Like many children, I grew up with parents who preached the value of a “proper” breakfast. Translation: no frosting-covered pastries, pancakes dripping with syrup, or even sweetened cereal with a prize inside the box. In the winter, breakfast meant a bowl of plain oatmeal, a piece of fresh fruit, and a glass of milk. Warm weather breakfasts typically ranged from fresh fruit topped with yogurt to cold cereal with milk. My pleas that my friends enjoyed PopTarts and Lucky Charms yielded only the parental response, “And if your friends all flunk their classes because they had too much sugar, does that mean you want to flunk, too?”
Sigh. Life was rough as a kid.
After I started college, though, I experienced breakfast freedom. My roommate and I filled our cupboards with a parade of sugary cereals, boxes of every PopTart flavor ever created, and, for the ultimate quick-infusion-of-energy before a class, hot chocolate mix with marshmallows. Life was literally sweet. Unfortunately, the legendary freshman fifteen extra pounds quickly followed.
I became a breakfast skipper, learning to live on a morning “kick start” of caffeine. The problem with that approach: I received the desired surge of energy, followed by a depressing drain of energy. When I entered the workplace after graduation, I discovered the joys of the mid-morning coffee break for a quick ride back up the energy roller-coaster.
Benefiting from a Better Breakfast
If that pattern sounds familiar, it’s time to learn how to build a better breakfast:
1. Vary it. Even if it is the healthiest breakfast in the world, eating the same foods day after day is not healthy. And boredom will result in a craving for something, well, different. Who wants frosted donuts? Experiment with different options, then keep those ingredients in the house. That way, you are less likely to be tempted to skip breakfast and then reach for that frosted pastry at the office.
2. Include protein in your meal. Studies show that adding protein to your morning meal helps your energy level stay high. A hard-boiled egg, for example, is easy to prepare the night before – or you can even prepare a batch of them on the weekend to have available in the mornings when you are short on time. Dislike eggs? My favorite breakfast features a half-cup of low-fat cottage cheese mixed with a few slices of a peeled fresh apple. I sprinkle it with cinnamon for a sweet, healthy treat.
3. If you crave cereals, opt for whole grains with minimal sugar. Plain oatmeal, which I admittedly hated as a child, has become a cold weather favorite in my household. The trick: I stir in fresh sliced bananas while the oatmeal is cooking, then add a dash of allspice for a zesty, wake-up treat.
4. Include flavors and textures that you love. If melted cheese (as in pizza!) is on your “crave it” list, try this simple breakfast: take a whole wheat English muffin and cut it in half. Place rounds of low-fat string cheese on each half, then slip it under the broiler or into the microwave until the cheese melts and bubbles. Fabulous with fresh strawberries or a peach, this breakfast is also great as a mid-morning snack.