Brain-boosting breakfast and munchable lunches

By Pam McMurtry Deseret News Oct 10, 2018, 11:05am MDT

This article was published in 2018 – I wanted to share it again as school is starting for many of our favorite kiddos.

Breakfast on busy school mornings is more important than many parents and children realize. According to the American Dietetic Association, the brain needs a consistent carbohydrate source for fuel. Because the fiber in food slows down carbohydrate digestion, fiber helps provide the sustained energy a body needs for brain and nerve function. According to University of Utah dietitian (and my husband) Gene McMurtry MS, RD, CDE in addition to the student’s brain working hard, a young growing body needs more protein per pound than adults do.

According to a study by the ADA published in a 2005 article titled “Breakfast Habits, Nutritional Status, Body Weight and Academic Performance in Children and Adolescents,” children that eat breakfast are more likely to graduate and perform better on math tests and, in theory, keep trying longer, make better decisions and have more success overall.

McMurtry also states studies, such as “Breakfast skipping and health-compromising behaviors in adolescents and adults,” published by the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (online at, show people who skip breakfast consume fewer calories, but are more likely to be overweight because they make worse health choices such as smoking, abusing alcohol and exercising less.

How does one fuel all of this amazing physiology in a few minutes before the dash to school? Here are a few tips for healthy school-day eating. Three words: Protein, fiber and complex carbohydrates.

By including whole grains and fresh fruit, but not juice, that supply the carbs and fiber and protein-rich foods such as eggs, nuts and dairy as a starting point, you can plan healthy menus for your children’s dietary needs and taste preferences.

Also cut sugar way back or eliminate it altogether. If you are interested in doing calorie and nutrition analysis for meals try websites such as or LoseIt.

Tips for breakfasts

• The classic standby of oatmeal and milk with fruit makes a balanced meal.

• Serve a fruit smoothie with whole grain toast and peanut butter or a whole grain muffin and string cheese with fruit.

• Eggs, whole wheat toast and tangerine are a healthy choice as is a breakfast burrito made with whole grain tortilla; note: watch out for bacon, as it can have too much fat to be considered protein source, according to “Can Bacon Be Part of a Healthy Diet?” on

• Occasionally a protein bar with fruit and a breakfast “biscuit” like Belvita can be a good fast breakfast.

Lunch for school

For school lunches, continue on the same course with a bread, milk, vegetable or fruit and a protein source. A peanut butter sandwich on whole wheat bread with an orange and milk make a balanced meal. Use containers to keep sandwiches and fruit from getting squished, and an insulated lunch bag and a frozen blue ice block to keep foods cooler, especially if they contain mayonnaise or eggs.

McMurtry says to eliminate fruit juice or sugary drinks which are huge contributors to overweight in the U.S. according to Harvard Nutrition‘s “Sugary Drinks and Obesity Fact Sheet,” online at Include a piece of fresh fruit instead which digests slower and is more nutritious than fruit juice or fruit-flavored drinks or most canned fruits. If your child doesn’t want to stand in line to buy milk, send a small frozen water bottle to keep the lunch cold and a string cheese. If you are adding chips, try the baked variety rather than fried. If you send a dessert, try baking homemade treats and substituting one-third of the enriched or all-purpose white flour in a recipe with whole wheat flour. Or send nuts or trail mix.

If they tire of sandwiches, try whole-grain bagels, muffins, breadsticks or crackers, tortillas or wraps. Many stores sell peeled hard-boiled eggs, string cheese, yogurt (Greek yogurt has more protein), packaged nuts and fresh fruit. For children, smaller apples, clusters of grapes (washed and cut with scissors to speed things up) and berries are sometimes preferred.

Don’t forget an occasional love note in the lunchbox and drop in for lunch, get to know your children’s classmates and check out the culture and goings-on in the cafeteria which influence your child’s lunchtime more than you might suspect. Discover where lunches are stored — some sit out in the sun and need insulated containers — or ask the teacher if there is another location that will improve food safety.

