FOOD for THOUGHT: Build a Better Breakfast

The amount of money spent on marketing cereals to children was found to be inversely proportional to their nutritional content.

(Dietary changes should be discussed with a health care provider.)


We’ve all heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  How then did someone come to the conclusion that pop-tarts or simple starch cereals (with a lot of added sugar to boot) would be a good idea?  Lets talk about oats, “eggs”, cereals, fruits and, yes, vegetables.


Except for brunches on special occasions, breakfast often gets the smallest time budget of our meals.  As a result we don’t think of it as something with a lot of ingredients – thinking of cereal as one ingredient and milk as a second, a bagel as one ingredient and butter as a second.  Not only do we think of breakfast as having few ingredients, we rarely think of planning side dishes, yet like any other meal we need protein, carbs & fat and the vitamins, minerals, micronutrients & fiber that, hopefully, comes with them.  (Note: “kid” (as well as many grown up) cereals only have vitamins & minerals because they add a ground multi-vitamin to the recipe, but this does not replenish the micro-nutrients and fiber that are also lost in processing.)


So, what should we eat?  Here are 4 suggestions:


OATS: Oats should not come in an envelope or packet.  The “envelopes” almost always also deliver a lot of sugar, which we don’t need.  Rolled oats only take two minutes longer than it takes to boil water, and you have to boil water for the instant flavored kind anyway.  Plain oats take a little getting used to, but fortunately you don’t have to get used to them.  ADD fruit & nuts for more vitamins, nutrients, fiber and good fats!  If you don’t have time to cut an apple or peel a banana, then use frozen berries, or unsweetened dried fruit.  Pre-chopped nuts keep for a long time in the freezer, but do not freeze hard; so, you can grab them a scoop at a time.  It doesn’t get much better for your heart than whole oats, whole fruit & nuts in combination – unless you follow that up with a lunch of whole barley mixed with whole vegetables!  With the former a little cinnamon stirred into the mix rarely goes amiss. 


Don’t miss trying other spices and seeds as well.  As mentioned in FOOD for THOUGHT: Spice Up Your Life -- Literally, pepper, curry, turmeric, etc. are also good in oatmeal.  These pair well with sesame seeds, or sunflower seeds and citrus fruit on the side – this time of year it’s clementines for me.  For no particular reason I think the texture of steel cut oats lends itself better to the savory choices.  I personally think the extra time it takes to make the steel cut kind is worth the chewy goodness.


This may sound complicated to accomplish in the morning for the whole family, but I only have to make the oatmeal.  My kids climb onto the counter to reach the various “flavorings” and try different mixes for themselves.


EGGS Etc.: Eggs don’t have to be in the form of an omelet to have extras.  Scrambled eggs or better yet scrambled tofu (even quicker and easier to cook*) can easily have things scrambled into them with no special folding/flipping skill, pan or patience required.  Vegetables add needed fiber and nutrients.  Four quick easy ways to add them include: one, throw a scoop of frozen vegetables into the hot pan and stir them around before pouring in the egg or adding the tofu; two, even faster, throw last night’s leftover veggies in when you begin to cook the scrambled protein; three, pour some unsweetened, chunky salsa straight from the jar into the pan; finally, when you have the time, cut up your favorite fresh veggies and add them anywhere from the very beginning to the very end of cooking depending on how crunchy you like them to remain.  Just like with oatmeal, don’t be afraid to add herbs & spices.  There should be as many or more vegetables (in volume) as there is egg or tofu.  Serve the whole thing with or on whole grain toast or even wrapped in a tortilla.  If you make a breakfast burrito you may even get away with using beans instead of eggs or tofu.  Don’t be limited by what you think of as traditional breakfast food.


*To scramble tofu, place a block or partial block of extra firm tofu in a pan over medium or medium high heat and break it up with a fork as you stir it.  Add any add-ins as soon as possible because the longer they cook with the tofu the more flavor the tofu will absorb.  It is done as soon as it is hot.  1 block of tofu equals 4 to 6 eggs.


CEREAL: First, let me say that there should be no such thing as kid cereal and grown-up cereal, only people cereal (that goes for kid food and kid’s menus as well!).  That’s not to say you can’t do some fun/different presentation to make food kid friendly, exciting and appealing to children, just don’t trust companies who do this for profit, to do a good job of it for you.  The amount of money spent on marketing cereals to children was found to be inversely proportional to their nutritional content. **


Look for cereals with actual whole grains, plus high fiber and low added sugar.  Try to make adding whole fruit to your bowl as second nature as adding “milk”, or try to have a piece of fruit on the side.  That said, here are a few recommended cereals for the whole family:


Cheerios Oats 3g 1g less than 1g     Original Shredded Wheat Wheat 6g 0g 0g     Non-frosted Muesli Oats, Wheat & Barley 5-7g 0-1g 0g     Grams Depend on Brand Grape Nuts Barley 7g 5g 0g



I encourage you to satisfy your sweet tooth through both the use of whole fruit and through the practice of temporarily giving up added sugar to lower your natural sweet threshold, but if you need a few stepping stones along the way try these:


Good Friends cereal, it has 10 grams of mostly added sugar (about half your added sugar max for the day); however, it also has 12 grams of fiber plus whole wheat, oats, corn, rye, rice, triticale, barley, buckwheat & sesame.  Heart to Heart, which is basically crunchier cheerios, but with both more grains and more sugar has 5g of each.  Ancient Grains granola with nuts, I hesitated before adding this to the list because it breaks my “cereal should have more fiber than sugar” rule (9/6 S/F), but at least you get variety, with oats, spelt, khorasan, quinoa, amaranth & almonds and they are all organic (and therefore both non-GMO & pesticide free) as part of the bargain.


One last note on cereal, if the kids put up a fuss about missing their favorite sugary cereal, let them eat it for what it is – dessert.  On whatever night is dessert night in your house, let the kids choose a bowl of their “old” cereal in place of what the rest of the family is having after dinner.


QUICK & PORTABLE CHOICES: For portable choices first on the list is fruit.  You don’t even need a container or zip-lock bag to make it portable; it comes pre-wrapped – individually wrapped even – in its own skin.  The above mentioned breakfast burrito, if rolled tightly, is quite portable.  Next up is granola bars, but you have to hunt even harder than for cereal to meet similar criteria – Kashi has a few choices that come close, at 5g sugar to 4g fiber, and that have multiple whole grains.  STAY AWAY from anything that calls itself a cereal bar or breakfast bar** – even Kashi’s.


For quick choices I look to things that go in the toaster, but it’s not quite what you think.  Whole grain bread, bagels and waffles, while not good choices on their own, can be useful vehicles to hold a whole breakfast in your hand and eat it easily.  For instance, it takes the same amount of time to “peanut-butter” one of these as it does to butter it.  Plus you can cut a banana to lay on top of the unsweetened peanut butter in less time than any of these take to toast – you don’t even need a cutting board.  A big bag of frozen berries in the freezer -- from which to refill a smaller container in the fridge -- allows you to heap a waffle with berries economically and locally even in the winter.  You can sprinkle this with nuts to top it off.


**BREAKFASTS of which to BEWARE:  Check out the “Sideboard” for more on this topic.


CHALLENGE #16 of 50:


Eat breakfast – a truly healthy balanced breakfast – every day this week.  Try the suggestions above.  Most find these breakfast choices much more satisfying and long lasting than cereal or bagels alone.


QUOTE of the WEEK:


Never work before breakfast; if you have to work before breakfast, eat your breakfast first.

Josh Billings


This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.


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