A total of 37 parents participated in 1 of 11 focus group discussions about breakfast. Most parents were female (95%) and had at least some college education (78%). The parents’ average age was 38.97 ± 5.38 standard deviation (SD) years and they had 2.73 ± 1.31 SD children under the age of 18 living in their homes. Fewer parents participated in a Spanish language focus group compared to those participating in an English language focus group (35% and 65%, respectively). Geographic distribution of parents was fairly even across states (n = 14 FL, n = 11 NJ, n = 12 WV), with an average of 3 parents per group (range: 2 to 6).
A total of 41 children participated in 1 of 13 focus group discussions about breakfast. About half of the children were girls (51%). Children’s average age was 8.56 ± 1.80 SD years. Children reported having 2.17 ± 3.81 SD older and 1.27 ± 1.48 SD younger siblings. Geographic distribution of children was fairly even across states (n = 15 FL, n = 14 NJ, n = 12 WV) with an average of 3 children per group (range: 2 to 5). Children and parent participants were not related, except for one parent and child.
3.1. Parent Focus Groups
Results from a brief questionnaire preceding the focus groups indicated that parents ate breakfast an average of 5.82 ± 1.56 SD days/week. Breakfast frequency was similar across parents’ primary language spoken and geographic location. In addition, qualitative focus group data did not vary by language or geographic location.
3.1.1. Parents’ Breakfast Attitudes and Observations
Parents believe that breakfast is “extremely important—it is the motor of the day” because breakfast helps kids “wake up” to the challenges of the day and “gives them [kids] energy”, acknowledging that, “if they don’t eat, they don’t function very well, which you can physically see”. Parents agreed that breakfast consumption is important to performance at school because kids “won’t be able to focus without it [because] they will feel hungry”.
Parents noted that breakfast affected children’s behaviors, with one citing that research on “child behavior and performance supports breakfast”. When kids eat breakfast they are “happier, [and have] less behavior problems in the classroom”. Additionally, when their children miss breakfast they become “hangry” and are “cranky and not cooperative”.
Parents felt that the quality of the breakfast was important (“what they are eating affects it [their behavior], too… PopTarts® aren’t going to be healthy enough to get through to lunch”). Parents described healthy breakfast options as “oatmeal, eggs, something with whole grain fiber, protein, and fruit”, “milk”, “good cereals—Rice Krispies®, multigrain Cheerios™, shredded wheat, and [not] bad cereals—Fruit Loops®, chocolate cereal”. Other parents defined “healthy cereal” as “ones with less sugar and more fiber”. Parents reported that “a good breakfast is protein, although my kids eat a lot of carbs—bagels, cereal, bread” and would “like to incorporate more fruit…and add more vegetables…while having less of the carbs”. Others remarked that “a good breakfast [included] something that will stay with them and they enjoy eating” and that “eating anything [at breakfast] is better than nothing.”
Parents observed that as their children have gotten older, they “eat a lot more. They want a hearty breakfast” and that older kids have “more of an opinion on what they want. [Their] taste buds have changed”. Parents also said that older kids, “[have a] desire to eat it [breakfast], we used to prompt them more and now she asks for it…it has gotten easier” and indicated their kids “now are the gatekeepers to their breakfast and even control the amount they eat. [They may have] just a slice of bread one day and 3 waffles the next day. They might eat something different each day”.
Numerous parents indicated that “during the week, they [kids] eat at school”. Parents had mixed feelings about meal offerings at schools with some stating that “They are giving them the best breakfast at school”. One mother described school breakfast as “not great, it’s disgusting”. Others expressed concern about not knowing what is served at school, “I worry a lot because I don’t know what they are feeding them at school”, so it is “better to have breakfast at home because I am making it, I know what is in it”.
3.1.2. Parents’ Perceived Barriers to Breakfast
The most commonly cited barrier to breakfast was lack of time. Some parents felt that “work impedes us” and is a barrier to breakfast consumption (“sometimes I can’t [serve breakfast], we don’t have enough time since I work”). Parents also described their mornings as hectic stating that, “when you wake up late, you have to run around the house to get out the door on time.” “Sometimes you forget about breakfast on busy mornings because you’re trying to get lunch together [as well]”. Parents noted that “If we are running late, that prevents it [breakfast]”, “If we have something to do or somewhere to go, [we] don’t have time to make breakfast” and that “Sometimes there isn’t time to eat breakfast”. A few noted that kids take priority for breakfast, “when I wake up super late, I won’t eat breakfast, but I make sure that they [kids] eat”. And, “If I’m taking too long in the morning to make them breakfast, they will even figure out what to eat themselves.” Parents also indicated that television was “disruptive” and contributed to the morning time crunch, “sometimes my husband turns on TV in the morning, which slows down kids’ morning routine” and it “can derail our schedule.”
