Breakfast of Champions: Think Outside the (Cereal) Box
Christina Dauer, MPH, RD, LDN, CDE
Registered Dietitian/Certified Diabetes Educator
Roll your eyes if you want when you hear “breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” But there is a grain of truth to this age old adage. Regular breakfast consumption does appear to bestow a host of benefits on those who incorporate it into their regular routine. For those who don’t (to the tune of 31 million Americans!), breakfast is a missed opportunity to meet daily nutrition recommendations, improve cognitive function and better manage blood sugar throughout the day.
Eating breakfast holds special importance for children, teens, and adults. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, children who eat breakfast perform better in school–having improved concentration, problem-solving skills and hand-eye coordination.
Sadly, studies show that the percentage of those eating breakfast decreases as people reach adulthood. But this isn’t because we don’t need breakfast as adults! In a recent randomized controlled trial (a very strong study design) published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, people who ate breakfast were more physically active during the morning than those who didn’t. They also found that breakfast eaters had improved “insulin sensitivity” (or better blood glucose control) throughout the day compared to those that skipped breakfast. Subjects in the study who skipped breakfast had higher spikes and lower drops in blood sugar (glucose) levels than those who ate a large breakfast by 11 a.m. even though the two groups ate similarly after noon. Large swings in blood glucose can contribute to feelings of hunger and lack of energy throughout the day, and breakfast may help you feel more energetic and satisfied all day long. Furthermore, keeping blood glucose and insulin levels in the right balance through maintaining insulin sensitivity is important for preventing chronic illnesses such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Eating a healthy breakfast daily is one important way that you can help improve your health.
Studies have also shown that people who eat breakfast tend to get more vitamins, minerals and other nutrients in their diets, especially if they include nutritionally dense foods like fruit, vegetables (yes, vegetables at breakfast!), whole grains and lean protein.
So what constitutes as a healthy breakfast? Think again if your idea of a healthy breakfast is a big bowl of sugary cereal with a glass of OJ, or a bagel slathered in cream cheese. It’s time to rethink breakfast and use it as an opportunity to boost nutrition intake and help regulate blood sugar throughout the day.
The formula for a breakfast of champions is:
Healthy fat + Lean protein+ High fiber starch and/or fruit
Here are some ideas of breakfasts that meet these guidelines:
- 1 6” corn tortilla, ½ whole grain English Muffin or 1 slice whole grain toast topped with
,2 tablespoons of avocado and a fried egg with 1 small apple on the side
- Baked oatmeal with pumpkin and bananas (recipe below)with a hardboiled egg
- Homemade egg breakfast sandwich: 1 whole grain English muffin with 1 slice reduced fat cheddar and 1 fried/scrambled egg (you can even microwave the egg in a mug for 1 minute if you are low on time!)
- 1 packet of instant (plain) oatmeal with ½ banana or other fruit and 1 ½ teaspoons of natural peanut butter mixed in. Add a no-sugar added Greek yogurt for some extra protein!
- Egg white omelet with spinach (or whatever chopped vegetables you like) sautéed in 1 tsp olive oil and a piece of fruit
A common reason cited for skipping breakfast is a lack of time. Don’t let a busy morning keep you from providing your body with the nutrition it needs. Plan and prepare a couple of healthy breakfasts ahead of time on the weekends to reap the benefits of breakfast throughout the week. Below are two recipes that you can make ahead and heat-and-eat throughout the week!
Baked Oatmeal with Pumpkin and Bananas
Adapted from Skinnytaste.com
Servings: 6 • Serving Size: 1/6th • Points +: 6 pts • Smart Points: 5
Calories: 226 • Fat: 6 g • Carb: 41 g • Fiber: 4.6 g • Protein: 6 g • Sugar: 23 g
Sodium: 77 mg (without salt)
3 medium ripe bananas, (the riper the better) sliced into 1/2″ pieces
1 cup canned pumpkin
1 tbsp honey
3 tbsp brown sugar (or try 1 ½ tsp Splenda Brown Sugar Blend for less sugar)
1 cup uncooked quick oats
1/4 cup chopped pecans
1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/4 tsp nutmeg
pinch of salt
1 cup fat free milk (or any milk you desire)
1 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 375° F. Lightly spray a 8 x 8″ or 9 x 9″ ceramic baking dish with cooking spray; set aside. Arrange the banana slices in a single layer on the bottom of the ceramic dish. Sprinkle 1/4 tsp of the cinnamon, honey and cover with foil. Bake 15 minutes, until the bananas get soft. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, combine the oats, half of nuts, baking powder, remaining cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, nutmeg and salt; stir together. In a separate bowl, whisk together the pumpkin, brown sugar, milk, egg, and vanilla extract. Remove the bananas from the oven, then pour the oat mixture over the bananas. Pour the pumpkin mixture over the oats, making sure to distribute the mixture as evenly as possible. Sprinkle the remaining nuts over the top. Bake the oatmeal for about 30-35 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and the oatmeal has set. Serve warm from the oven or preheat in the microwave each morning from the fridge.
Broccoli and Cheese Mini Egg Omelets
Adapted from Skinnytaste.com
Servings: 4 Size: 2 omelets • Weight Watcher Points+: 4 • Smart Points: 4
Calories: 167 • Fat: 8.5 g • Carb: 5 g • Fiber: 2.5 g • Protein: 18 g • Sugar: 0 g
Sodium: 317 mg (without the salt) • Cholesterol: 170 mg
4 cups broccoli florets (or other cooked, chopped vegetable)
4 whole large eggs
1 cup egg whites
1/4 cup reduced fat shredded cheddar (or any shredded reduced fat cheese you like)
1/4 cup good grated cheese like pecorino romano
1 tsp olive oil
salt and fresh pepper
Preheat oven to 350°. Steam broccoli with a little water for about 6-7 minutes.
When broccoli is cooked, crumble into smaller pieces and add olive oil, salt and pepper. Mix well. Spray a standard size non-stick cupcake tin with cooking spray and spoon broccoli mixture evenly into 9 tins. In a medium bowl, beat egg whites, eggs, grated cheese, salt and pepper. Pour into the greased tins over broccoli until a little more than 3/4 full. Top with grated cheddar and bake in the oven until cooked, about 20 minutes. Serve immediately. Wrap any leftovers in plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator to enjoy during the week.
Chowdhury, EA, et al. The Causal Role of Breakfast in Energy Balance and Health: a randomized controlled trial in obese adults. Am J Clin Nutr 10.3945/ajcn.115.122044.
NPD Market Research Breakfast Consumption Trends, 2011. https://www.npd.com/wps/portal/npd/us/news/press-releases/pr_111011b/
O’Neil, Carol E, et. al. Role of Breakfast in Health: Definition and Criteria for a Quality Breakfast. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. December 2014 Suppl 3 Volume 114 Number 12http://www.andjrnl.org/article/S2212-2672 (14)01355-0/pd