When I was a child, my everyday breakfast consisted of a bowl of sugar-coated cornflakes with two spoonfuls of sugar, swimming in whole milk. We didn’t know any better back then. Nowadays, most experts agree that a balanced breakfast probably is the most important meal of the day. In fact, fueling up with nutritious foods first thing in the morning can be an excellent (and enjoyable!) investment in a healthy life.
A healthy breakfast can help you stay more focused and consistently energetic during the day. It even can improve your memory and mood. By eating a balanced breakfast, you jumpstart the day with a hearty dose of fiber, essential fatty acids, protein, complex carbohydrates, key vitamins and minerals (especially the B vitamins), along with an array of antioxidants and other phytonutrients—all of which can help lower your risk for disease. Starting your day off right with breakfast also can give you the edge over weight gain by kicking your metabolism into high gear and lessening the chance of overeating later in the day.
When hectic mornings leave little time for slicing and dicing, these fast-food ideas can put breakfast together in a matter of minutes and get you out the door.
- Whole-grain English muffin with your favorite nut butter and fresh berries with yogurt
- Veggie burger on a whole-grain bun with a glass of soymilk
- Small pieces of cheese with dried fruits and a handful of nuts
- Whole-grain bagel or toast topped with ricotta cheese or silken tofu and served with a piece of fruit
- Lowfat, fruit-filled whole-grain muffins baked the night before
- Whole-grain pita filled with last night’s veggie and meat leftovers and sprinkled with cheese
- Whole-grain cereal with fruit and yogurt or soymilk
- Instant miso soup with tofu and whole-wheat couscous stirred in
Results from a study reported at the American Heart Association’s 43rd annual conference on Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention suggests that breakfast plays a significant role in reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Foods that contain fiber—especially whole-grain cereal—play a key role in lowering the risk of heart disease. And fiber-rich cereals also can help keep blood cholesterol levels in check. According to the Nurses’ Health Study of more than 68,000 women over a 10-year period, a high fiber intake was linked to a 47 percent reduction in heart disease.
The ideal breakfast includes lean protein, fiber-rich complex carbohydrates and small amounts of essential fatty acids. Aim for a low-sugar breakfast with at least 5 grams each of protein and fiber per serving and no more than 5 grams of total fat. Adding fruit to your meal also will help boost your fiber intake.
My former sugar-enhanced breakfast was a nutritional nightmare that I eventually outgrew. Now my favorite fast-food breakfast consists of organic whole-grain cereal with 1 cup of plain nonfat yogurt and fresh fruit. This breakfast provides plenty of protein (16 grams), fiber (22 percent of the day’s total), phytonutrients and live cultures. Meals like this can be prepared in a matter of minutes and even eaten on the run. For make-ahead breakfasts or when you have a bit more time to spare, the recipes that follow are delicious ways to jumpstart your day—and your life!
Peach & Oat Smoothie
Oats and flaxseed meal add lots of fiber, phytonutrients and omega-3 fatty acids as well as an appetizing twist to this soy/peach-based smoothie. Need a quick pick-me-up for one? Just cut the recipe in half and use a hand blender for a delicious smoothie in seconds.
¾ cup chilled soymilk
½ cup plain nonfat or lowfat yogurt
2 tablespoons oats
2 teaspoons ground flax meal
½ to 1 tablespoon honey (depending on the sweetness of the peaches)
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
2 cups frozen sliced or chopped peaches
Combine all ingredients except peaches in a blender and puree until blended. Add frozen peaches and puree until smooth. Pour into chilled glasses and serve.
Banana, Peanut Butter & Cocoa Smoothie
Serves 2 to 3
A trio of favorites in one deliciously healthy drink; what could be better? Well, this smoothie also comes with lots of protein, healthy antioxidants, potassium and B vitamins for an energy boost that will get you going.
2 cups chilled almond milk or other nut milk
2 bananas, sliced into 2-inch pieces and then frozen
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
2 tablespoons peanut butter
½ tablespoon raw sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Combine all ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth. Pour into chilled glasses and serve.
Three-Grain Cereal with Almonds
Serves 2 to 3
This whole-grain hot cereal has the perfect blend of texture in a bowl—creamy, chewy and crunchy. And with plenty of protein, fiber, iron and a host of other health-building nutrients, it also is the perfect way to start your day.
2 cups water
¾ cup soymilk
½ cup rolled oats
½ cup rolled barley flakes (or other rolled grain)
¼ cup quinoa
¼ cup dried currants or raisins
1 pear, chopped (fresh or canned)
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon cinnamon
⅛ teaspoon salt
Brown sugar, optional
Sliced almonds, optional
Bring water to a boil in a saucepan. Add milk, oats, barley, quinoa, currants, pear, vanilla, cinnamon and salt. Bring back to a boil, cover and reduce heat, then simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until all liquid is absorbed and cereal is thick. Ladle into individual serving bowls and sprinkle with brown sugar and sliced almonds, if desired.
Artichoke & Mushroom Frittata
Makes 4 to 6 servings
A rich source of protein, choline (important for brain function) and other nutritional offerings in a low-calorie package make eggs a great fit for a healthy breakfast. And by using omega-3-enriched eggs, you also increase your intake of essential fatty acids.
