What can I eat for breakfast?
That is one of the most common questions I get from my clients. Many are eating a healthier diet by removing processed foods, preplanning, and cooking more of their meals. But for some reason, breakfast always seems to be the hardest meal to plan for.
The answer to this question is really very simple: you can eat anything for breakfast. But let me explain.
As a culture, we tend to believe that breakfast must consist of “breakfast” food. Part of that notion comes from the way we were raised. From a very young age we were told breakfast is a very important meal with very specific foods designed to start our day “on the right foot. “
The typical breakfast of my generation may have consisted of pancakes from a mix or cold cereal that came from a brightly colored box. Morning television featured TV ads with colorful cartoon characters (or talking syrup bottles) that showed us how fun it was to eat their product. These same foods were marketed to the adults as healthy because they were “fortified” with vitamins and minerals. So, naturally we associate these sweet convenient foods with a healthy breakfast.
We now know that while processed foods may taste good to us, they are not necessarily healthy for us. Since many of us didn’t grow up preparing and eating other types of food, many are now asking themselves, "What is there left to eat?"
Here's a different question to ask: "Who says you need to eat a specific type of food for breakfast?"
Yes, we have become accustomed to the Standard American Diet breakfast. We might even be addicted to their high sugary content. If you don’t think your high fiber breakfast cereal (or pancake or granola or pastry) contains a lot of sugar, just take a quick look at the nutrition label on the side of the package. I would venture to say, they all have added sugars in them.
A world of options opens up once you start thinking outside the (cereal) box!
The real question we should be asking is, “What nutrients should be in my first meal of the day? The answer will guide you to a meal that will leave you satisfied, and more importantly, with sustained energy that will jump start your metabolism for the rest of the day.
What we want to be eating first thing in the morning are foods that contain protein, healthy fats (yes, fats), and fiber. These are found in foods that fill us up, but then release energy slowly.
Meals that are high in added sugar may fill you up, but because sugar is a quick source of energy and burned quickly by the body, that sudden burst of energy you feel will quickly be followed by hunger. You may find yourself looking for a “quick bite” before lunchtime rolls around. Worse yet, since your body is looking for quick energy, it instinctively looks for more sugar, the quickest source of energy for the body.
This rollercoaster effect occurs because sugary foods are digested and absorbed into the blood stream very rapidly, which is great if we need quick energy. Sugar can then be quickly shuttled to the muscles or brain where it is needed. More than likely though, we don’t need all that energy and the sugar will be stored as fat by insulin. When this sugar is transported out of the blood, blood sugar levels decrease rapidly. As a direct result, we feel tired, sluggish, and grouchy. The body responds by demanding more sugar in the form of “sugar cravings” or “hunger pangs.”
Protein, Fat, and Fiber
Protein and fat, on the other hand, take more time to be converted into energy by the body. They may not give us that quick burst of energy to which we are accustomed from sugar, but they will keep us feeling more energized and satisfied until lunch. Fiber, while not an energy source, works to keep blood sugar levels constant by slowing down the rapid absorption of sugar into our blood stream.
If we start our day with foods that are high in these nutrients, we don’t get the sharp spike of blood sugar followed by the energy crash associated with a high-sugar meal.
So lets take a look at some foods that can help us get enough protein, healthy fat, and fiber.
Here’s what I eat for breakfast.
I typically like a cooked breakfast, so most of my breakfast options revolve around a warm meal. But I also offer some suggestions for some quick, on the go, raw options, because sometimes a sit-down meal is a luxury.
Cooked Breakfast Options
I feel more satisfied when I take time to sit and enjoy my meal. Sometimes the easiest (and quickest) solution is to heat up leftovers from the day before. Who says you can’t have dinner for breakfast, right?
Many times I will heat up some leftover chicken with roasted vegetables. One of my favorite dinner recipes actually makes a great breakfast alternative. Check out my Chicken Nestled over Roasted Root Vegetables.
I am always sautéing up vegetables, so I will usually make up a double batch and eat the leftovers the next morning with a fried egg. I simply reheat the greens in a sauté pan, make a small well in the middle and cook the egg right in the pan. This works well with leftover stir-fry as well. I like to sprinkle some spices over the top to add variety. Some of my favorites are za’atar, sumac, paprika, or thyme. Here is one of my favorite recipes for Adzuki Bean and Sweet Potato Hash. Feel free to sub in black beans for the Adzuki. Beans add even more protein and fiber to the morning meal. If you are vegetarian, leave out the egg!
You can also add leftovers to scrambled eggs (with a little bit of cheese, if you eat dairy) or use them to fill an omelet. If you have some cooked sausage, beef or pork, you can also add that. Chopped up broccoli or peppers are great too. Want to add a creamy texture without dairy? Try adding avocado for a real treat.
