We all know breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But when we’re trying to get kids to the bus stop without leaving behind homework, lunch, or a field trip permission slip, it’s easy to offer them a pastry on their way out the door.

“Kids really do need a good breakfast,” says Julia Turner, an Atlanta-based dietitian who specializes in helping families with nutritional challenges due to special needs, allergies, and sensitivities. “They have to be fueled to do what they need to do at school....They’ll have more mental and physical energy.”

A good breakfast includes protein, which helps with brain function. A little fat and carbohydrates are also good for starting the day right. And if you can slip in a small amount of green vegetables, you get extra credit. Here are some of Turner’s breakfast ideas:

  • Make something ahead of time that can be frozen and then heated and served quickly. Her kids love chicken pancakes. Combine a chicken breast (raw or cooked) two raw eggs, and a little salt or cinnamon in a blender. Drop by spoonfuls onto a skillet and press into little pancakes. Fry on each side until done. It may sound peculiar, but Turner’s kids love it. “It’s a cross between a chicken nugget and a pancake,” she explains.

  • If your child craves something sweet, look for less-refined sugars, which enter the bloodstream more slowly. Agave nectar is a good choice, as is grade B maple syrup, which is less processed than grade A.

  • A bagel and cream cheese doesn’t offer much in the way of protein. Give a bagel a protein boost by adding a couple of strips of turkey bacon, roast beef, chicken, or thinly sliced turkey. Choose a whole-wheat bagel. Swap a nut butter for the cream cheese.

  • Some kids prefer to eat breakfast a little later. “My kids aren’t always hungry right when they wake up,” Turner says. “But they may get hungry later on.” Let them take their breakfast to go so they’ll have it when their stomach growls. She suggests sending kids out the door with a roll-up, a whole-wheat tortilla stuffed with egg salad, chicken salad, or deli meat and cheese. You can sometimes get away with sneaking in some finely chopped baby spinach.

  • Some kids will devour last night’s leftovers, such as spaghetti and meatballs. They may enjoy it cold or at room temperature, saving you even more time.

  • Turner is a huge fan of smoothies. “This is a good opportunity to sneak in vegetables,” she says. Try fresh or frozen berries, half a frozen banana, milk or almond milk, a handful of baby spinach, and a touch of agave nectar. For a truly A-plus breakfast, add a little coconut oil and a scoop of brown rice protein powder.

  • The old breakfast standby of cereal can be a good choice if you reach for the right box. Try an unsweetened brand and sweeten it yourself at home. Look for a brand that isn’t overly processed and lists ingredients you can pronounce and understand. Turner advises being wary of “protein enriched” cereals. These may be high in soy protein, which is more difficult to digest.

  • Oatmeal is another traditional favorite, though the instant kind can be overwhelmingly sweet. Top unsweetened or lightly sweetened oatmeal with almonds and berries. If your child likes oatmeal, experiment with other grains such as quinoa flakes or cream of buckwheat.

  • For a treat that tastes almost like junk food, prepare cream of buckwheat and pour into a loaf pan. Refrigerate overnight. The next morning, slice and fry it in a healthy oil, such as grapeseed oil. Top with fruit or melted cheese. “You can fry these in a fair amount of oil and make them really crispy, like a fritter,” Turner says. “If you’re using high-quality fat, you’re turning them into health food.”

For busy families, breakfast is an easy thing to skip, especially if your child’s class gets the first seating in the cafeteria, which may be as early as 10:30 a.m. But if school starts at 8:30 in the morning, that’s two hours of running on fumes from the night before. Many teachers emphasize the most complex and important concepts first thing in the morning.

Enlist your kids in helping plan for breakfast. If they have a say in what you offer, they’ll be more likely to eat it. Some parents tend to skip breakfast, too. Model good behavior by making a smoothie for yourself as well as your kids. You might even find yourself digging the chicken pancake.

Journalist Patti Ghezzi covered education and schools for 10 years for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She lives in Avondale Estates, Ga., with her family, which includes husband Jason, daughter Celia, and geriatric mutt Albany.