I love breakfast! It's one of my favourite meals, despite how habitual and boring it can get at times. I'm also one of those people who can't skip it without risking a mid-morning meltdown - like a car running on empty, I don't function well at all. Not everyone is the same though - whether just not hungry or the snooze button is a little too tempting in the morning, some dash out the door without a crumb passing their lips.
It's indeed important to eat to our hunger cues, although whether you're a breakfast eater or not, a healthy morning meal does carry benefits, and as the name implies, will "break" the "fast" from overnight. When we start our day properly nourished it can make a big difference to our energy, concentration, memory and mood, fueling us up both mentally and physically for the day ahead. It can also help us make healthier food choices later in the day - when we skip breakfast we may be more likely to overeat at our next meal or be tempted to eat whatever's in sight when we start to feel ravenous later.
Building a healthy breakfast
Carbohydrates, proteins and fats are known as macronutrients, which are nutrients we need in larger amounts for good health - all foods can be loosely divided into one of these three groups, based on the similar nutrients they contain. When building a healthy balanced breakfast aim to include each macronutrient on your plate, or in your glass - that is, a protein food (e.g. eggs, protein powder), a fat (e.g. avocado, chia seeds) and a carbohydrate (e.g. fruit, oats). By including each, your breakfast will supply you with differing nutrients and help balance your blood sugar levels, which is key for sustained energy levels and appetite regulation.
A special note on carbohydrates...
Unlike protein and fats, carbohydrates have a big influence on our blood sugar levels, which can affect everything from our appetite regulation, to our food cravings, to our energy levels. When digested and absorbed carbohydrates break down into sugars in the body, and rate at which this happens will be determined by not only the kind of carbohydrate, but also what they’re eaten with. "Complex" carbs (e.g. oats) are broken down slowly and so supply us with a steady release of energy - think slow-burning logs on a fire. Whereas, more refined processed options (e.g. sugary cereal), which often contain excess added sugars, are digested and absorbed quickly, which can cause spikes and crashes in our energy levels (and often cravings for more sugar and carbs) - think fast-burning petrol on a flame. Complex carbs are the way to go for more steady energy levels, as well as always ensuring to include a protein and fat at your breakfast - these are digested slowly, and will help keep you feeling fuller for longer.
Breakfast - beyond cereal and toast
There can certainly be a tendency to think breakfast needs to be made up of "breakfast" foods, such as cereals and toast. This isn't true - breakfast can be made up of any foods, the only real difference between it and the other main meals is typically the time available to prepare it. Try and step away from the colourful breakfast food aisle at the supermarket, and aim to base this meal around whole foods instead - these are foods that aren't processed or have been as minimally processed as possible, and are naturally nutrient-rich.
Healthy breakfast ideas
Depending on our health concerns, dietary preferences and exercise levels some of us may function better eating a lower/higher carbohydrate-containing breakfast, or one that's higher in protein or fat - it's best to trial out different types of foods and see what keeps you feeling steady and satisfied into the morning for the longest. A good protein source is typically key, as they're slow to be digested and help keep us feeling full and satisfied for longer.
Some of these ideas may be more suitable for the weekend when you have extra time, while some can be thrown together super speedy in the morning when you're rushing out the door. Go with whatever works for you!
Packed full of protein, as well as rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals (especially that lovely yellow yolk), eggs are a hugely versatile addition to the breakfast menu, whether enjoyed poached, scrambled, fried, boiled (soft/hard), sauteed with veggies, in an omelette or frittata. They're perfect as the base of a solid savoury breakfast, and are ideal to enjoy with veggies. If you're short on time in the morning, try whipping up a batch of frittata muffins the night before, and enjoy 1-2 on the way to work - here's my recipe.
An ideal warming option for cereal lovers. Oats are high in dietary fibre, and are a great source of energy, although ideal to combine with protein to help keep the energy burning longer. They're also ridiculously cheap, and so are a great budget-friendly option. Here are my favourite ways to prepare and enjoy them:
- Basic recipe: add 1/3 cup oats + 1 cup of liquid (water, milk, coconut water) on to a stove top, heat on high until boiling, reduce to a simmer, then continue stirring until nice and thick (2-5 minutes). Remove from heat, add toppings and enjoy.
- Protein oats: add a scoop of protein powder to the basic recipe (cook with a little extra water).
- Banana and peanut butter porridge: in my opinion this is the tastiest way to eat oats - here is the recipe.
