You heard your mom say it throughout your childhood and we’ll say it again: Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. When you wake up in the morning, chances are your body hasn’t consumed food in at least eight hours, meaning your body is practically running on fumes.
Put it this way: If your body were a car, your check engine light would be on, your tank would be empty, and you’d need to pull over and fuel up. But if that analogy isn’t enough, give us a chance to throw a science textbook at you. (Just kidding, we’re not those kinds of people. Although there is plenty of research supporting the importance of breakfast.)
But what constitutes a healthy breakfast? At one point in our lives, breakfast consisted of a bowl of Cocoa Puffs and a side of OJ, and our hearts still break knowing that wasn’t the wisest choice. To help you navigate your morning, we put together the ultimate guide to breakfast, showing you how to build a better plate, make smart food choices, and why you should carve out time for this meal in the first place.
The Benefits of Eating Breakfast
Let’s start with the basics: Just like drinking water, eating something green, and leaving the office to experience this thing called vitamin D, eating breakfast is a fundamental component of a balanced lifestyle. Science shows breakfast can help prevent weight gain, keep insulin levels in check, improve heart health, and provide a much-needed energy boost.
If you’re guilty of regularly skipping breakfast, read on to discover a few reasons to help convince you otherwise.
Breakfast Might Help Shrink Your Waistline
You’re a beautiful ray of sunshine and perfect just the way you are. But, if you’ve made friends with the squat rack recently and still haven’t seen results, it might be time to reexamine your breakfast plate.
Eating breakfast helps jump start your metabolism, telling your body that there are many calories to be had that day. In fact, studies show those who eat breakfast usually have a lower BMI (body mass index) than those who don’t. But here’s the kicker: This holds true even when these individuals eat more calories throughout the day. In other words, eating breakfast can potentially help you weigh less even when eating more — now who couldn’t get on board with that?
Breakfast Can Keep Your Mind Sharp
If you’re constantly running out the door with nothing but a K-Cup to tide you over, you may want to rethink your morning routine. Science shows that your caffeine kick alone isn’t quite giving you the jolt you need. In one study, individuals who skipped breakfast performed worse on memory tests (and fell prey to the 3 p.m. slump) in comparison to those who ate breakfast or just drank coffee. Those who drank coffee but skipped breakfast showed less fatigue around the lunch hour, but still did worse on memory tests than those who ate breakfast. The bottom line: Eat breakfast, your brain will thank you.
Breakfast Can Help Balance Your Blood Sugar Levels
Most of us know a blood sugar spike is bad, but have you ever stopped to ask yourself why? Blood sugar (or blood glucose) levels rise after you eat, and rise exponentially higher when you eat sugary foods. Insulin helps move blood glucose to other areas of your body — like your muscles, cells, and liver — to be used for energy. All good things, right?
Here’s where the problem sets in: When your body doesn’t produce enough insulin, or becomes insulin resistant, you run a higher risk of your blood sugar levels staying elevated. Chronic high blood sugar — also known as hyperglycemia — has been linked to diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and kidney damage.
If blood sugar is a concern, or you’ve been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, skipping breakfast is a bad idea. In various studies, skipping breakfast is associated with an increase in blood sugar spikes throughout the day — a whopping 37% higher than when breakfast is consumed.
Build Your Plate: Food Choices for a Healthy Breakfast
Unfortunately, most standard American breakfasts are made up of foods that shouldn’t be eaten regularly, let alone first thing in the morning. Sugary pastries, bagels, waffles, muffins, and processed meats like bacon line the breakfast aisle, lacking the essential nutrients our bodies need.
To keep your blood sugar levels at a healthy range, fuel you up for the day, and boost your metabolism, build a breakfast that’s high in protein, low in sugar, and contains some fiber and healthy fats to get you going.
Start With Protein
Protein is the foundation for any breakfast, with some dietitians saying you should start with 30 grams of protein first thing in the morning. Protein helps boost your metabolism, and keeps you feeling full longer, which can prevent those mid-morning second-breakfast cravings. Plus, protein helps control your appetite throughout the entire day, which can prevent overeating.