Eating breakfast as a family was not common. “I don’t eat with them, I am doing other things.” Most parents felt that there isn’t time to sit down together for breakfast during the week, but some had more time for family breakfasts on the weekends. One commented, “the only time we eat breakfast as a family is when I serve it for dinner.”
Parent behaviors also can present barriers to breakfast. One parent described herself as “not a breakfast person, so it’s a new thing for me that we have to save time for them to sit down and eat”. “I don’t eat [breakfast], so my children don’t eat and we get hangry.” Others indicated they did not plan breakfasts ahead of time: “we eat whatever we have—I don’t really plan it.”
Parents reported that children impact family breakfast habits. For example, kids may not be hungry (“my son isn’t always hungry when he wakes up in the morning”). “Breakfast can be a real struggle” if children are finicky eaters (“my one kid doesn’t like breakfast foods, which makes it difficult”). Additional time is required for “negotiating with them” to find “something they like [for breakfast]. Varying preferences also was a challenge because “children know what they want [to eat] and it’s difficult to adapt to what each child eats”.
3.1.3. Parents’ Strategies for Overcoming Barriers to Breakfast
Parents had an array of strategies for overcoming barriers to breakfast. To cope with a lack time for breakfast, parents suggested having ‘on-the-go’ options for mornings when “I don’t have time to make breakfast”, such as “granola bars”, “dry cereal”, and “fruit yogurt”. Another suggestion was to “have options around that are easier than always having to cook a hot breakfast”, such as “having boiled eggs ready”, “buy[ing] pancakes premade and pop them in the microwave”, and “find[ing] easy meals—like [cooking an] egg in a microwavable cup”.
Parents also suggested getting up earlier so that there is time to eat breakfast. “We wake up early, not too early, but early enough to make sure everyone has breakfast.” “I intentionally get up early so I don’t feel time pressured. I have confidence knowing I’ve set a pattern for myself to prevent time being a factor.” However, others commented, “I can’t get up earlier and my minutes are counted” and “I don’t think anything can help unless you are morning people.”
Another strategy for overcoming time scarcity in the morning was giving children responsibility for their own breakfast (“At 6 years old, they can access most of the breakfast options themselves. They have the skills, for the most part, to prepare their own breakfast”). Another mother said, “I make sure what they like is convenient for them to prep on their own if I am not there”. Parents also get kids involved by asking kids to “think about what they want for breakfast and have them choose when grocery shopping…that way it’s there and maybe [kids will be] more willing [to eat breakfast].”
Many acknowledged that it was helpful for kids to have breakfast at school. But when eating breakfast at home or school wasn’t possible, some parents “send them [kids] with something to school”, have kids “eat in the car”, or “send dry cereal in a bag with him to eat on the bus”.
Parents agreed that planning ahead could alleviate time barriers to breakfast. “Starting [breakfast] preparation the night before make[s] breakfast time easier”. Noting that “time is an issue for most people”, parents “recommended getting everything ready the night before. Clothes are laid out. Lunches are packed. So, then in the morning, we just have to eat breakfast and get dressed.” Other ways parents plan ahead is by making food readily accessible (“I leave him cereal and milk before leaving to go to work”).
Parents also felt that having an established routine helped them fit breakfast into their daily lives. Routines included getting up sufficiently early to allow time for breakfast, preventing schedule disruptions by not “turning on the TV in the morning,” and making eating breakfast an expectation starting at an early age (“accustoming them [to breakfast] from when they are babies.”)
Even when time is scarce, parents made it a priority to feed children breakfast: “I always make sure that they at least have eaten something before leaving the house”. Parents indicated school lunch schedules also were a motivator for serving their children breakfast because “lunch is so late, so if they didn’t eat breakfast, they will be starving all day”.
