Healthy Eating: Breakfast 101

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Kids Need Their Morning Meal

While adults need to eat breakfast each day to perform their best, kids need it even more. Their growing bodies and developing brains rely heavily on the regular intake of food. When kids skip breakfast, they can end up going for as long as eighteen hours without food, and this period of semi-starvation can create a lot of physical, intellectual, and behavioral problems for them.

A Good Investment

If you and your kids regularly skip breakfast in the interest of saving time or getting a few more minutes of sleep, remember that eating a wholesome, nutritious morning meal will probably save you time in the long run. By recharging your brain and your body, you’ll be more efficient in just about everything you do. Interestingly, studies show that kids who skip breakfast are tardy and absent from school more often than children who eat breakfast on a regular basis. Preparing a good breakfast can be as quick and easy as splashing some milk over cereal. Time invested in breakfast is much more valuable than the few extra minutes of sleep you might get by bypassing the morning meal. If you and your kids seem unable to make time for breakfast, consider enrolling your children in a school breakfast program, if possible, or pack a breakfast brown-bag the night before so that you and your kids can eat on the way to school and work.

Break the Fast to Shed the Pounds

Some people skip breakfast in an effort to lose weight, but the practice is more likely to cause weight gain than weight loss. Skipping breakfast is strongly linked to the development of obesity. Studies show that overweight and obese children, adolescents, and adults are less likely to break the fast each morning than their thinner counterparts.

According to research, skipping meals, especially breakfast, can actually make weight control more difficult. Breakfast skippers tend to eat more food than usual at the next meal or nibble on high-calorie snacks to stave off hunger. Several studies suggest that people tend to accumulate more body fat when they eat fewer, larger meals than when they eat the same number of calories in smaller, more frequent meals. To teens, especially teenage girls, skipping breakfast may seem like a perfectly logical way to cut down on calories and lose weight. It’s important for moms to educate their kids about the importance of the morning meal and the role it plays in maintaining good health and preventing obesity.

The Most Important Meal

Are you too busy for breakfast? You’re not alone. In the rush to get the kids to school or ourselves to work, plenty of us skip breakfast. Or we grab a cup of coffee and a pastry, and call that a meal.

Unfortunately, we may be giving up a lot more than just breakfast, several studies suggest. In findings published in the April 1999 Journal of the American College of Nutrition, researchers looked at what 1,108 French volunteers served up for their morning repast. People who ate a hearty breakfast containing more than one-quarter of their daily calories — usually in the form of a ready-to-eat breakfast cereal — consumed less fat and more carbohydrates during the day than people who skimped on food in the morning. Breakfast eaters had a higher intake of essential vitamins and minerals. Plus they generally had lower serum cholesterol levels, which are associated with reduced danger of heart disease.

An apple slice turns brown. Fish becomes rancid. A cut on your skin is raw and inflamed. All of these result from a natural process called oxidation. It happens to all cells in nature, including the ones in your body. To help your body protect itself from the rigors of oxidation, Mother Nature provides thousands of different antioxidants in various amounts in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes. When your body needs to put up its best defense, especially true in today’s environment…better physical health isn’t the only payoff. A study of 262 volunteers reported in the November 1999 issue of the International Journal of Food Science and Nutrition found that people who consumed breakfast cereal every day reported feeling better both physically and mentally than those who rarely poured a bowl of flakes.

Sit down to a healthy breakfast and — who knows? — you might even add years to your life. Researchers from the Georgia Centenarian Study recently reported that people who reach the ripe old age of 100 tend to consume breakfast more regularly than those who skip the first meal of the day.

What makes breakfast so important? Nutritionists say there are at least four good reasons why a healthy diet should begin with a solid breakfast:

High fives: By eating a nutritious breakfast — one that includes at least one serving of fruit — you better your chances of reaching the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, surveys show. “People who skip breakfast generally fall short on the recommended servings, especially of fruit,” says Gloria Stables, who directs the National Cancer Institute’s “five-a-day” program. “If you don’t get started with your first meal of the day, it’s awfully hard for most people to catch up later.” Hitting the high-five mark is important. Dozens of studies have shown that people who eat plenty of fruit (and vegetables) generally have a lower risk of heart disease, cancer, and other chronic diseases. What’s more, orange juice, which is practically synonymous with a healthy breakfast, may have special health-giving powers, and not only because it’s loaded with vitamin C. In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in November 2000, researchers found that a glass of O.J. every day boosts “good” HDL cholesterol, which helps keep arteries from getting clogged. The FDA gave juice makers a green light to label orange juice as a good source of potassium, a nutrient that has been shown to lower the risk of high blood pressure and stroke.

A bowl of fortification: Start your day with a bowl of breakfast cereal, and you’re more likely to get all the nutrients you need. That’s because most cereals these days are fortified with an array of important vitamins and minerals, including folic acid, which helps prevent birth defects and has been linked to lower risk of heart disease and colon cancer.

