Pop Tarts have been a breakfast staple for American children since 1964, despite the fact that many families are making healthy changes. What is it about these breakfast pastries that make them so irresistible, and how can we create a healthier alternative breakfast that satisfies those same cravings?
We know that children benefit from having less sugar and more protein at breakfast, so that they have a long release of energy during their morning at school. High sugar, low protein breakfasts cause children to have a quick spike of energy followed by low energy. Imagine how that affects their ability to focus and learn in the classroom. Each pair of Tarts contains 8 teaspoons of sugar. Can we satisfy their taste buds with less sugar and more protein?
We need to begin by deconstructing the things children love about the pastries: crunchy edges, gooey middle and the sweet topping. For the parents, we will look at convenience, price, and variety.
Crunchy edges: The toaster creates crunchy edges that give a child’s mouth an exciting crunch first thing in the morning. Could our healthier alternative begin with a piece of whole-grain bread, toasted in the toaster? Choose a bread that has whole wheat or whole grains listed in the ingredient list. The crunch of the first bite and the chewiness of the grains will be very satisfying.
Gooey middle: The sugar-laden filling is sweet and gooey. Can peanut butter or almond butter be a good substitute filling? The nut butters have protein and fats which are an important part of a healthy balanced breakfast. Almond butter has unsaturated fats which are more heart healthy than the fats in peanut butter. But either one is better than the sugar-laden filling of the pastry! And nothing is gooier than peanut butter.
Sweet topping: Something sweet is always popular with children, but can we avoid the shiny solid sugar topping? Top your breakfast treat with sliced bananas. Their sweet smoothness will bring a smile to your child’s face.
Price: Our toast topped with peanut butter and banana is $0.63. You can’t beat it! Two Tarts are $0.68. For pricing, we used non-bargain ingredients: Dave’s Killer Bread 21 Whole Grain and Seeds Organic Bread and Smucker’s Natural (without sugar) Peanut Butter, and still came out ahead of the Tarts.
Convenience: Everyone loves the convenience of toaster pastries, and our invention is just as easy. Either way, you are waiting for the toaster to do its thing. If you slice the banana while the toast is cooking, then you just need 15 seconds to spread the peanut butter and place the banana slices on top. Can you spare an extra 15 seconds to make a healthier breakfast?
Variety: Tarts come in many flavors, and so can our toast/nut butter/fruit breakfasts. How about almond butter with blueberries, peanut butter with sliced strawberries, or peanut butter with a drizzle of honey?
By Sarah Moerschel, MD, FAAP, Director of the Healthy for Life Clinic for Children and Adolescents