Here is a quick, economical and nutritious morning smoothie recipe. Divide up the ingredients the night before to make it super-fast in the morning. I realize that there is a small amount of fruit juice involved and I’m OK with that fact because of the large proportion of yogurt, whole fruits and vegetables.

A fruit smoothie with whole grain toast and peanut butter makes a balanced breakfast.
A fruit smoothie with whole grain toast and peanut butter makes a balanced breakfast.

Back-to-School Smoothie

6-8 ounces yogurt

1 cup fresh or frozen spinach leaves

1 ripe banana

1 cup pineapple or fruit juice or liquid of your choice

1 cup frozen berries

½ cup wheat germ (optional)

In the jar of a blender add the yogurt, spinach, banana, juice and wheat germ, if included. Blend at high speed until smooth. Add berries and blend again. Pour into juice cups and serve with spoons. Makes 3-4 servings, add whole grain toast and peanut butter or toast and string cheese.

French Toast Cracked Wheat Cereal

¾ cup cracked wheat

2 cups water

¼ teaspoon sea salt

1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

1 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen

ground cinnamon to taste

ground nutmeg to taste

brown sugar, maple syrup or honey (optional)

With a hand-cranked grain mill set on extra-coarse, grind whole kernels of red or white wheat. Place in a large saucepan, add water and sea salt. Bring to boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium and simmer for 20–25 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in berries, nuts, spices and sweetener if desired. Add milk and you have a protein-rich hearty breakfast that tastes and smells divine.

Early Holiday Prep!

“Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love.” Hamilton Wright Mabie

Welcome BYU radio listeners! If you missed the broadcast, you can access it here: Are you looking at ideas for Christmas gifts? The Platinum Rule (Golden Rule upgrade) states – “Do unto others as they would like to have done unto them;” in other words – give them what they want. The most appreciated holiday gifts match the receiver’s wish list. In his book, THE 5 LOVE LANGUAGES, Dr. Gary Chapman clues us in on individual preferences; he states that people have different gift values that fall into these categories:

Gifts (items wanted or needed)

Quality Time

Words of Affirmation


Physical Touch

The earlier you start planning/making/shopping the more time you will have to create/purchase/ideate thoughtful, appropriate gifts. For instance, this year for Father’s Day I found a book with prompts to fill in about my Dad’s influence and effect on my life. To go with the copper foil lettering on the blue and navy textured cover, I found blue, copper and gold gel pens to write in some of the answers. Others were printed in a vintage typewriter text to match the retro style of the book and collaged. I copied old photos and used scrapbook paper to embellish the pages. I poured my heart and memories into each page and the result brought tears to both our eyes. The book took an entire week to complete – not going to happen if you begin in December. For gifts like this for loved ones, you need to start early.

As you plan your gifts for Christmas and the autumn and winter holidays; try for things that fill the needs and wants of the recipients. Here are a few ideas to tickle your gift-giving fancy from my A Christmas Handbook


Earlier in the year, start a small notebook or record in your electronic device the names of people you will be giving gifts to, their sizes and preferences. Then as you buy gifts, make a note of the gift and where you put it (trust me on this). Why not wrap a few gifts at a time when you are watching a movie?


Collections of family stories are valuable gifts that help build loyalty and character. Think of the scriptures and the good they have imparted; the experiences and wisdom of great people aid us in our decision-making. Family histories help establish our identity and connect us to the larger culture.

If you have inherited family treasures from a parent or grandparent, select those that would be meaningful to family members and give them as gifts and reminders of the relationship and love shared. Books, family records, copies of family movies, jewelry, silverware, art, serving dishes, photos, sports memorabilia, tools, collectibles, family furniture, anything that has special significance.


Using a shadow box, frame a hand-written favorite recipe card with photo or memento of the family chef and a spoon or a spice tin, apron or something small from the kitchen.

Fill a scrapbook-style cookbook or create an ebook with a collection of favorite recipes and photos.


Add to a treasured collection. In our family we read a Christmas story a night from December 1st on. We love Christmas books, other people collect things that interest them or increase in value such as art.