A protein-based breakfast can be put together in any number of ways. Here are a few portable and sit-down options packed with protein:
- An omelet or egg scramble with sausage
- Cottage cheese, kefir, or plain Greek yogurt
- Smoked salmon with cucumber or in a frittata
- Boiled eggs, egg cups, and egg muffins
- Tofu, breakfast sausage, or turkey sausage
- High-quality protein powder
Add Some Vitamins and Antioxidants
For whatever reason, many of us have zero issues getting our fruits and veggies in at lunch or dinner, but we completely skimp on breakfast. To build a balanced plate, make sure you’re eating colorful veggies that are loaded with vitamins, fiber, and antioxidants. If you just can’t get on board with a bowl of veggies for breakfast, try sneaking them in using the following tips:
- Pack your omelet or breakfast casserole full of veggies
- Toss a few low-sugar fruits (like blueberries, raspberries, or strawberries) onto your Greek yogurt or parfait
- Blend in leafy greens like kale and spinach into your morning smoothie
- Make a Tex-Mex breakfast skillet with beans, eggs, peppers, and onions rather than just having a store-bought breakfast burrito
- Make a breakfast “wrap” using butter lettuce instead of tortilla, adding fresh cucumbers and tomatoes to your morning sammie
Top With Healthy Fats
No matter what you’ve been told, fat is not bad for you. Fat is beneficial for our brains, hormone levels, and metabolism. Plus, starting your day with some sort of healthy fats can prevent you from getting hangry around the 11 a.m. mark. To tide you over, and to keep you from snapping at Carole in the morning conference meeting, try the following options:
- Throw in half an avocado to your morning smoothie
- Smear peanut butter, almond butter, or other nut or seed butter onto a low-carb tortilla
- Make your own granola or cereal with flaxseed, chia seeds, and almonds
- Pour a homemade dressing made with avocado, cilantro, lime, and olive oil over your morning breakfast skillet
Avoid Sugary Breakfast Foods
For the longest time, people focused solely on eating breakfast without giving much thought as to what went into the meal. In fact, some of the most common breakfast foods we’ve come to know (and unfortunately, love) are the exact foods we should be avoiding. While skipping over Danish pastries and donut holes is obvious, here are some supposedly “healthy” breakfast foods you should avoid:
- Orange juice: Yes, it’s packed with vitamin C, but it’s also loaded with sugar. Like other fruit juices (even those squeezed from fresh fruits), orange juice packs an incredible 25.8 grams of carbs per cup — 20.8 of which come from sugar.
- Dried fruit: Adding a few raisins or dried cranberries to your morning bowl of steel cut oats might sound tempting, but the grams of sugar will cost you. Just a third cup of dried sweetened cranberries will run you an incredible 26 grams of sugar.
- Whole wheat bread: For the longest time, we were told to build a plate using “healthy whole grains” as a foundation. As it turns out, wheat bread has a similar glycemic index to plain, white bread — meaning it will spike sugar just as much as the white stuff.
- Many, many breakfast cereals: Our childhoods were officially ruined when we learned our beloved Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Lucky Charms weren’t fueling us the right way. To ease the pain, skip over the Frosted Mini Wheats and opt for a healthier, low-sugar, high-protein cereal (that tastes just as good).
- Oatmeal: Before you throw rocks at us, we’re not saying oatmeal is bad for you. But the toppings you add to your oatmeal? Those are a problem. If you’re loading up on spoonfuls of brown sugar, lots of dried fruit, or even chocolate syrup, you might want to think of a new breakfast routine.
- Processed coffee drinks: Listen, we would never, ever, ever tell you to give up your morning cup of coffee (we categorize that as cruel and unusual punishment). But rather than getting a frozen coffee drink or latte with two shots of caramel syrup, just drink your coffee black. Or, try adding a splash of unsweetened almond milk or coconut cream for a dose of healthy fats.
