By: Megan Holdaway, RDN
Breakfast is often called the most important meal of the day. There is a reason for that! Breakfast literally “breaks your fast” and provides you with the nutrients and energy you need for the day ahead.
People often associate breakfasts with large, time-consuming meals that require considerable preparation time. And when budgets are tight, making breakfast can feel like a struggle. Good news—breakfasts don’t have to be fancy, expensive or time consuming to be healthy.
Here are five registered dietitian nutritionist-approved strategies for keeping the morning meal real:
Tip 1: Build a Balanced Breakfast Using Foods from 3 Different Food Groups
A great rule of thumb to creating a balanced breakfast is to build your meal using foods from three different food groups whenever possible. Eating a variety of simple, minimally-processed whole foods at breakfast, improves diet quality and closes nutrient gaps. Including foods with protein, fiber and fat provides satiety as well as balanced nutrition.
A great, balanced breakfast can be a slice of whole wheat toast with peanut butter and a glass of milk, or yogurt with cut-up fruit and granola, or an egg scrambled with leftover veggies and cheese.
For people who eat the same thing every day and want to try something new, this formula also helps with breakfast fatigue while allowing you to mix things up based on foods you already have on hand. By looking for different foods you already have, simplifying meal prep in the morning can save you time, effort and money while setting you up for the day.
Tip 2: Keep It Simple
While it is tempting to drink a cup of coffee and skip breakfast, it is important to start the day with healthy and nourishing food. You don’t need to keep up with the cooking shows or fancy Instagram inspirational meals—a grab-and-go breakfast can get the job done.
A banana, yogurt and whole grain crackers are an easy way to get nutrients and can be eaten on the go, and they can be pre-packed the night before if time is a challenge. A peanut butter and banana sandwich is another simple low cost meal that can be prepared in minutes. A breakfast burrito is another option that can be thrown together quickly using leftover beans, rice and meat. Add some salsa, chopped veggies, shredded cheese or any combination of those foods and fold into a tortilla. Breakfast doesn’t have to be complicated to be delicious.
Tip 3: Try New Foods to Add Variety and Increase Enjoyment
The world is filled with delicious breakfast ideas. Trying culturally diverse foods or including cultural or meaningful foods from your family traditions can increase enjoyment during breakfast. For example, many cultures consume their own version of a hot cereal. In Southeast Asia, many families enjoy congee or Jok, a rice-based porridge served with a variety of toppings such as meat, fresh herbs, spices and condiments. Leftover rice can be used to create this famous dish, or even oatmeal. Turn oatmeal into a Westernized take of this famous dish by making it savory instead of sweet, topping it with meat, veggies, herbs and spices. By re-imagining ingredients you may already have and adding in a global spin, you can change up your morning breakfast and turn it into a new experience.
Tip 4: Eat Dinner for Breakfast
The morning meal doesn’t have to be confined to breakfast foods. Think outside the box and don’t be afraid to make non-traditional breakfast foods your first meal.
Leftovers are always fair game. They can be heated up and consumed as-is, or transformed into something fresh and new. That leftover brown rice you almost tossed? Once heated, it is perfect under a sunny-side up egg. Splash a bit of hot sauce or Sriracha and add a glass of milk and it’s a meal! Not sure what to do with leftover meat and veggies. Shred or cut them into bite-sized pieces, add in eggs and a bit of cheese and you have an amazing scramble or omelet.
Tip 5: Plan Ahead
It is always easier said than done, but spending a few minutes in the evening preparing simple-to-make or grab-and-go breakfasts can be a lifesaver in the morning when every second counts. Pre-cut and package fruit, make your peanut butter and banana sandwich, add your favorite smoothie mix in storage container and take your blender out the night before—whatever your favorite breakfast meal is, with a bit of planning the night before, anything is possible.
Teachers and parents: it is not only important for you to set a good example by eating breakfast, it is critical to teach children how to plan a healthy breakfast. Learn more about the Let's Eat Healthy online and print resources for teaching nutrition education to children.
Megan Holdaway, RDN
Megan Holdaway, RDN
Megan Holdaway is a registered dietitian nutritionist and the Nutrition Science Program Manager at Dairy Council of California.
Watch the latest episode of Ask A Nutritionist and learn how children can benefit from eating breakfast each morning.
National School Breakfast Week highlights the importance of breakfast for all children.