I also love vintage stuff; but giving a pre-owned gift is a delicate task, you need to know your recipient. Some people treasure pre-loved items, others will not. Unless you are sure of your exquisite taste or exactly what the recipient likes, you might first walk through a store that features upscale refurbished furniture and accent pieces to see how the pros put things together and pick up a few ideas. Then visit thrift stores, antique stores, garage sales, etc. If you have ReStores in your area, they are charities that benefit Habitat for Humanity that sell salvaged or recycled building supplies that can be repurposed and embellished. Again, look for natural materials such as wood and glass; tins and glass dishes can be thoroughly washed and used for food gift giving and proceeds go to help people in need. If there is obvious wear or rust, be sure to package food gifts in a barrier/liner like a cellophane bag. Personally, I adore anything with red plaid, new or used; I’m easy that way.


Scroll down to discover ideas for retail purchases and usual timelines for sales and discounts.

Love that happy feeling when you find something pre-loved and precious that will be again useful with just a little TLC? For many items you will want to make sure they are squeaky clean and shiny before you give them unless the “patina” of age and wear is a desirable characteristic. Here are potential gifts and decorations to look for at your favorite antique or thrift shop:

  • An old drawer or cupboard door painted with chalkboard paint and tied with a ribbon bow and bag of chalk
  • A small wooden picture frame repainted: add a favorite quote from C.S. Lewis or a scripture
  • A domed glass cake pedestal with a favorite desert, tied with a wide satin ribbon
  • A vintage suitcase relined with cute fabric and filled with supplies for a favorite hobby
  • A redecorated wooden dollhouse
  • A cradle repainted and furnished with a new or family member’s favorite doll
  • A great jar or container to fill with marbles, old army men, cowboys, gumballs or other favorite old or vintage-style toys
  • Glass luminaries can made of two vases or cylinders; one that fits inside the other. Place the smaller inside the larger glass or paper container and hot glue or attach it with florist putty. In the interior space between the two, fill with Epson salt or fake snow and glitter snowflakes. Attach a candle and tie a bow and sprig of greens around the large cylinder.
  • An old empty gumball machine, antique jars or apothecary jar can be outfitted with bottle brush trees and a winter snow scene
  • Silverware or dishes that the recipient collects.
  • Vintage quilts, jewelry, purses, linens and books
  • Old-school wrapping paper, tags, cards, notebooks, frames (filled with a cute vintage card or print.)
  • Turn vintage dominoes, buttons and other small items into refrigerator magnets by attaching strong magnet to the back with an epoxy like JB Weld ® or E6000 superglue.
  • Decorated antique kitchen accessories – tins, scales, serve ware, tools like old knives and whisks – again you need to know the taste of the recipient.
  • Collectibles – vintage art, postcards, binoculars, whistles, milk glass, spectacles, pocket watches, typewriters, garden tools, Christmas lights and ornaments, calendars, vinyls.

Check small businesses and online import sites and stores. Amazon and other retailers have Certified Refurbished items, also check Ebay, Ebid, and online classified sites.


As you may choose to buy some gifts retail, here are a few money-saving tips:

  • Use coupons and watch for specials at Hobby Lobby, Michaels, JoAnns, JC Penneys, Macy’s, Dillard’s, TJ Maxx, Home Goods and your favorite retailers. Get in the habit of checking the clearance aisles for treasures. Get their apps and/or sign up for their newsletters and sale notices.
  • House Credit – if you are shopping at a large retailer, you can often save 15% or more by making the purchase with their credit card. Then tell the cashier you want to make a payment and pay it off on the spot with your debit card, check or cash. It just takes a minute.
  • Check discount retailers; my favorites are TJ Maxx Or TK Maxx in the U.K., Home Goods, Marshalls and Tuesday Morning – there are a lot of greatly discounted higher- quality buys; and don’t overlook outlet mall stores, like William Sonoma, Pottery Barn, Pottery Barn Kids and DownEast; some of which will ship for you.
  • Linens and serving pieces, again look for after holiday sales and save until next year. A brand-new Waterford Stewart plaid tablecloth that sold on Ebay for $125, was purchased at Home Goods in January for $15.
  • Support local business and artists as well as hand-craft holiday boutiques.
  • Watch for tent sales – Some retailers have tent sales during the summer. I learned to bring a bottle of water and wear comfortable shoes – it can get hot in the tent. Look for  higher-end merchandise for pennies on the dollar.