6 Tips for a Better Breakfast
We could give you a list of the100 Best Breakfast Foods to eat in the morning, but it won’t do an ounce of good if you don’t use it. You need to make sure your breakfast works for your lifestyle and schedule. Below are some helpful tips on how you can create a well balanced start to your day, no matter what’s going on.
1. Know That Anything Can Be Breakfast
Let’s start with this big disclaimer: Treat a balanced breakfast the way you treat any other meal. Aim to build a breakfast with quality protein, fats, and fiber. While a spinach and goat cheese omelet certainly fall under this category, don’t feel limited by standard breakfast foods. Make extra food at dinner and have the leftovers for breakfast the next morning.
And if you think leftover chili or salmon and broccoli from the night before sounds weird, remember this: At one point or another, most of us did this with cold pizza. You’ll be fine.
2. Prep Your Breakfast Like You Prep Any Other Meal
One of the main reasons we skip breakfast is simply because we don’t have time for it. Between hitting the snooze button and scrolling through our Instagram first thing in the morning, there just isn’t a lot of time for a sit-down breakfast (those exist?).
While it’s important to have quality grab-and-go breakfast options that you can eat on the road or when you’re really pressed for time, if you make some minor adjustments to your schedule, you can meal prep your breakfast ahead of time. Make a batch of egg muffins, chia pudding, or breakfast casserole on Sunday, and eat portions throughout the week.
3. Lose the Crust (And Toast, Biscuits, Bread…)
Remember when we talked about blood sugar spikes, and how they’re best avoided? Keeping your blood sugar levels stable in the wee hours of the morning might require you to rethink a few of your breakfast favorites.
Biscuits, croissants, breads, and virtually every other item glaring at you through the pastry case are high in carbs and sugar. If you can’t find a low-sugar alternative (check out some of our favorite products on Instagram), then ditch them altogether. Instead of making a quiche, try a frittata (crustless quiche). Instead of a breakfast sammie or croissant, throw your favorite sandwich ingredients in a healthy skillet (loaded with veggies, of course).
And if you’re really craving waffles smothered in peanut butter or almond butter (let’s skip the maple syrup, shall we?), try to choose a healthier version made with flaxseed or almond meal.
4. Always Keep Emergency Breakfast Items Stocked and Loaded
We often make unwise decisions at breakfast or swing through the Starbucks drive-thru when we’re all out of options. So let’s make sure that doesn’t happen.
Keep your cupboards and fridge stocked with low-sugar breakfast options from brands you trust, or make your own and freeze them. Try making your own breakfast bars or breakfast burritos that can be individually wrapped and frozen. When you’re in a pinch, simply grab one for breakfast, then either allow it to thaw out or heat it up in the microwave at work.
5. Don’t Forget Your Veggies
Most Americans rarely get their daily allotment of vegetables, and typical breakfast choices certainly aren’t helping matters. Roasted brussels sprouts, sauteed kale and spinach, or steamed broccoli make tasty additions to any breakfast and provide your daily grams of fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
If you just can’t get on board with swapping out your home fries for greens, try “hiding” veggies in your food. Omelets with ricotta cheese and spinach, a frittata with asparagus, or breakfast casseroles with bell peppers, sausage, and onions are all great options.
6. Reinvent Your Favorite Breakfast Foods Into Healthier Options
If you’re looking for good breakfast options and your current list of favorites isn’t cutting it, look for ways to rethink the first meal of the day. If you’re short on ideas, you can thank the internet for these genius suggestions:
- Breakfast pizza: Instead of racking up carbs on a breakfast pizza crust, load your favorite pizza toppings on a slice of roasted eggplant or other veggie.
- Hashbrowns and breakfast potatoes: Long ago, some wise human being realized that cauliflower could be mashed in potatoes and wielded into pizza crusts, and we are forever indebted. See how you can make low-carb, crunchy hash browns healthier with shredded cauliflower.
- Avocado toast: If you’re looking to up the fiber and downplay the sugar, think of swapping out a slice of whole grain toast for roasted sweet potatoes. This recipe takes a spin on avocado sweet potato “toast” and adds a poached egg and asparagus.
