Breakfasts high in protein boost kids’ brain power

Have you noticed the latest push to add protein to our meals and snacks? One eating occasion that’s received particular attention is breakfast. A growing body of research supports high quality protein breakfast for both brain power and a sense of fullness, as well as decreased snacking of foods high in sugar and fat later in the day.

You already know that breakfast provides your children with an energizing start. It’s their body’s early morning refueling stop after 8 to 12 hours without eating. Their bodies also need fuel for the mental work they perform in school.

In addition, a morning meal sets things up nicely from a nutrient point of view. Children who eat breakfast usually consume more vitamins, minerals, and fiber for the day; these include the nutrients kids often fall short of such as calcium, vitamin B 12, potassium, fiber, folate, and iron.

Breakfast and learning

Breakfast helps prepare kids to learn.

“Their brains need the amino acids tyrosine and tryptophan found in foods containing protein to help produce the neurotransmitters responsible for both alertness and relaxation,” says Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN, author of The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club. “Consuming a breakfast made up of protein and fiber-rich foods will slow down digestion and absorption of carbohydrates, keeping kids satisfied longer and allowing them to stay focused on learning. They will likely also have more energy for physical education classes, recess, and after-school activities,” she added.

Protein needs

Children of both genders, ages 4 to 8, need 19 grams of protein in a day, according to the Recommended Dietary Allowances.


• Ages 9–13 need 34 grams

• Ages 14–18 need 52 grams


• Ages 9–13 need 34 grams

• Ages 14–18 need 46 grams

Can your child consume too much protein? Yes, it is possible, especially when kids down multiple smoothies made from protein powders and supplements. These powders come from animal products like whey and casein (the byproducts of cheese manufacturing) or from plants like soy, rice, pea, or hemp.

Since protein is a priority with her family, Harris-Pincus has various breakfast options on rotation.

“For simple assembly, my daughter likes a whole grain waffle topped with cottage cheese and strawberries on the side, or blueberry protein pancakes made with eggs, oats, and mashed banana [that] I batch cook and keep in the freezer,” she said. “Sometimes I bake banana muffins with extra protein and pair one with low-fat milk. Muffin tin egg-and-cheese omelets are also an easy way to enjoy high quality protein and can be meal prepped on the weekend to have on hand all week long.”

Other protein-packed breakfasts


• Oatmeal prepared with soymilk, nuts, and hemp seeds.

• Toasted bagel sandwich with veggie turkey, vegan cheese, and a banana.

• Tofu scramble with veggie-sausage and soymilk.

• Peanut butter on whole grain English muffin.

• Overnight oats.

Lacto vegetarian:

• Greek yogurt with granola.

• Cottage cheese with nuts and berries.

• Protein smoothie.

Lacto-ovo vegetarian:

• Scrambled eggs with beans, tortillas, and cheese.


• Omelet with Canadian bacon and whole wheat toast.

As everyone settles into their school year routine, wake up the kids to a healthy breakfast and enjoy one yourself, too. The effort will be well worth it!

Christine Palumbo is a Naperville-registered dietitian nutritionist who is a new Fellow of the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Follow her on Twitter @PalumboRD, Facebook at Christine Palumbo Nutrition, or

Foods and their protein content

Large egg: 6 grams

8 fluid ounces dairy milk: 8 grams

8 fluid ounces almond milk: 2 grams

8 fluid ounces coconut milk: 2 grams

2 Tablespoons peanut butter: 8 grams

2 Tablespoons almond butter: 7 grams

6 ounces Greek yogurt: 18 grams

½ cup cottage cheese: 14 grams

2 ounces tofu: 5 grams

2 tablespoons hummus: 2 grams