Eating breakfast is one of the keys to successful weight control. By starting your day with a nutritious and fulfilling breakfast you rev up your metabolism and set the tone for the rest of your day. Studies have shown that people who skip breakfast are more tempted by sugary, fattening treats than those who start their day with a balanced meal. My favorite nutritional analogy is comparing a day where you start your morning without breakfast to getting into a car with no gas. In both situations you are not going to get very far and you certainly are not going to be any closer to reaching your goals.
But, what is a healthy breakfast?
Just like every other meal we discussed, a healthy breakfast incorporates multiple colors, macro-nutrients (protein, fat and carbohydrates) and most importantly fiber. I truly believe that breakfast is the easiest place to get a good dose of fiber. You can literally add flax or chia seeds to any breakfast food and they are almost undetectable!
With that in mind, I am going to share a few “do’s” and one major “don’t” in the wonderful world of breakfast. Let’s start with the don’t.
I used to love coming home from college and seeing the cabinets filled with food. I would always look forward to waking up early that first morning, sitting with my mom and enjoying a massive bowl of cereal before heading to the gym. Fortunately for me there were plenty of choices. My brother was in high school at the time and lived off sugar filled cereals like Lucky Charms and Cap’n Crunch. My dad preferred Honey Bunches of Oats and Great Grains, while my Mom always had the somewhat expensive, (to a college student) but nutritious, high fiber cereal choices. Rather than choosing between all of these great options I did what any normal college student would have done, I mixed them all into an oversized bowl. Topped with some sort of berry, half a banana and milk, skim of course. I sat and enjoyed every last morsel of that breakfast, and then more often than not, skipped the gym and slipped into a food coma. Major fail!
With this in mind, there are a few important things to consider when choosing your breakfast cereals. First and foremost, read the labels. Serving sizes can be very deceiving and if you are not watching carefully you may overeat.
It is ok to mix the cereals as long as you’re mindful of portion sizes. Food labels include nutrition details and calories both with and without fat free milk. Always make sure you count the caloric and nutritional value of your milk or yogurt topping. Breakfast can absolutely be your highest caloric meal, but it is important to be aware how much you are actually consuming. I recommend looking for cereals that have at least 5 grams of fiber and less than 10 grams of sugar (I promise these cereals exist). Top one serving of the cereal with fat free milk, soy milk, almond milk or yogurt, a scoop of flax or chia seeds and either berries or half a banana. With the addition of the fruit and grains you will have a few beautiful colors and no, Lucky Charms’ variety of colorful marshmallows does not count here! Topping cereal with fruits and flax add extra fiber to keep you fuller longer and help power you through the early part of your day.
Oatmeal is a great breakfast fuel. Oatmeal is packed with fiber that keeps you feeling full and satisfied. It helps with weight control and helps lower cholesterol. For my busy, early morning people, the best part about oatmeal is you can make a big batch at the beginning of the week, set your portion sizes and microwave when time allows. Another option besides oatmeal is steel cut oats. Steel cut oats give a little more of a chewier texture and pack a little extra fiber per serving.
Now to make oatmeal more fun and nutritious we can add toppings! Some of my favorite oatmeal combinations include:
- A scoop of pumpkin puree. Adding some powerful orange color to your breakfast provides you with a nutrient rich, low calorie dose of beta carotene, which is an antioxidant that protects the body from free radicals and provides Vitamin C and fiber. Swirl in a little cinnamon, topped with some flax seed and Thanksgiving has come early this year!
- Unsweetened coconut flakes can add a new, fun flavor. Sprinkle some on the top of your oats with a berry combination, a little agave nectar and you have color, flavor and nutrients galore.
- My personal favorite, PB2 and fruits. When you mix PB2 with a drop of hot water into the hot oats it mixes and creates your peanut butter consistency with minimal calories. Top it off with banana and strawberry slices. Kinda makes my mouth water…
- Adding your own sugar free maple syrup to your oats can give you the same taste as the pre-made maple and brown sugar oats available at the store, but you are controlling the ingredients. You can also try using agave nectar which provides an even sweeter flavor in much smaller amounts. On top of the sweetened oats you can throw in your flax or chia seeds, berries (blue, black, raspberries or strawberries), banana or any fruit you have readily available.