Kale chips with breakfast?
Many of us think of kale chips as a snack, but what about adding them as a healthy side to your morning eggs? They can also be crumbled into your scrambled eggs or sprinkled on top of your omelet for additional vitamins, minerals and fiber. Don’t have much time for breakfast? Have some pre-made hard boiled eggs in the fridge and take along a snack bag of chips. You can eat the chips separately or crush them and dip the egg into them. If you are thinking that chips are a hassle to make, I have a great recipe for you, if you don’t mind using the microwave to cook.
Microwave Kale Chips (or Collard, or Mustard, or Swiss Chard, etc.)
These make a great snack or breakfast side dish. Crush them and mix them into popcorn for added flavor and health benefits.
Cooking time: 5-6 minutes!
1 bunch greens of choice
pinch of salt
- Clean and dry greens using salad spinner. Tear into large pieces.
- Transfer to mixing bowl.
- Drizzle oil over greens. I like to use a home-made jalapeño infused olive oil.
- Massage oil into greens until evenly mixed.
- Sprinkle all with a bit of salt, not too much because the flavor will intensify with cooking.
- Place on microwave safe dish and microwave on high for 3 minutes, Turn leaves and rotate on dish.
- Return to microwave 2-3 minutes, or until chips are crispy and light.
- That’s it! Enjoy!
But what if you want a sweeter breakfast?
If I am not into a savory breakfast, I usually opt for my breakfast porridge. I developed this breakfast from a need for something a bit sweet, but quick and easy to make. I always have a large batch of my Breakfast Mix made up, so it only takes a few minutes to make.
If you would like to try my porridge recipe, you can find it here. It delivers fiber from seeds, protein from egg, hemp, and/or chia and hemp, and healthy fats from seeds such as chia, sunflower, and pumpkin, along with all the nutrients that come from a diet using whole food ingredients!
You can easily make a super quick oatmeal too. Oatmeal is packed with fiber and protein. Add healthy fats by mixing in a bit of coconut oil. For a quick breakfast, soak the oats overnight in the refrigerator in water or nut milk. You can then cook them up in minutes in the microwave in the morning. Just add nuts, spices (cinnamon and allspice are my favorites), and fresh fruit (bananas are a great source of fiber and potassium, berries are a low sugar option with a sweet flavor.)
Breakfast Bread Pudding with Raspberries
Here is a new breakfast idea that I came up with while looking for a way to use some of the raspberries from my bumper crop this year. Making it in the microwave makes it super quick to prepare. You can make it in one bowl, or use a ramekin. Just be careful with the ramekin as it might bubble over. You can make it even easier by having a batch of the dry ingredients premixed and ready to go. If you would like a little bit more crunch with your pudding, you can omit 1 tbsp. of almond flour and add 1 tbsp. of my breakfast mix.
I find this sweet enough without any added sweeteners. If you would like it a bit sweeter, you can add 1-2 tsp. honey or real maple syrup to the mix. Or drizzle a bit on top at the end.
I used raspberries, but blueberries, strawberries, a banana, or other seasonal fruit could easily be substituted. I call this a bread pudding because it is soft enough to eat with a spoon, but has a slight bread-like consistency. Let me know if you make it!
3 tbsp almond flour or meal (meal is coarser than flour) OR 2 tbsp almond flour plus 1 tbsp Evey’s breakfast mix
2 tbsp unsweetened applesauce
¼ cup raspberries or fruit of choice
pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla
½ tsp baking powder
- Combine all ingredients in a small microwave-safe bowl.
- Microwave on high for 2 minutes. Check to see if cooked through. If still liquidy (it will look shiney) in the center, microwave 30 seconds more or until no shine remains.
- Top with additional nuts, seeds, coconut cream, and/or berries.
- Dig in!
Smoothies and Smoothie Bowls
During the summer when the weather is hot, I will sometime make a smoothie for breakfast. These are great, especially if you want something to take along with you if you are running out the door. I have a couple of lidded cups with built in straws just for this purpose. But even if I am on the run, I try to sip my smoothie slowly and make it last, so my brain has time to register this is a meal.
When making smoothies, it is easy to forget to add those important nutrients: protein, fats, and fiber. And it may not seem as obvious what ingredients to use to get them.
I always make sure that my smoothies are packed with leafy green veggies. Greens are a good source of fiber and nutrients. If you are new to greens, you may wish to use spinach, as it has a milder flavor. Kale is another popular choice. But don’t limit yourself to these two greens. Any green leafy vegetable can be used: Swiss Chard, Collard Greens, Beet tops, Parsley, Mint, and Basil are just a few. Be creative. Each type of green delivers different nutrients. Variety is key for a healthy diet.