To overcome a lack of desire to eat breakfast and cope with picky eaters, parents suggested reminding kids that “you’ve got to eat breakfast, it will make you grow healthy and strong” and by offering a “variety of foods”, “one day cereal, another oatmeal, another day bagels”. Parents suggested offering a “choice basket” that contains “options where they [kids] can choose what they want to eat in the morning”. They also pointed out that breakfast “[doesn’t] have to be traditional breakfast foods, as long as they eat breakfast”. So, “if they [kids] aren’t breakfast people, give them choices—do you want a shake, rice and beans, or a quesadilla?” and to remember that “It is important to try different types of foods, don’t give up so easy because they will always say no in the beginning, but might eventually try it”.
A few parents suggested making breakfast an enjoyable event so children want to consume this meal. “My kids love to read the comics, so that’s what they do during breakfast”. “Music helps us, we don’t usually talk in the morning”. An additional point was, “If you know your child is not a good eater, wake them up earlier so they eat breakfast calmly”.
3.2. Children’s Focus Groups
Survey results indicated that children ate breakfast an average of 5.69 ± 2.15 SD days/week, with 79% of the children reporting they ate breakfast every day and one child reporting never eating breakfast. For the children not eating breakfast daily, intake ranged from never having this meal to eating it 6 days per week. Children’s breakfast frequency was similar across geographic locations. Focus group data were similar across child age groups.
3.2.1. Children’s Breakfast Attitudes and Behaviors
Children felt that consuming breakfast promotes good health “because it gives you energy to start the day”, “helps you get stronger and taller”, “keeps you happy and healthy”, and prevented negative behaviors and attitudes (“Eat breakfast! Makes me cranky if I don’t eat”). “If you don’t eat breakfast you will be grumpy and sad, and if you get used to not eating breakfast everyday then you’ll be grumpy and sad all the time”. Many children referred to breakfast as “the most important meal of the day”.
Kids agreed that waking up hungry (“in the morning your belly gets hungry”) facilitates their desire to eat breakfast, noting that “My brain tells me to eat breakfast” and “In the morning, I just wake up and feel really weak without breakfast”. Children agreed that having breakfast prevents them from being hungry (“[breakfast is] really important or your stomach will growl”) and without breakfast kids felt “extra hungry when lunch comes along”. Kids also described stomachaches caused by hunger from breakfast skipping, “you feel sick—stomach hurts and you feel like you’re going to throw up, but you don’t have any food in your stomach to throw up”.
Kids felt that a healthy breakfast should have “a little bit of all food groups” and include foods like “fruits, eggs”, “applesauce, yogurt, cereal, and pop tarts”. Other commonly mentioned breakfast foods included bagels, pancakes, yogurt, bananas, grits, and toast. Some children also mentioned atypical breakfast foods such as cucumbers, sandwiches, and salad. One child commented, “I like to change what I eat every day, but it has to be healthy”.
Overall kids felt parents “should eat the same thing” as kids for breakfast because “healthy foods are the same for adults and kids”. Children indicated that they “usually do not eat together as a family for breakfast” because “parents cannot eat with us because they are getting ready for work”, but many said that on “Saturdays and Sundays we eat together. Big breakfast”.
3.2.2. Children’s Perceptions of their Parents’ Attitudes towards Breakfast
Children thought that their parents feel breakfast is “Very important. They want you to stay healthy”. Kids reported that parents wanted them to be healthy and not feel hungry at school (“because lunch time is too late at school. I get hungry in the morning. So, they want me to eat my breakfast”). Kids also believed that their parents thought that breakfast is important for school performance because they “don’t want you to fall asleep in class. They care about my learning”. Kids also remarked that breakfast was important to parents because “It keeps our energy for the day because they don’t want us to be tired” and prevents kids from being “hungry and grumpy”. Kids knew breakfast was important to their parents because “they will wake me up to eat breakfast”, “they make us eat breakfast every day”, and “they always make it for us every single day”.