A head start on fiber: The best breakfast cereals are rich in fiber, something most of us don’t get enough of. Experts say we need 25 to 30 grams of fiber a day to be our healthiest. The average American consumes only 13 grams, a shortfall that may put us at unnecessary risk of heart disease. In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in September 1999, Harvard University scientists found that women who ate 23 grams of fiber a day — mostly from cereal — were 23% less likely to have heart attacks than those who consumed only 11 grams. In men, a high-fiber diet slashed the chances of a heart attack by 36%. Even people who follow a low-fat, high-cholesterol diet stand to benefit from adding more fiber. In 1993, researchers at the University of Toronto studied 43 healthy men and women with elevated cholesterol levels who had been following the National Cholesterol Education Program’s “Step 2” diet. When the volunteers switched to a similar low-fat diet but one that was very high in soluble fiber — between 50 and 60 grams a day — their total and LDL cholesterol levels fell by an additional 4.9% and 4.8%.

Filling up instead of out: Finally, if you’re trying to drop a few pounds, sitting down to a healthy, high-fiber breakfast could be the key to success. In a study published in the Oct. 27, 1999, issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers followed 2,909 men and women over the course of 10 years and found that people who ate a high-fiber diet were less likely than those who fell short on fiber to gain weight. Among African Americans, the average weight of people in the low-fiber group was 185.6 pounds, compared to 177.6 pounds among those who consumed the most fiber — a difference of 5%. Among whites, those on a low-fiber diet averaged 174.8 pounds, compared to only 166.7 among fiber eaters. One reason may be that high-fiber foods fill you up on fewer calories. Fiber also slows the digestive process, which in turn wards off hunger pangs later. That’s especially important in the morning. In a recent study, volunteers were asked to begin their day with either a bowl of cornflakes (which are relatively low in fiber) or a bowl of oatmeal (which is loaded with it). Three hours later, both groups were invited to help themselves to a nutritional shake. Those who helped themselves to oatmeal for breakfast consumed 40% less.

If you can’t find time for breakfast, consider setting your alarm clock 15 minutes earlier. Then follow two simple rules. First, make sure breakfast includes at least one, preferably two, servings of fruit. Next, help yourself to high-fiber foods like toasted whole grain bread, high-fiber breakfast cereal, or oatmeal. That’s all you need to be well on your way to a daily helping of good health.

Skipping breakfast is like starting on a long road trip with your fuel gauge almost on empty. You’re bound to run out of gas halfway through your busy morning.

Yet, as many as 37% of young adults do skip breakfast, according to one survey. Often for the wrong reasons: We’re too busy. We’re trying to watch our weight. We don’t have time to make toast, much less eggs and bacon.

The truth is: breakfast is key to health and weight management. Eating a good breakfast actually helps you eat fewer calories over the course of the day, according to recent studies in the Journal of Nutrition and in Environmental Nutrition. The right breakfast foods — those high in fiber and protein — keep your energy up throughout the morning and stave off hunger for hours. The wrong foods — sugary refined cereals and white breads — may make you eat more for lunch than normal.

Plus, breakfast serves up a good dose of key nutrients you and your children need: Calcium and potassium from milk; vitamin C, folate, and fiber from oranges or orange juice; and, fiber, folate, and iron from whole grains and fruits.

So do yourself and your children a favor. No matter how hectic your mornings, take just five minutes for a fast breakfast. To help you get started, here are my golden rules for busy breakfasts. Below the golden rules you’ll find three fun recipes your family will enjoy.

5 Golden Rules for Busy Breakfasts

  1. Go for 5 Grams of Fiber (or More)

Children eating the typical American diet are simply not getting enough fiber. At age 5, children should get at least 10 grams of fiber each day. By age 10, they should get 15 grams, and teenagers should get 20 grams. After age 20, you should get 25 to 35 grams a day. Choose whole grains and fruits with your breakfast to get fiber — two slices of whole wheat bread provide 6 grams of fiber; 1 cup of fresh berries or 1 cup of raisin bran provides 5 grams or more.

  1. Try Breakfast-Friendly Fruits

Fruits not only provide fiber but also important vitamins and minerals. Try one of these as you’re rushing out the door.

4 prunes = 3.1 grams fiber

1 cup orange segments = 3.4 grams fiber

1 cup applesauce, unsweetened = 3 grams fiber

1 cup sliced peaches = 3.1 grams fiber

1 cup banana slices = 3.1 grams fiber

1 large apple = 4.2 grams fiber

1 pear = 4 grams fiber

1 cup berries = 5 grams fiber

1 1/4 cups sliced strawberries = 3.1 grams fiber

  1. Aim for 5 Grams of Protein

Protein helps fill you up and staves off hunger longer. You can find protein in plenty of fast-breakfast products: Cereals, breakfast bars, and instant shakes. Just check the label to make sure it contains enough protein and not too much sugar. You can easily add 5 grams of protein to your homemade breakfast. Just add 1/4 cup of pasteurized egg substitute to the blender when you make a smoothie. Or pour 1/2 cup of low-fat milk into your cereal. Use whole milk in cereal for children under age 2.

