Julio Flores & Diana Whelan

It’s a cliché, but it’s true: Breakfast is a vital part of the day—especially for students who need energy for those extra-long days on campus. “Breakfast kick-starts your energy for the day. It’s fuel, both for [your] brain and body,” says Jan Dowell, registered dietitian and instructor in the nutrition department at Benedictine University in Illinois.

But that doesn’t mean all breakfast foods are created equal. For example, sweet cereals might taste good, but they can cram in more sugar than our bodies know what to do with. One bowl of a sugary cereal like Lucky Charms® could have students exceeding 25 grams before they’ve even had the chance to eat lunch.

Instead of a breakfast loaded with the sweet stuff, encourage students to incorporate these nutritious foods into their breakfast, which will help them set their day up for success:

Whole grains

Examples

Whole-wheat or whole-grain toast, waffles, or pancakes offer complex carbs that provide fiber and sustained energy.

Why

“The complex carbs from [a] waffle will give you energy to burn. The fiber from the whole grains will help to stabilize blood sugar, which will result in lasting energy to keep you full and satisfied all morning,” says Jenna Volpe, a registered dietitian specializing in weight management and eating disorders in Massachusetts.

Protein

Examples

Scramble tofu or lean meat into eggs and have some yogurt on the side. Tip: “Opt for plain yogurt to minimize added sugars,” says Volpe. 

Why

Protein can keep students energized and their appetite satiated. Eating 35 grams or more of protein at breakfast may even help avoid mindless snacking later, according to a 2013 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Healthy fats

Examples

Students can add nuts or seeds into a smoothie, slice up some avocado with eggs, or spread peanut or almond butter on toast.

Why

“A spoonful of nut butter can [offer a] boost of heart-healthy fats and will help reduce the glycemic index (rate at which our blood sugar goes up after a meal),” Volpe says.

Fruits and vegetables

Examples

“Green leafy vegetables, like [adding] kale or spinach to [a] scramble, adds lots of nutrients and fiber,” says Karen Moses, registered dietitian and director of health promotion at Arizona State University. “[Or] by blending greens into your morning smoothie, you get all the fiber and nutrients of the veggies in a delicious breakfast drink.” As for fruits, try berries, grapefruit, melons, kiwi, and oranges for low-sugar options.

Why

The US Department of Agriculture recommends at least 2.5 cups of veggies for women and 3 cups for men, plus 2 cups of fruit a day, so breakfast is a good way to sneak in some of these nutritious foods early in the day. Fruits and veggies provide energy, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.