Healthy Breakfasts

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It’s true. That’s not just something made up by the cereal companies. Yet this most important meal is often overlooked or neglected by the majority of North Americans as we rush to get out the door each morning.

The way I see it, our problem is two-fold. First, we are over-scheduled and under-organized and just don’t have the time (or don’t think we have the time) to sit down each morning for breakfast. We rush and hurry and end up grabbing something supremely unhealthy like a donut or a granola bar. Secondly, North Americans just don’t think of their first meal of the day as being “breakfast” unless it looks like a Denny’s Grand Slam.

I mean, stop for a minute and think of your favourite breakfast foods. There’s probably some eggs, bacon, of course, pancakes, waffles, toast… Now who wants to get up and cook that for their family each and every morning? My Grandmother used to, but only because she had to, and just recently she admitted to me that she, the woman who inspired my love of food, hates cooking with every fibre of her being – mostly because of having to get up every single day for 50 years to cook breakfast! If my Grandmother, with her pancakes shaped like Mickey Mouse isn’t up to cooking breakfast, then what hope is there for the rest of us?

Here’s where I get all psychological, because breakfast is a state of mind. It’s all about how you look at it. We need to be able to look at non-traditional breakfast foods and figure out a way to incorporate them into our morning menus. As Time for Timer pointed out in that ABC public service commercial back in the 70s, a healthy quickie breakfast is better than no breakfast at all.

Here’s orange juice and milk and fruit,
Just waiting to be taken,
And bless my soul,
Right here’s a bowl,
With one cold piece of steak in.
A hard-boiled egg, a chicken leg, or cheese or luncheon meat,
or a peanut butter sandwich, any time of day’s a treat.

So to keep your Mom from grumbing,
And stop your stomach rumbing,
And keep your legs from stumbling when you play,
You’ve gotta eat some kind of breakfast every day!

We just need to expand our minds past the eggs and bacon cliché and think about what else we like to eat. A favorite breakfast dish in our house is a simple sauté of shitake mushrooms, tofu and spinach served over brown rice. In most homes, that would be dinner, but it’s a solid protein and fibre-rich meal to start the day.

We also need to be able to make breakfast a priority. That means sitting down, all together, and eating a meal to start the day. Remember, breakfast doesn’t have to be eggs, pastry and five different cuts of pig. It can be as simple as a piece of fruit, or as complicated as a 20-item buffet, but for people watching their weight, breakfast is imperative, otherwise your metabolism slows and you burn the food you do take in less efficiently.

Getting your whole family to the breakfast table can require organizational skills that many people don’t believe they have, but it’s actually quite easy. By planning your meals a week at a time, you can ensure that you have all the necessary ingredients on hand. It can also help you to figure out what can be prepared the night before, or which leftovers can be converted into a breakfast meal. When I make quinoa to serve with trout for dinner, I always make extra so I can just reheat it in the morning and serve it with fruit and maple syrup. All it takes is a half hour a week with a pen, paper and grocery list. Well that, and a bit of time set aside each morning to prepare the meal.

Here are some tricks:

  • Fruit is your friend. It’s easy to prepare, and is packed with nutrition, and most people don’t eat enough of it. We have juice at breakfast every day, and always some kind of fruit, even if it’s just apple slices.
  • The microwave is your friend. Grains like rice, quinoa and couscous turn out fine if reheated, so either make extra at dinner and turn it into something for breakfast or pre-cook a big pot of rice and freeze in individual portions.
  • Batch cooking and then freezing pastries like scones, muffins, cinnamon rolls or sweet breads like banana bread, make breakfast a snap.
  • Set the table the night before. Set out any pots, pans or tools you will need, grind coffee (unless you’re a purist).And if you need breakfast ideas outside of the bacon, eggs and toast cliché, here’s a few suggestions taken from my own breakfast menus of past weeks:
  • frozen organic whole-wheat waffles topped with grated chocolate, maple syrup and fresh berries
  • leftover fishcakes with salsa
  • omlettes stuffed with sautéed apples and cheddar
  • homemade cinnamon rolls
  • grilled cheese sandwiches
  • pumpernickel bagels with cream cheese and smoked salmon
  • scrambled eggs with onion and smoked salmon
  • rice pudding
  • toasted banana bread with peanut butter
  • quickie vegetarian faux-McMuffin: toasted English muffin, soy ham, soy cheese and a scrambled egg cooked in the microwave

None of the above took more than 15 minutes to prepare – everything was either quick, or in the case of the rice pudding or sautéed apples, pre-cooked and ready to go.Here’s another quickie breakfast made from my favourite grain, quinoa. It takes about 15 – 20 minutes to cook, or you can make the grain in advance and simply reheat it, as this recipe calls for.

Quickie Quinoa
1 cup cooked quinoa
1/2 cup milk or vanilla soy milk
2 Tbsp chopped pecans
2 Tbsp chopped dried dates
2 Tbsp dried cranberries
1-2 tsp maple syrup

Put quinoa in a microwaveable bowl and add milk or soy milk. Microwave on high for 2-3 minutes or until hot. Top with fruit and nuts, and drizzle with maple syrup to taste. Note that quinoa has a sweet, nutty taste, and if you use flavoured soy milk, you may not need the full amount of maple syrup for flavouring.