RULE # 1: If you see something you like grab it quick, it may be gone in a minute; if you change your mind later you can put it back – someone else will surely see its value.

RULE # 2: If an item has a stitched monogram, decide whether it can be removed with a seam ripper or covered with a piece of ribbon or applique stitched over it. Often customers order personalized merchandise and later return it for whatever reason. I found a $230 monogrammed suitcase with my initials for $23.

  • 2 words: BLACK FRIDAY also pre-Black Friday sales – check for online deals; you may not even have to fight the parking lot crowds.
  •, Etsy, etc. more online shopping at your fingertips and they ship so you don’t have to stand in line at the Post Office.
  • Post-holiday sales; Barnes and Nobles, Target, Walmart, Talbots; watch your favorite retailers.

Again, don’t forget to patronize small businesses; you might not save as much money but your support helps the community as most business owners belong to service organizations and help support sports teams and school activities.

This list from Money Under 30 shares optimal shopping deals in retail


  • Air conditioners
  • School supplies
  • Dehumidifiers
  • Lawnmowers
  • Outdoor furniture
  • Snow blowers
  • Swimwear


  • Big appliances (except for refrigerators)
  • Bikes
  • Cars
  • Gas grills
  • Outdoor perennial plants
  • Thanksgiving travel tickets


  • Air conditioners
  • Camcorders
  • Christmas travel tickets
  • Digital cameras
  • Toys


  • Baby items
  • Fresh Christmas trees
  • Recreational vehicles
  • GPS navigators
  • TVs


  • Home appliances
  • iTunes gift cards
  • Tools
  • Holiday decorations (wait til after Christmas)

And these tips from DealNews:

Top 5 Stores for August 2019

  1. Home Depot
    The home improvement store will kick off its Labor Day sale early — around mid-August — and will discount a wide range of items. This will be an excellent opportunity for DIYers who want to shop deals for remodeling projects.
  2. Reebok
    Last year’s Reebok Friends & Family Sale was one of the best we saw from the brand. If it returns this year, we expect discounts of an extra 50% off outlet styles for the whole family, making it good for back-to-school shopping.
  3. REI Outlet
    Outdoor enthusiasts shouldn’t miss this REI Outlet event, where you can expect to shave at least 70% off apparel, shoes, and outdoor gear. Discounted brands will include Columbia, Marmot, Mountain Hardwear, The North Face, and Oakley.
  4. Target
    The bull’s-eye retailer will kick off its Labor Day sale toward the end of the month, about a week before the holiday itself. Expect savings of 30% on a variety of items, including indoor and outdoor furniture, home items, and TVs. Additionally, Target will probably have a stacking discount to take an extra 15% off select products.
  5. Walmart
    The retailer will host its Back to College sale, which will be a great opportunity to snag discounted school supplies, furniture, decor, and dorm-appropriate appliances like minifridges. Even better, Walmart will kick off its own Labor Day sale later in the month, providing even more chances to save.

Best month to buy stuff? Here’s a list

Image result for pottery barn christmas advent calendar
$5 at a DownEast tent sale!

The best day to start Christmas shopping? December 26! Since that boat sails every year, this December remember to hop on board at Hobby Lobby , Michael’s, Walmart, Target, Home Goods, World Market, Barnes and Noble and any retailer that carries the style of decor, gifts, wrap and accoutrements that make your heart happy. In the days and weeks following the holiday prices gradually drop until one day you walk into your favorite market and find holiday items at a 90% off sale. And that is when you wish you owned a large truck. 🙂 Pottery Barn and PB Kids, Williams Sonoma and other higher end retailers also have clearance sales in store and online!