Fruit is another source of fiber. Berries in particular are a good source. Bananas, pears, and apples are also good. Be careful not to load up on too much fruit though; they also can contain a lot of sugars. Throw in some chia, almonds, and other seeds and nuts, as they are also good sources of fiber too.
You can get healthy fats from almond butter or avocado, chia seeds, coconut oil, and flaxseeds. Each delivers a different fat profile, so again, use a combination or vary it up a bit.
Protein is a bit hard to get because very few plants supply the total number of amino acids we need to form proteins. It is important to eat a variety of plants and seeds to obtain these valuable protein components. Chia seeds are a good source (2 tbsp have 5 grams,) as are hemp, almonds, green leafy vegetables (especially spinach and kale,) and nut butters. By adding together several of these protein rich plant foods, you can up the protein content with the amino acids our body needs. For example, if you add oatmeal (1/2 cup gives you 7 g) with spinach (5 g/cup) and/or pumpkin seeds (3g/2 tbsp) you have close to 15 grams of protein – about the amount found in one serving of Greek yogurt (which is also a good ingredient if you eat dairy!)
If you are looking for more of a protein boost, you can add a high quality protein powder. There are many to choose from, but avoid those with added flavoring and sweeteners. If I add a protein, I will add powdered egg whites because they are minimally processed without other additives. If you are vegetarian, isolated pea protein is a good source, but make sure to add in other plant based foods (such as hemp seeds) to make it a complete protein.
Here are a few of my favorite nutritious smoothie combinations:
Green Smoothie for Sugar Balance
Minty Green Smoothie
Naturally High Protein Green Smoothie
Kale, Apple, Pumpkin Seed Smoothie
Smoothie in a Bowl?!
Looking for a new way to enjoy your smoothies? Have you ever tried a smoothie bowl? These are a great way to enjoy the nutrition of a smoothie but have the satisfaction of a sit-down meal. You can thicken your bowl by using oatmeal to give it a pudding-like consistency. Or add more chia and let it sit for a few minutes to thicken.
I like this recipe that uses steel cut oatmeal in the blender using mango and apple. This makes a warm smoothie that will satisfy even on cold weather days! During the summer you may want to try this Raspberry Sweet Smoothie that uses berries to give it a fun pink or purple color!
Raspberry Sweet Smoothie Bowl
I used raspberries for this bowl because I am having a bumper crop of them right now, but feel free to add any fruit you wish. If you use blueberries, you will get a Purple Smoothie Bowl!
1/4 cup rolled oats
1 frozen banana
1 cup of fresh raspberries (or try blueberries for a Purple Smoothie Bowl!)
2/3 cup of milk
1 tablespoon almond butter
1 tbsp chia seeds and/or hemp seeds
Fresh raspberries, blueberries, strawberries
Unsweetened shredded coconut
Fresh banana slices
Cacao nibs or cocoa powder
Nuts (sliced almonds, walnuts, cashews, etc.)
- Place all ingredients in a blender and mix until smooth. Pour smoothie into bowl and top with the suggested toppings, as desired.
- For a smoother consistency, microwave the oats with 1/4 cup water for 1 minute, cool, then add to blender. If you do this, you can also use steel-cut oats.
Or maybe a chia pudding might hit the spot. This one is good enough for dessert!
Strawberries and Cream Chia Pudding
Chia is a good source of protein, fiber and healthy fats.
Serves: 4 generous ½ cup servings, approx. 2 ¼ cups
1½ cups fresh or frozen strawberries (about 8 oz. or 12-14 medium-sized berries)
1 cup canned coconut milk or cream (you can also use almond or other nut milk, but the coconut is really creamy)
1 tbsp honey (or less, to taste)
1 tsp vanilla extract
¾ tsp lime zest (about ½ lime)
¼ cup chia seeds
- Add fruit to a food processor or blender, and blend until smooth (or with some small chunks if you want some fruit bits in your pudding.)
- Transfer fruit blend to a quart size Mason jar or other container with a lid.
- Add the remaining ingredients and secure jar lid.
- Shake until ingredients are well mixed.
- Let pudding sit for at least 2 hours in the refrigerator. Stirring once or twice to make sure chia seeds are evenly distributed.
- Divide pudding into 4 ramekins or small bowls. Top with strawberries for garnish if you wish. Enjoy!
As you can see there is a world of options for breakfast! You just need to keep an open mind when it comes to trying new foods.
What do you typically have for breakfast? Care to share with the rest of us, we’d love to hear new ideas!
Yours in Health!