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Breakfast: The How-To

When I mentioned to the world of Facebook that I was writing a post on breakfast, I was surprised at how many questions came up! I underestimated the amount of confusion and interest in the subject :) If you missed part 1 on the power of breakfast, I encourage you to go back and read that over. But for now...onto the practical side!

The topics and questions boiled down to these major categories:

  • Protein vs carbs! Eggs: good or bad? What's the skinny?

  • Hunger! Either I'm not hungry at all, or I'm starving by the time I eat (and then make bad choices). 

  • Convenience! How do I pick a good breakfast bar, protein bar, shake, smoothie, etc?

  • Time! Let's make it quick, without sacrificing nutrition.

  • Neat! I want to take on the go or feed it to my kids - without leaving a trail.

Best practices recommend about 20-30g of protein per meal. This ensures that you're not eating all your protein in one meal, and that your body can make the best use of the protein you eat. At breakfast, this can be a bit of a challenge, especially if it's a smaller meal for you. Don't settle for less than 10g, though. Some suggestions on how to make that happen are below.

Eggs are an excellent choice for breakfast. I could write an entire post on the benefits of eggs, but let me summarize for us. One whole egg contains about 70 calories, 5g of fat, 1.6g of saturated fat, 200mg cholesterol and 6g of protein. Yes, you could cut out the yolk, but you'd lose a lot of the vitamins and minerals in the nutrient-rich yolk. For the healthy person (read: no heart disease, good cholesterol levels), there is no need to restrict egg consumption. Just remember that moderation and variety is always good in a diet! For the person with high cholesterol or heart disease, stick to one egg yolk per day or less. That said, cutting back on eggs, while ignoring the rest of your diet, won't magically fix your cholesterol. Genetics will also play a significant role.

Don't find yourself hungry when you wake up? You're not alone. I hear this often from people. Take a look at your evening eating habits. How late are you eating? How heavy was that last meal? Are you consuming more than 50% of your daily calories after 5pm? All of this could contribute to not feeling as hungry in the morning. Try cutting back on your evening eating and see how you feel the next morning. Try shifting more of your food to earlier in the day. 

Avoiding prolonged fasting is going to be better for you - for weight management, blood sugar management, and avoiding chronic diseases. This means that you don't want to go from dinner to lunch the next day without eating. So what would it take to eat breakfast? Maybe just call it a snack! Seriously, the psychology of that can be helpful! Try to eat your first snack or meal an hour earlier than usual. Some easy options: 8-10 almonds and a clementine tangerine, a cup of yogurt, a hard-boiled egg and half a banana, a small smoothie. It's not much, but it's something to begin fueling your body and getting your metabolism going. Eventually, you might be able to add more substance.

Maybe you're on the other end of the spectrum and you find yourself starving when you first wake up. Once again, look at your evening eating habits. Are you eating mostly carbohydrates? Not enough food? Try a light snack that has protein and/or fat before you go to bed. Within an hour of going to bed. Some easy options: string cheese, 2-3 whole wheat crackers with nut butter, a small handful of pumpkin seeds, a cup of yogurt.

Not a hungry right away, then find yourself suddenly ravenous? Get distracted easily? Forget to eat? (side note: I have never understood people who forget to eat. You confuse me. I mean this in the nicest way possible.) You gotta plan - at least a little. The fact that you forget, get distracted, or otherwise ran out of time probably isn't a new concept to you. This probably happens regularly. So do something about it! Have good options at your disposal. Whether you pack something to eat later, or plan to stop somewhere with healthy options, don't just "hope" that something comes along. Set an alarm to remind you to bust out that morning snack. Whatever it takes.

It's also ok to eat foods that aren't traditionally "breakfast" foods as your first meal of the day. Eggs doesn't do it for you? Yogurt won't cut it? Heat up last night's leftovers, try a sandwich or soup. It's ok to break the social norms of what makes up breakfast. Go ahead, be a rebel. For you moms out there, go ahead and exhale. No need to distinguish breakfast foods from lunch/dinner foods (but go ahead and save dessert for a treat later in the day!).  

Prefer convenience and looking for how to pick a good product? I like this guide to buying a good bread. A half PB&J sandwich with a cup of milk is actually a great breakfast option! As for those breakfast bars, check out Cooking Light's guide here.  Keep your total calories for the meal in mind. Refer to part 1 on the power of breakfast for your calorie level. The reality is that most bars have too much sugar and too many ingredients. If you can set aside the time, make your own and freeze them. Yogurt is a great grab-and-go breakfast option. Choose one that has more grams of protein than sugar. Or portion out plain yogurt with frozen fruit the night before. In the morning, the fruit will have thawed, and you'll be ready to go. 

Speaking of freezing items - cooking ahead and having frozen options is a great way to make breakfast more convenient. I like making mini quiches like these. Pop in the microwave or toaster oven, and you're good to go. Reheating your breakfast is a fine option. Any time you're freezing, heating, or reheating food, you are at risk for losing some vitamins. But be realistic. Would you rather get up each morning to make a breakfast from scratch, or try to fit in a slightly larger serving of vegetables to make up for lost nutrients? Better to have lost some vitamins than not to have eaten breakfast!

Overnight oatmeal is another great way to cheat breakfast. Steel cut oats give a lot of satisfaction in their chewiness and are super filling. Put them in the crockpot on Sunday night, and you've got breakfast for the whole week! If you want to vary the toppings throughout the week, keep the recipe plain. If you don't mind enjoying the same breakfast each day, load up the crockpot with fruit and nuts, or veggies and cheese. Basic recipe: lightly grease your crockpot (you'll appreciate this when it comes time to clean up). Add 2 cups of steel cut oats, 8 cups of water, 2 cups of milk, a dash of salt. Cook on low while you're asleep (8 hours). Refrigerate leftovers in individual portions. 

Tortilla roll-ups are good for kids and those who eat while commuting. Choose 2 corn or small whole wheat tortillas. Microwave with toppings for 15-20 seconds. Roll up and go. Examples: cheese, mashed beans; cheese, Canadian bacon, baby spinach. 

Ok, what resonates with you? What other questions do you still have? What tips do you have for other readers?