Why is breakfast the most important meal of the day? Because your body is hungry! You need fuel to provide energy after eight to 12 hours of not eating.
Numerous research studies prove that eating a meal in the morning, or whenever you wake up, has numerous health, activity and energy benefits. Compared to people who wait until lunch to eat, people who regularly eat breakfast are:
- Healthier and have fewer chronic health problems
- More productive; can maintain focus and attention longer
- In a better mood and have fewer mood swings
- Able to concentrate better; have a better memory
- Quicker and better problem solvers
- Less likely to be overweight
- Less likely to binge on empty calorie foods
- Less fatigued and have more energy
Breakfast is especially important to help children do well in school. Children who eat breakfast:
- Have better math, reading and overall test scores
- Can concentrate better
- Are better behaved
- Are more motivated to learn and participate
- Have fewer school absences and less tardiness
- Are less likely to be overweight
- Are healthier than non-breakfast eaters
What is breakfast?
When you think “breakfast” do you think of the traditional 19th or 20th Century rural farm spread: fatty protein like bacon and fried eggs; lots of breads, cereals or pancakes; fried potatoes or grits; high calories and fats in butter, cream and syrup; and a jolt of caffeine in multiple cups of coffee with sugar and cream. Whew! Imagine cooking all that, much less eating it all.
Most of us don’t need that much food because we’re not as active as our farmer forefathers and mothers. But we do need “something” after we awaken after 8 – 12 hours of fasting. Breakfast breaks that fast.
There are very few rules for modern breakfasts. What’s still important is food and beverages that include:
- A lean source of protein
- Complex carbohydrates
- Fruit or vegetables
- Dairy products
About 25 percent of your daily calories (500 calories for a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet)
How to enjoy breakfast without cooking
We’re all busy in the morning. Adding cooking to the morning routine isn’t in the cards for many busy families. Fortunately, you don’t have to cook breakfast in the morning in order to eat it every morning.
Think leftovers. Most lunch or dinner leftovers can be reheated for breakfast. Immediately after dinner, pre-portion leftovers for tomorrow’s breakfast. This will give you quick breakfast options as well as stop those weight-adding second helpings and late-night snacking.
Let’s look at how to streamline a healthy breakfast that includes these essentials.
1.Lean protein can be found in eggs, milk, cheese, lean poultry, Greek yogurt, beans, tofu and soy, nuts and seeds, and whole grains. Boil some eggs the night before for a quick hard-boiled egg on the way to work. Try Greek yogurt and add fresh or dried fruit, even your favorite nuts. Grab last night’s carryout box that still has half a turkey sandwich on whole wheat, or a leftover slice of cheese and pepperoni pizza. Make a piece of toast to go with a chunk of cheese or handful of nuts. Leftover bean and veggie soup works fine with a glass of milk and whole-grain crackers. Most kids love sausage links in a multi-grain hot dog bun. Cook the sausage the night or weekend before.
2.Complex carbohydrates are in whole grains used in breads, cereals and pasta; fruits and veggies, brown rice, corn, oats, nuts, beans and peas. Cooked cereals can be prepared the night or weekend before, if pre-portioned and stored properly. Cold cereal or granola can be healthy as long as you don’t choose junk-food cereal with sugar as the first ingredient. Compare the Nutrition Facts label on several cereal boxes to find a healthier cereal you like. Compare the nutrients, vitamins and minerals; pay attention to the sugar content; look for whole grains. If your kids won’t drink milk, prepare cooked cereals with milk or half milk/half water. Brown rice, pasta or tortillas from last night’s dinner can be repurposed with your favorite fruit or nuts on top. Corn tortillas make the perfect breakfast wrap for leftovers.