- Jazzed up oats: top the basic with nuts and seeds, fresh fruit and coconut - there are endless combinations you can do, which helps to keep things interesting. See accomplying photo.
There can be a perception that breakfast needs to include "breakfast foods", like your cereal and toast - not true! Leftovers can make a wonderful breakfast the next day. Otherwise you could use elements of your leftovers to inspire something new and delicious e.g. leftover rice could form the basis of a rice pudding, or shredded chicken might be nice with some spread avocado on grainy toast.
A quick and easy option for when you're short on time. They can also be prepared in advanced and travel well, so you can blend one up the night before and take it on the road with you in the morning in a travel cup/mason jar. For a balanced smoothie aim to include a carb source (e.g. 1/2 cup frozen berries or a banana), a fat source (e.g. nuts, seeds, avocado, coconut or flaxseed oil) and a protein source (e.g. quality protein powder or collagen). Here's my favourite recipe.
5. Breakfast burrito
To prepare simply fill a wrap with scrambled egg, sautéed veggies, grated cheese and a little salsa (if it tickles your fancy). I promise you, making and eating one of these will leave you feeling totally chuffed with yourself.
6. Breakfast salad
Salad for breakfast?! Yes, you can! For a nutrient-rich hit, toss boiled eggs with salad greens, a sprinkling of seeds and some quality olive oil and vinegar. For a complex carb hit, add leftover boiled roast veggies, or speedy microwavable brown rice.
7. Chia pudding
Chia seeds are very nutritious - they're rich in antioxidants, and are a great source of fibre, which absorb the liquid their suspended in to swell to around 10-12x their weight, forming a delicious pudding-like texture. Chia pudding layered with fresh fruit, and topped with muesli, nuts and seeds, can serve as a yummy morning breakfast. Mixing the chia seeds with a liquid containing protein powder in the preperation stage will help bump up the protein content of the dish. Here's my recipe for a standard chia pudding.
8. Healthy homemade pancakes
You can't beat homemade pancakes in the morning! My banana oat pancake recipe is my favourite and one of the most popular recipes on my blo - they're quick and easy to whip up, cook well, and only require a few simple cheap pantry ingredients to make - here's the recipe.
9. Speedy toast with a nutritious topping
Great when you don't have much time in the morning. Quality is important with your toast selection, and while there are indeed are a number of other more whole food carbohydrate options across the board, for many, toast can serve as a great vehicle for more nutritious ingredients e.g. a smear of avocado on top, smoked salmon or eggs. A lot of people enquire over what bread to use - quality/organic is always best (less additives, processed veggie oils), otherwise look for a loaf that's grainy, and if you feel better eating a gluten-free or paleo loaf (made of lots of seeds and nuts), go for it. Sourdough is a lovely option. Here are some ideas for toppings:
- Smoked salmon with avocado or cream cheese
- Sliced tomato and cheese
- Leftover mince or chili beans
- Good quality nut butter with a sprinkling of seeds. Add some homemade chia jam for PB & jelly toast - recipe here.
10. Muesli bowl
For a very cafe-style breakfast, select your favourite muesli and pair it with fresh seasonal fruit and yoghurt. When selecting muesli steer clear of processed refined options, and instead aim for a low-sugar/sugar-free muesli, packed with nuts and seeds, as it'll be higher in protein and fat. Better yet, if you have the time, make your own! Select your favourite nuts/seeds, add some wholegrain oats and coconut chips, toss with a little coconut oil, your favourite spices (e.g. cinnamon, ginger), and a pinch of sweetener if desired (e.g. mashed banana/dried fruit/maple syrup/honey), and bake in the oven until toasted. My picks for yoghurt are unsweetened full-fat yoghurt or coconut yoghurt.
11. Acai bowl
I fell in love with these while travelling in California last year. Acai bowls are a type of frozen smoothie bowl, made of fruit and frozen acai berry. They're delicious and make a really refreshing breakfast in summer time. I tend to add avocado to mine to bump up the fat content, and sometimes a protein powder to make it more of a balanced breakfast. You can purchase acai powder/puree from most health shops, and some supermarkets. Here's my recipe.
12. Papaya breakfast boats
The prettiest breakfast to ever exist. Simply slice a papaya in halve, spoon out and discard the seeds, and then fill with yoghurt and a sprinkling of nuts and seeds. Sometimes I'll add edible flowers from the garden and berries for decoration. These are lovely to enjoy in the warmer summer months. Here's my recipe.