over two can be served semi skimmed milk providing they generally eat well. Full fat yoghurts should be served to all children in the nursery. Aim to serve either milk with cereal or an alternative dairy food at breakfast.

Breakfast Cereals

Cereals are popular and convenient. They are highly nutritious, providing energy and protein, and most are fortified with extra vitamins and minerals. Recently, however, they have been in the firing line for having high levels of hidden salt and sugar – in some cases this has been justified. This may be why old fashioned Porridge has grown in popularity recently. Porridge has been positioned as a more ‘natural’ breakfast cereal, and this is correct in part: porridge is less processed than manufactured cereals. However, porridge oats are not fortified with vitamins and minerals and so it could be argued it is an inferior nutritional choice.

The solution is to offer a range of breakfast cereals, which may include porridge and selected packaged cereals. The packaged cereals should be those which are fortified but contain acceptable levels of added sugar and/or salt.

The table to the left lists a range of breakfast cereals. High salt and sugar content is highlighted in red (it is worth remembering that these figures are representative of a 100g serving, where children’s portion sizes will be between 10–25g).

Most of the cereals listed are fortified with iron and B vitamins and some are fortified with calcium so you really have to look at these levels, as well as salt and sugar content, before deciding whether a cereal is OK or not. Grub4life’s advice is that the following cereals are most suitable for preschool children, but they should be offered in rotation throughout the week: Weetabix, Ready Brek, Porridge, Cornflakes, Rice Krispies and Mini Shredded Wheats.