½ cup shredded Swiss cheese
1 teaspoon fresh snipped rosemary
¼ teaspoon pepper
½ tablespoon olive oil or butter
6 soy-based breakfast sausages, sliced ¼-inch thick
1 portabella mushroom, chopped (about 1 cup)
½ cup chopped green onions
1 cup chopped artichoke hearts (canned, rinsed and drained; or frozen and thawed)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, combine eggs, cheese, rosemary and pepper; set aside. In a 10-inch, oven-safe skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. When oil is hot, sauté sausages and mushrooms for 3 to 5 minutes or until sausage is cooked through. Stir in green onions and artichoke hearts; cook for 1 to 2 minutes more. Pour egg mixture into skillet and quickly stir into the other ingredients just until combined. Lower the heat to medium-low and cook, without stirring, for about 5 minutes. Place the skillet in the oven and finish cooking for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the top is still moist but the frittata is cooked through. Do not overcook. Remove from oven and cut into wedges to serve.
Makes 8 scones
These scones are loaded with flavor and packed with fiber, vitamin E, beta-carotene, phytonutrients, anti-carcinogens and other healthy benefits that keep your hunger satisfied and help protect against disease. Need breakfast on the go? Just make the batter the night before, store in the refrigerator and bake in the morning while you get ready for your day.
1 cup unbleached flour
1 cup oat flour
½ cup turbinado sugar
⅓ cup flaxseed meal
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons butter or margarine, cut into cubes
1 cup chopped dried apricots
⅓ cup unsalted sunflower seeds
⅔ cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon freshly grated orange peel
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Egg wash (1 egg beaten with 2 teaspoons buttermilk or water)
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a large bowl, mix together flours, sugar, flaxseed meal, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in apricots and sunflower seeds; set aside. In a small bowl, whisk together egg, buttermilk, orange peel and vanilla extract. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in the egg mixture. Mix the center in to form a sticky dough. Work the dough as little as possible.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured cookie sheet that has been lightly coated with nonstick spray. With floured hands, pat the dough down to about 1/2 inch thick. Score the top into 8 pie-shaped wedges. Brush tops lightly with egg wash. Bake for 15 minutes or until scones are lightly browned. Serve warm with butter, honey, fruit preserves or ricotta cheese mixed with maple syrup.
Makes 2 to 3 parfaits, depending on the height and size of the glass
Here’s the perfect lowfat breakfast when you need something fast, fit and fabulously delicious.
⅔ cup plain nonfat yogurt
⅔ cup lowfat ricotta cheese
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ to 1 tablespoon honey
¾ cup lowfat granola or nugget-type cereal
1½ cups sliced or chopped fresh fruit
Toppings: vanilla wafers, lowfat ginger snaps, shredded coconut or chopped nuts
Use a wire whisk or hand blender to mix yogurt, ricotta cheese, vanilla and honey in a small bowl until smooth. Use two tall glasses to assemble parfaits. For each parfait, layer 1/4 of the yogurt/ricotta mixture in the bottom of each glass. Add 3 tablespoons granola to each glass, followed by 1/4 of the fruit (about 3 tablespoons). Repeat layers. Garnish with your choice of toppings. Enjoy every bite!
Mini Sweet Potato & Spinach Quiches
Makes 12 mini quiches
Think of these crustless mini quiches as healthy, portable omelets for when you need to eat breakfast on the run. Loaded with carotenes, phytoestrogens, energy-promoting iron and folate as well as vitamin E, antioxidants and other nutrients that benefit eyes, skin and cardiovascular health, they are a tasty way to power up for your day.
¾ cup lightly packed shredded sweet potato
1 cup lightly packed chopped fresh spinach
6 to 8 strips turkey bacon, cooked and crumbled
⅓ cup shredded Swiss cheese
¼ cup diced sweet onion
2 tablespoons cornmeal
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon dried basil
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 cup soymilk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, toss together sweet potatoes, spinach, turkey bacon, cheese, onion, cornmeal, flour, basil, salt and pepper. Spoon mixture evenly into each cup of a 12-cup nonstick muffin pan. In the same bowl, whisk together eggs and soymilk until smooth. Pour mixture evenly over sweet potato-spinach filling in each cup. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until center is set. Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes.
Turn quiches out onto the rack and turn upright until ready to serve. Enjoy warm from the oven or when completely cool.
Makes about 20 (4- to 6-inch) pancakes
Pancakes can be so much more than the standard fluff of simple carbohydrates and sugar, especially when made with whole grains, pumpkin and pecans, and topped with honey or applesauce. These pancakes are packed with plenty of antioxidants, carotenes, heart-healthy unsaturated fats and essential nutrients that actually can lower your risk of cancer, heart disease, cataracts and stroke.
Coombs Family Farms
¾ cup whole-wheat flour
¾ cup unbleached wheat flour
¼ cup oat bran
½ cup chopped pecans
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
Heaping ½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ginger
⅛ teaspoon cloves
¼ teaspoon salt
1½ cups buttermilk
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 tablespoon melted butter or margarine
In a large bowl, combine flours, oat bran, pecans, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and salt; mix well. In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs, buttermilk, pumpkin puree and butter or margarine until smooth; add to flour mixture and stir until blended.
Heat a nonstick griddle or skillet, then pour a small amount of batter (about 1/4 cup) per pancake into skillet. (Once skillet is hot, reduce heat to medium-low.) Cook until small bubbles on the surface appear and flip each pancake when the bottom is lightly browned. Turn and cook the other side for about one-half the time as the first side, or until lightly browned.
Serve topped with warm honey, applesauce or fresh fruit.
Kris Wetherbee is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to Herbs for Health. She lives in the hills of western Oregon with her photographer husband, Rick Wetherbee. Visit her website at www.KrisWetherbee.com
The reference list for this article is extensive. If you would like a copy, please send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to “Healthy Breakfasts,” Herbs for Health, 1503 SW 42nd St., Topeka, KS 66609; or e-mail us at editor@HerbsForHealth.com.