How to Make Breakfast the BEST Meal of the Day
Quick facts about eating breakfast:
- As many as 1 in 4 people don't eat breakfast (younger people tend to skip breakfast more often than older people)
- People who eat breakfast every day tend to weigh less than people who don't
- The quality of breakfast makes a difference in weight outcomes (although we haven't exactly figured out what type of diet is best)
Summary: Breakfast is the most important meal of the day! Haven't you heard? It's definitely my favorite. Almost every day I wake up Hungry (with a capital "H").
However, for most people I know this isn't the case. Breakfast is an after thought.
If you want to step into the "in" club (yeah, breakfast is cool, ya'll), here are three easy tips to make breakfast YOUR fave meal, too:
1. Train your body to be hungry in the morning
Do you struggle with snacking in the evening? Is dinner the biggest meal of the day?
For most people, the calories they consume are often not balanced with the timing of when they burn calories during their day. Let me present my fictional friend Susie Q. as a case study:
Susie Q. wakes up and heads to work almost-late every day. She tends to skip breakfast because she's running out the door. In fact, the first time she eats is usually around 11:00am because she's so busy at her job as a teacher running around the classroom all morning. By 11:00am she's pretty hungry - but only has time for a quick sandwich and maybe a bag of chips before the kids get back to the classroom. This is when Susie needs energy, but her body is running on empty.
By the time she gets home at 4:00pm, she is absolutely famished and devours the sleeve of Girl Scout cookies that is sitting on the counter. At 6:00pm dinner is ready; she is still very hungry and helps herself to a portion of pasta that is admittedly a little too big. Even so, she is tempted to munch on popcorn in the evening while settling down and watching T.V. Susie's body is making up for the calories she missed out on during the day - but now she is resting and no longer needs this energy.
Because Susie Q. goes to bed on a full stomach, she wakes up not-very-hungry the next morning and because she doesn't have time anyway, she skips breakfast again and the cycle continues.
One of the biggest pitfalls I see patients make when trying to lose weight is attempting to control eating in the evening without addressing the energy imbalance that occurs earlier in the day.
It's possible to shift this cycle and train your body to be hungry in the morning, but it takes intentional effort. It means eating something in the morning even if you don't feel like it and doing this every day for weeks in a row. Eventually your body will learn to eat a bigger breakfast in the morning and this will help to curb the cravings in the late afternoon and evening.
2. Make it balanced
A common error I see when choosing a healthy breakfast is to see one too heavy on the carbs. Most meals should have a balance of protein/fat + carb + veggie (check out my Survival Mode post for quick ideas to fit this mold).
Veggies at breakfast are a bonus. The real trick to staying full throughout the day is to balance your breakfast with a few carbs and plenty of healthy fat.
Carbs = quick energy.
There are lots of really healthy carbs that are high in fiber and full of nutrients. Think: fruit, beans, starchy veggies (with the peel!), and dairy. There are also a lot of low-nutrient dense options that have unfortunately become the mainstay of most American breakfasts. Yep, you got it: pastries, sugary cereal, juice, toast & jelly.
Healthy Carb Examples:
- Whole grains (oatmeal, whole grain farina, quinoa, 100% whole grain bread)
- Whole fruit (apple, orange, pear, peach, berries, melon, etc.)
- Starchy veggies (beans, lentils, green peas, potatoes with the skin, corn)
- Low-fat milk, yogurt, soy milk, nut milk (note: these don't have fiber, but do contain vitamins & minerals)
While healthy carbs are a great source of quality nutrition, a breakfast with carbs only (even high-quality carbs that are full of fiber) won't last long. You'll find yourself hungry a few hours after eating breakfast. Ain't nobody got time for that!
Protein/healthy fat = sustained energy.
The presence of fat and fiber in a meal slow digestion and absorption and thus help to "stretch" the energy you eat from carbs. I don't even bother with cereal in the morning - even with the full-fiber options I'm running on empty about two hours after I get to work. Depending on my morning, I may or may not have time for a mid-morning snack, so I need a breakfast that's going to get me through the busy part of my day.
Example of Carb + Protein/Healthy Fat:
- Oatmeal + peanut butter
- Toast + hard boiled egg
- Apple + string cheese
- Smoothie: Banana // almond butter // Greek yogurt
Want to know my favorite breakfast? A cheese quesadilla. I know, I'm so weird. But it's a great mix of protein/fat + carb (thus keeping me full in the morning), takes two minutes to make, and satisfies my hunger for something savory without having to crack eggs in a frying pan.
3. Enjoy those calories!
Remember Susie Q.? Remember what time of day she was burning her calories? If she's busy and on her feet all morning, when do you think the best time is to eat her high-calorie foods?
Yep, you guessed it - in the morning. Be careful - I'm not saying that you should always enjoy high-calorie but nutrient-poor foods in the morning; data shows that a particularly unhealthy breakfast may be just as bad as no breakfast at all. A donut has carbs + fat, but although delicious, we all know there's not much quality nutrition in a fried ball of sugary goodness.
I would argue, however, that if you're going to eat a piece of pie it's probably better to have it in the morning than right before bed. So if you've been craving a piece of birthday cake for the last two days, maybe it's better to indulge in the morning than in front of the T.V. later that evening.
Voila! I've just transformed your life. Now you tell me: what's your favorite breakfast food?
With love, from Peas and Hoppiness.