- Smoothies: Sure, they’re convenient, but most smoothies pack a lot of sugar and completely eliminate protein. Try rethinking your smoothie with low-sugar fruits like blueberries and raspberries, adding healthy fats with avocado or coconut milk, then adding nuts and seeds for protein.
- Cereal and granola: Most breakfast cereals, granola, and breakfast bars are loaded with sugar and unwanted ingredients. Try making your own granola that happens to be vegan, gluten-free, and keto using a combination of seeds, low-glycemic sweetener, and toppings.
- Breakfast burritos: At this point in your life, you know there’s almost no problem a breakfast burrito can’t solve. By swapping out a corn or whole wheat tortilla for a low-carb burrito wrap, you can enjoy a healthy, protein-packed breakfast that satisfies all your cravings.
5 High-Protein, Healthy Breakfast Ideas
Alright, it’s time to put together all you’ve learned. Below you’ll find five breakfast recipes that can power you through any morning. Each one carries important nutrients and health benefits, while still being easy to prepare. Better still, each of these morning meals can be made in advance so as not to ruin your schedule.
High Protein Quinoa Yogurt Parfait
Image: Seasonal Cravings
For the longest time, breakfast was treated like dessert, piling on the sweets and sugars. If you’re having a hard time saying goodbye, try this healthy parfait recipe. Made with seasonal berries, coconut yogurt, and quinoa, it’s a low-sugar dish that tastes just as sweet.
Keto Eggs Benedict
Image: How to This and That
If eggs benny tops your list as best brunch ever, then you’re going to love this healthier homemade version of eggs Benedict. You’ll lose the English muffin altogether, placing poached eggs into a Canadian bacon “shell” for a grab-n-go egg muffin you can enjoy throughout the week.
Salmon and Quinoa Breakfast Bowl
Image: Flaxseed and Fairy Tales
When you think of a breakfast bowl, you’re probably picturing a bowl of cereal or a smoothie bowl. Instead, level up your breakfast by adding veggies and lots of protein. This recipe combines sauteed kale, salmon, and quinoa for a simple, delicious breakfast.
Omelet With Tomatoes and Cheese
Image: Cooking by Anna
Omelets are one of the easiest ways to get your veggies and protein in before noon. With this simple omelet recipe, you’ll toss a few sliced tomatoes and cheese into whisked eggs, then add some flaxseeds for extra protein and texture. The entire dish comes together in under 10 minutes, giving you plenty of time to sprint out the door.
Mexican Crustless Quiche
Image: Home Made Interest
We said it once and we’ll say it again: batch-cook your breakfast as you would any other meal. This Mexican crustless quiche packs an incredible eight eggs and half a pound of chorizo into a single casserole dish, which is way more than you could ever eat in one morning. Here’s what you do: Whip up your quiche on Sunday, then divide it into five equal portions to consume throughout the week.
Make Breakfast the Most Manageable Meal of the Day
Breakfast is one of the most important things you can do for your body, mood, brain, and energy levels. It can help you focus at work, crush the next set at the gym, and we’ll go out on a limb and say it can improve your relationships by preventing your cranky hanger pains. (Too far? Nah, didn’t think so.)
Rather than building your breakfast plate on carbs and sugar, start your day with adequate protein, veggies, and healthy fats. This could be as simple as scrambled eggs with a side of broccoli, a Denver omelet, or lox plated on cucumbers and greens. You can easily tweak the breakfast foods you grew up with into healthier alternatives that bring the sugar down while increasing your veggie and protein intake.
What’s more, breakfast doesn’t have to be a time suck or a nuisance. By making your meals in advance, cooking in bulk, and having a few portable breakfast options on hand, you can waltz into a new-and-improved breakfast routine with ease. There are plenty of high-quality breakfast recipes you can make at home that can keep you full, satiated, and energized throughout the day. And for the days when you truly just want a taste of your childhood cereal without the junk, we got you covered.