3.2.3. Children’s Perceived Barriers to Breakfast
Children said that one of the key barriers to breakfast is that they are often “still sleeping”, “in a rush”, or they are “running late to school”. Others acknowledged that competing activities can prevent them from eating breakfast, stating that “Time can sometimes cause me not to eat breakfast—like when I play sports. Saturdays and Sundays are the worst days”. Kids reported that they skip breakfast because “Sometimes I am not hungry in the morning and I like to sleep in. I wake up at the latest time possible, so I don’t have time for breakfast”, that they “May not like what they are having [for breakfast]”, “don’t feel in the mood”, there is “nothing to eat”, or that “sometimes my sister snacks before breakfast, so that stops her”. Distractions such as TV, playing outside, and siblings (“I distract my brother sometimes, so he doesn’t eat breakfast”) also caused kids to miss breakfast. One kid said, “sometimes I plan on eating breakfast at school and when I get to school, I forget to eat”.
3.2.4. Children’s Strategies for Overcoming Barriers to Breakfast
Children agreed that having a “routine helps you eat breakfast”. Kids felt that parents could “set a timer for you so you can eat breakfast at a certain time” to help establish a breakfast routine. Kids also thought they could take a role in ensuring they ate breakfast indicating they could “set an early alarm and get up early to make breakfast” or “try and go to sleep early”. Kids also felt parents could address time pressures in the morning by “as soon as you [the parent] wake up, make breakfast before they [kids] wake up and have it on the table so it’s ready when they [kids] wake up” or “go to work later”.
Children also thought that they could “get parents to get breakfast foods they like” so kids would be more willing to eat breakfast. To make it easy for kids to have breakfast, children indicated that it helps when “cereals are left out [on the counter]” and when breakfasts are planned ahead (the day before, “we pick out what we want to eat in the morning”; “make breakfast the night before so if you’re running late in the morning, you can put it in a container and eat it on the way out”). Kids also recognized that they could help prepare breakfast, remarking that “I get up and help my mom make it, I make eggs, I make it with my mom” and “maybe I can make breakfast for them [my parents]”. Another indicated she could help her family have breakfast more often by asking parents to get “more cereals for breakfast and having a chart with options.”
The kids pointed out that parents could remind children about the importance of breakfast—“tell them it starts their day, it’s healthy”. Kids also suggested that parents could provide some grab-and-go options (“Have something that is easy to take on the go, like a banana”) or make foods easily accessible (“have it on the table”). Kids also recommended that parents “give them choices” of breakfast foods and that kids and parents “try new foods together”. Children felt that parents could make breakfast more interesting by making “something fun, like faces with fruit on pancakes or chocolate chip pancakes” or serving “dessert—yogurt with blueberries and strawberries”.
Kids reported that eating breakfast at school could prevent breakfast skipping but noted that there were some constraints. “You need to get to school early”. “You can eat breakfast at school, [but] you have to eat it fast”. “If you don’t eat breakfast at home, you can eat at school, but some of us have to pay and some of us don’t”. “Sometimes I eat breakfast at school, but I get in trouble if I eat at school [because family has to pay]”.
A few children suggested that parents could “force”, “trick”, “pay” or reward kids with treats to get them to eat breakfast. A few thought parents should “punish kids if they don’t eat breakfast—no snacks, take toys away” or “make rules and be strict”. Other suggestions to promoting breakfast eating were to “make us sit at the table” and “lock the closet full of junk food”. One child thought that there was nothing parents can do “to help their kids eat breakfast”.
3.2.5. Children’s Perceptions of the Influence of Family Members on Breakfast Consumption
Children’s views on whether family members’ breakfast choices influenced their own breakfast choices were mixed. Some reported that “parents’ breakfast intake doesn’t have much effect” on them because “the whole family usually eats breakfast, but at different times” (“I don’t see my parents eat breakfast, my mom eats after I go to school and my dad is a teacher—he eats way before I am awake”). Other kids reported that “if I wake up and see my parents eating, then I might think about eating, too”. Kids also noted that they were more likely to try new things if they saw their parents eating them (“If we see something we like that they are eating, then maybe we might want to try it the next day”). Children felt parents could influence their children through the foods they prepare “if they make something healthy for breakfast and it’s on the counter, we can eat it”. Some kids saw their parents as the enforcers of healthy breakfast choices and reported that “If they don’t eat breakfast with me, I will sneak other things like sweets into my breakfast”. Siblings also influence intake at breakfast. One child said “My little sister gets sugary cereal, so then we all eat the cereal she eats”, and another said “My brother eats what I eat”.