You needn't feel guilty if you don't cook hot breakfasts for your kids. In a recent large study of children that compared breakfast-skippers, cereal eaters, and kids who had "other" breakfasts, the cereal-eaters came out on top for healthiest diets.

Regardless of whether their breakfasts were relatively high or low in sugar, the cereal eaters did not consume more than the daily recommended amount.

The breakfast skippers, on the other hand, got more of their daily energy from "added sugars" than breakfast eaters and ended up with less fiber, fewer nutrients, and the smallest percent of their daily energy provided by protein.

They also ended up with larger waists and a higher BMI (body mass index) than their breakfast-eating counterparts, on average.

Skipping breakfast not only starts the day off on the wrong foot nutritionally, but can set kids up for tough health challenges in years to come, the researchers say in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. Larger waist size, for example, is a risk factor for diabetes, even in children and adolescents.

Ready-to-eat cereals sometimes get a bum rap because some of them have high sugar contents, study co-author Carol O'Neil, of Louisiana State University, told Reuters Health. But "many are high in nutrients, vitamin fortified, made with whole grains, with fiber added," she said.

Twenty-two percent of breakfast skippers were obese, compared to just under 20 percent of the "other breakfast" eaters and 15 percent of the cereal eaters.

The researchers analyzed everything the kids ate over a 24-hour period. While they didn't specifically calculate how much of total daily nutrients came from breakfast, they found that kids who ate ready-to-eat cereals had "more favorable nutrient intake profiles" and healthier weights than either the breakfast skippers or kids who ate "other breakfasts."

O'Neil and her colleagues studied nearly 10 thousand kids between the ages of 9 and 18 who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) between 1999 and 2006.

They found that 20 percent of children between the ages of 9 and 13, and nearly a third of kids from 14 to 18, were skipping breakfast.

The number of kids who ate breakfast began to drop off as children got older, and by the time they were in high school, nearly a third were skipping breakfast.

A third of older girls skipped breakfast, the authors found. "Ironically, one of their concerns is about weight so they think they'll skip this meal and get fewer calories during the day when in reality they skip the meal, they're hungry and they start snacking on this, that, and the other, and overall they tend to eat more calories and fewer nutrient-dense foods," O'Neil said.

Kids don't realize that ready-to-eat cereals provide a quick and easy way to get a good breakfast, she added.

"One of the things that needs to be explored now is why so many children skip breakfast and why so many older children skip breakfast," O'Neil said.

She and her colleagues found that a higher percentage of children and adolescents from single-parent or low-income households skipped breakfast. They also found that ready-to-eat cereal consumption was lower in minority kids than in white kids. At least one earlier study has shown that access and availability of healthy foods, including fortified ready-to-eat cereals, are lower for blacks than for whites, the researchers say.

The research was funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Kellogg's Corporate Citizenship Fund.