  1. Avoid High-Sugar and High-Fat Choices

From toaster pastries to frozen entrees, many breakfast products marketed to busy parents are loaded with sugar or fat — and sometimes both! Check the food labels carefully before you buy. Look at the grams of fat and grams of sugar per serving. If it’s loaded with sugar and fat, it’s not really breakfast. It’s junk food. You can do better.

Even super-moms buy convenient breakfast products for their families sometimes. Often it’s the only way to juggle the morning. So find products you like, keeping these four goals in mind: high fiber, a little protein, low sugar, and low fat. Then buy a boxful and keep them handy at home and at work for those extra busy mornings.

  1. Microwave It

On leisurely weekend mornings, have fun making some whole-wheat waffles, blueberry pancakes, muffins, or French toast. Freeze them in plastic bags. Then just pop a serving into the microwave on weekday mornings.

3 Delicious Breakfasts for Busy Families

Deluxe Microwave Oatmeal

(1 serving)


1 packet instant microwave oatmeal (vanilla or maple flavors work well)

1/3 cup finely chopped fruit (peaches, strawberries, apples, etc.) or 2 tablespoons dried fruit (raisins, dried cherries)

1 tablespoon of chopped nuts (optional)

1/2 cup soy milk or low-fat milk *


  1. In a microwave-safe soup bowl, blend all ingredients together with spoon.
  2. Microwave on HIGH for 1 1/2 minutes; stir well.
  3. Microwave another minute or until oatmeal is cooked as desired.

Nutritional Information Per Serving:

(Using chopped fresh fruit): 257 calories, 9 g protein, 49 g carbohydrate, 3.5 grams fat, 1.2 g saturated fat, 1 g monounsaturated fat, 1.1 g monounsaturated fat, 5 mg cholesterol, 5 g fiber, 340 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 12%.

*Note: Whole milk is recommended for children under age 2.

Breakfast Berry Smoothie

(2 servings)

Berries are bursting with nutrients and phytochemicals. This recipe blends three different berries. Triple the pleasure and triple the nutrition!


3/4 cup sliced strawberries (fresh or frozen)

1/2 cup frozen blueberries (fresh can be used)

3/4 cup frozen raspberries, boysenberries, or blackberries (fresh can be used)

1 1/2 cup nonfat frozen vanilla yogurt or light vanilla ice cream

1/2 cup low-fat milk or soy milk (vanilla or plain)

1/4 cup pasteurized egg substitute *


  1. Add all the ingredients to a blender or large food processor. Pulse or blend until combined.
  2. Pour into 2 tall glasses and enjoy!

Nutritional Information Per Serving:

239 calories, 10 g protein, 40 g carbohydrate, 5.5 g fat, 3.1 g saturated fat, 1.5 g monounsaturated fat, 0.6 g polyunsaturated fat, 16 mg cholesterol, 4 g fiber, 166 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 20%.

Designer Mini Muffins

(36 mini muffins — 9 servings)

This is a basic muffin recipe. Have fun designing your own muffin by stirring in a cup of any fresh or frozen fruit you want. Or try 1/2 cup of chocolate chips or dried fruit (chopped dates or raisins).


1 cup whole wheat flour

1 cup unbleached white flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup white sugar (you can add 1/8 cup more sugar if you like your muffins on the sweet side)

1 large egg (higher omega-3 egg if available)

1 cup low-fat milk

3 tablespoons canola oil

1 tablespoon light corn syrup

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup fresh or frozen fruit pieces (such as blueberries or raspberries) or 1/2 cup of chocolate chips or dried fruit like raisins.


  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Coat a nonstick mini muffin pan with canola cooking spray or mini muffin paper liners.
  2. Add flours, baking powder, salt, and sugar to a large mixing bowl and beat on LOW to blend well. Make a well in the center of the mixture.
  3. Add egg to 4-cup measure and beat egg with a whisk or fork. Whisk in milk, oil, corn syrup, and vanilla extract. Add the mixture all at once to the flour mixture in the mixing bowl. Mix quickly on low speed just until moistened (do not overbeat). Scrape sides of the bowl and stir muffin batter briefly.
  4. Stir in your designer food ingredients and/or fruit. Add a tablespoon of batter to each mini muffin cup. Bake about 12 minutes or until mini muffins are cooked throughout.

Nutritional Information Per Serving (4 muffins):

217 calories, 5 g protein, 37 g carbohydrate, 6 g fat (1 g saturated fat, 3.1 g monounsaturated fat, 1.7 g polyunsaturated fat), 25 mg cholesterol, 3 g fiber, 300 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 25%.

Happy Eating!!!

Colleen Walsh