Get ready for Valentines Day with glitter Xs and Os and anything red from candles to candies.

Here’s a fun gift guide for Christmas

And more unique and fun gift ideas for 2019 –

Image result for donkey and elephant

Here’s an app that will help you make shopping decisions based on the political contributions of the companies you support. or in the app store – goods unite us. They keep track of political donations; for instance I recently learned that L’Oreal cosmetics makes 96% of their donations to Democratic candidates, so I switched to Revlon which is more evenly split.

Preparedness and Living Happily Ever After – another idea for practical giving

 What would you do if you couldn’t get to market? Stay home? Have roast beef? Or have none? Cry wee, wee, wee? No, you don’t have to affected by the winds of disaster, whether economic or natural. Why not add emergency preparedness to the gifts you give this year. Here is a guide to the amounts you might need of a little somethin’ somethin’ to feed your family just in case. 

Here are links for more ideas for preparedness, camping and family reunion ideas, enjoy!

Everything Under the Sun by Wendy Dewitt gives tons of valuable advice for emergency prep – thanks for sharing Wendy!

***Blast from the past: Don’t hate me but I just finished my Christmas shopping. August 2016

The history of four Christmas food traditions:

You may not want to hear this, but girls and guys, I just finished my Christmas shopping. Don’t be a hater, I will share my secrets for getting 50 – 90% off Christmas presents for the 30+ people we exchange gifts with every year.

1. Watch for sales at your favorite retailers. I live near a DownEast Outlet that has a tent sale every July. They have deep discounts on Pottery Barn, Mark and Graham and other quality lines. A pair of $150 pajamas cost me $6 plus an hour with a seam ripper to remove the unwanted monogram or to sew a piece of ribbon over the initials on the cuff. I picked up a a red plaid (my addiction) wool weekend bag for $10 and a set of Pottery Barn luggage for 90% off – one piece even had my initials. Leather accessories are priced at up to 95% off. Many have monograms that can be altered or removed – sometimes I get lucky and find something for a loved one with their initial. Good quality scarves and travel blankets were $2 and $3 dollars and Pottery Barn velvet Santa bags were about the price of paper gift bags. Call your local DownEast, there may be more sales coming soon.

2. Target toy sale. Target is getting ready for Christmas merch and is marking toys and games way down. I picked up Monster High and Barbie items for 50% off. Disney clay animation movie-making kits were about 70% off. Baby toys, art supplies and games are on clearance too; many at 75% off.

3. Barnes and Noble clearance sale. B&N not only marks down all kinds of fascinating books, but toys and readers are also on sale. The clearance begins at 50% off, but if you can hold out, after about 3 weeks goes to 75%, then $2 an item. We will be well-read this Christmas.

The only problem I am still having is that Christmas paper is not yet in stores. Fortunately I had a few rolls put away and was able to find some $1 red and white striped and polka dot rolls at Michael’s. Make sure you grab a few rolls after Christmas for next year if you want the jump on wrapping before the busy holiday season. I am so excited that I am wrapping all of the treasures and stashing them so I can enjoy a peaceful and creative holiday season without the mad rush to shop in December. I’ll have time to bake and visit family and friends and focus on the real meaning of Christmas – the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 
Down time? probably not. I’m waiting to hear from a publisher about my manuscripts they are considering and I might just do another holiday candy window for City Creek Macy’s in downtown Salt Lake City. I’ll let you know. 

100 pounds of candy! (Francisco Kjolseth  |  The Salt Lake Tribune)  For the second year, Macy's unveils the holiday candy windows at Macy's City Creek on Thursday, Nov. 21,  2013, including the ornament called Merry! by Pam Layton McMurtry and her son Tim. The windows which kick off the holiday season, are made entirely out of candy and reflect Salt Lake City and the luster of the holiday season. Six local artists were chosen to design the windows.

Between now and Christmas comes Halloween! If you don’t have yours yet, download a copy of A Harvest and Halloween Handbook from amazon or – you’ll be glad you did!