3.Dairy products provide calcium, protein and carbs in the form of milk or milk substitute like soymilk, yogurt, cheese, pudding, ice cream, cottage cheese, beans, almonds. Eating cereal usually means a serving of dairy and that also adds protein and carbs. Yogurt, a chunk of cheese, cottage cheese or pudding are alternatives to having your dairy with cereal. Greek yogurt multitasks as a good source of both dairy and protein. Cut up cubes or thick slices of hard cheese on the weekend and store in air-tight containers in the fridge for a quick addition to toast and coffee. Cottage cheese and fresh fruit with whole-grain crackers isn’t just for lunch anymore.
4.Fruits and veggies can include whole fruits and veggies that are fresh or dried, and juice. The quickest way to get your fruits and veggies is from 100 percent fruit and/or vegetable juices. But watch the portion size because juices are loaded with calories. Whole fruit provides more fiber and nutrients than juice. Just wash and eat. Smoothies are a great way to get a filling dose of dairy and fruit for breakfast. Try Chris’ Perfect Breakfast Smoothie recipe below. Try keeping dried fruit and string cheese in the car for emergency snacks and missed breakfasts.
Add some fun, variety and socialization to weekend breakfasts. Get family and friends together for a potluck Saturday brunch, a Sunday night supper featuring a breakfast buffet (with lots of leftovers for the work week), or a picnic breakfast at the lake. Most breakfast foods can be cooked ahead so everyone can relax and enjoy the company or the big game.
Try Carol’s super easy Crowd Pleasing Frittata next time you have unexpected guests. Carol says it will feed her for four days.
Carol’s Crowd Pleasing Frittata
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- Sautee in small iron skillet:
- Green onions
- Bell pepper
- Add anything else you have in your veggie bin (asparagus, squash, spinach are all good)
- Lightly wisk in small bowl: 4 eggs, 1 tablespoon flour, ¼ cup or less of half n half or milk.
- Pour egg mixture over veggies. Sprinkle your favorite grated cheese on top, stick in the oven and bake for 13 to 15 minutes.
Avoid empty calories
We all love junk foods because they’re packed with sugars, fats and calories. While junk food provides quick-energy calories – which we all need for energy and fuel – there’s rarely much nutritional value and few vitamins, minerals or fiber. The body quickly uses the empty calories in junk food and leaves you with sinking blood sugar, a grumpy mood and fatigue.
Healthy foods will provide all the calories we need for energy. These multitasking foods give us nutritional value along with moderate calories. Why bother with foods and beverages that can’t multitask? Look for “whole grain” or “whole wheat” as the first ingredient on the label or labels that say “100% whole” grain or wheat.
Slowly adjust your diet to wean yourself off the following (except for an occasional special treat):
- Soft drinks, fruit punch and sweetened fruit drinks
- Cakes, pies and cookies
- Doughnuts, sweet rolls, pastries
- Ice cream, sherbet, popsicles
- Candy and most granola or “energy” bars
For more information:
Try these blogs for some fresh ideas for breakfast foods:
- Sally’s Baking Addiction here.
- Hurry the Food Up here.
- Hungry Girl here.
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ website (formerly the American Dietetic Association)
- U.S. Department of Agriculture website
Try a Breakfast Smoothie
Our colleague Chris has lost a huge amount of weight over the past year by eating healthy and exercising. A smoothie for breakfast is part of his strategy. It’s great for confirmed non-breakfast-eating adults, and kids love them anytime.
“Smoothies are tasty, super nutritious and you can be as creative or as simple as you want. I drink basically the same one every day,” Chris says.
Chris’ Perfect Breakfast Smoothie
1 cup almond milk
1 scoop whey protein powder (I use a brand called TGS which has no fillers, additives, sweeteners, flavors or colors, just plain whey protein)
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 frozen banana
1/2 cup frozen blueberries
1 cup frozen spinach
6 oz. of water or a handful of ice cubes
To keep life simple, prep a week’s worth of smoothies at a time. Put all the frozen ingredients (minus the ice cubes) into a quart-size freezer bag so you can quickly dump everything into a blender, blend until smooth and serve immediately.
For more smoothie variety, Chris recommends the recipes here.