Yes, I know they are all one color when they are blended together, but when you are prepping them, be sure more than one color goes into them.
I recently purchased a single serving blender that doubles as a smoothie carrying cup. I have been having fun drinking delicious smoothie concoctions on my walks to work now. A smoothie can be a good, filling, well rounded breakfast when you are the one controlling the ingredients and portions. The personal sized blender (or any blender) is great because you can clearly see the amounts you are putting in and are limited in space so you can’t add too much.
Some of my new favorite recipes include:
8 oz Lite Vanilla Soy Milk (or almond milk)
3-4 Frozen Strawberries
1 Scoop Flax Seed
1 Scoop Vegan Protein Powder (providing 15g protein) (or you can sub in half of a container of Greek yogurt or even a small Activia light container)
1 tbsp PB2
1 Activia Vanilla Light container (or half of a Greek honey or vanilla yogurt)
8 ounces Lite Vanilla or Chocolate Soy Milk (or almond milk)
A few pieces of each of the following: blueberries, strawberries, banana, mango
A few unsweetened coconut flakes
1 Scoop flax seed
1 Scoop Vanilla Vegan Protein Powder
8 ounces lite Vanilla Soy Milk (or almond milk)
Sprinkles of cinnamon
1 Full Banana
1 scoop flax seed
I am not an expert on “super green” veggie smoothies yet, but what I have heard is that the addition of spinach or avocado into any morning smoothie recipe can add extra nutrients with an almost undetectable flavor. I will try some and get back to you.
Egg Muffins…not Egg McMuffins
These little mini omelets (cooked in a muffin tray) are another great concoction that you can make on a Monday (or Sunday night) and store for the rest of the week as a grab re-heat and go breakfast.
All you do is mix in a large bowl: 6 regular eggs with 6 egg whites (if you prefer all whites this is always an option), spinach (you can also add other veggies such as pepper, onions even broccoli) and shredded low fat cheddar cheese. Beat the eggs and mix together. Spray the bottom of the muffin cups with a little cooking spray (preferably olive oil spray) pour some of your egg mixture evenly into each muffin hole on your tray. Bake at 350 degrees for about 20-25 minutes and there are your precious little egg muffins!
Obviously, if you have the time in the morning an omelet or scrambled eggs is always a great protein packed breakfast choice. If not, the egg muffins serve as a viable substitute.
For the Breakfast Haters
I was recently given a recipe from a good friend of mine who used to constantly talk about these zucchini pancakes she would make. I was so confused because I just couldn’t picture what these looked or tasted like until I finally asked for the recipe. Let me tell you, these little guys are amazing. They will serve as a great breakfast but can also be a snack, lunch or dinner side dish. They are nutritious and so easy to make that you can make one batch and eat them all week long. I found that adding in squash with the zucchini is even better, and yes, it adds some color. J
You will need:
1 tablespoon almond or coconut flour
1 grated zucchini
1 grated yellow squash
Coconut oil for cooking
That’s it. Mix and beat the eggs, flour and shredded zucchini/squash mixture (squeezing out any excess water from the veggies pre mixing). Heat the coconut oil on a large skillet and ball up the mixture into small cakes and cook until brown on both sides.
Zucchini pancakes can be topped with really anything. My favorite is honey mustard. Salsa is also a good low calorie, flavorful option here!
I’m bored of yogurt, but it’s the only thing in the house…
Mix in 1 tablespoon PB2, sprinkle on some cinnamon, 1 scoop of flax seed and top with a sliced banana. Not so boring anymore.
Bottom line, your morning meal sets the tone for the entire day. Try some of these creations and keep me posted on any variations you come up with! Breakfast is just another meal where you can be a creative chef and come up with so many flavorful food combinations!
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- Jenna A. Stock, RDN