Essential Breakfast

For most of my high school and college years, I regarded breakfast as an evil temptation; forgoing it made me feel powerful. That hunger pang that gnawed away at my insides throughout the morning? It was a hollow voice telling me that despite whatever chaos might be consuming my life, I was in control of something.

I was so foolish.

Cut to me in my early twenties, reading health weblogs, accruing a decent collection of cookbooks and slowly but surely developing some solid ideas about food and exercise and long-term health ... and yet stubbornly refusing to admit I was doing anything wrong by skipping breakfast. This, despite the fact that I was ravenous by midmorning, cranky all afternoon, and prone to loading up on unhealthy foods throughout the day.

Fortunately, a good friend convinced me—by example, more than anything—that breakfast is not a self-indulgent luxury, but rather an act of kindness that I, and I alone, am capable of bestowing on myself.

This particular friend rose each morning, spent time in the Word, and then enjoyed a hearty breakfast (typically bacon, eggs, homemade biscuits and freshly-brewed coffee) with her grandparents. What stunned me wasn't so much the fact that she was the picture of fitness (although that did resonate), but rather how much pleasure she gleaned from this simple ritual.

The very act of sitting down over a hot, nourishing meal, starting the day with stimulating conversation, feeding the body, mind and spirit—well, it was a revelation to me. I saw for the first time what breakfast really is: food for pleasure and sustenance; time for nuruturing relationships, for slowing down and reveling in the miracle of a new morning; and an important component to a lifestyle of balance and submission.

Here's where my story becomes painful. See, once I began eating breakfast each day, I was forced to admit something: that my former pattern was not only unhealthy but also self-indulgent. God created our bodies to need food, preferably wholesome, nourishing food. Ignoring my hunger by “working through it”—playing the martyr, in other words, which in this case was a glorified form of idolatry—quite simply dishonors God. It implies that I don't think a lot of His design or His system. What really pains me, though, is having to admit just how much focus I'd taken from Him and put on myself.

Since I’ve begun partaking in the ritual of breakfast, here’s what I’ve discovered: I feel and perform better overall when I feed myself a nutritious breakfast. I’m also more relaxed, enjoy higher energy levels without crashing, and am less prone to snacking randomly throughout the day.

The long-term benefits are just as appealing: When I eat breakfast, I’m not only nourishing my body; I'm also practicing a positive habit from which I’ll reap the benefits for years to come. I’m actively working to build a stronger body and a healthier overall mindset, and that’s good for me, my husband, my coworkers ... and also for the children I hope to someday carry.

I've come full circle, and I can now say with conviction that I find several things important in a good breakfast: First, it should fall somewhere between 200 and 350 calories (needless to say, Denny’s Grand Slams and Burger King Croissanwiches don’t fit into this category). Second, it should include both some lean protein and some healthy carbs (I’m a big fan of dietary fiber). Third, it should be low in sugar. And finally, it should be fairly simple to assemble and consume (i.e., unless you’re blessed with a lot of extra time in the mornings, save your recipe for Overnight Yeasted Waffles for the weekend).

The following is a list of some of my favorite breakfasts, each of which fits all my criteria:

  1. Oatmeal. I’m talking about the old-fashioned kind, which—yes, I'll admit—takes longer than five minutes to cook (but is so worth it). Here’s the thing: You can make up a pot on Monday morning, portion it out, and enjoy it (free of prep time!) for breakfasts the rest of the week. The dietary fiber found in steel-cuts oats is outstanding, and it’s also high in protein. I love mine with a tablespoon of apple butter and a splash of milk. But it lends itself beautifully to variation: Try stirring in toasted nuts, real maple syrup, soy milk, Splenda, diced fruit (fresh or dried), or wildflower honey.

  2. A whole-grain waffle and a precooked turkey- or soy-sausage link. Both of these items can be found in the freezer section of any grocery store and popped handily into your toaster oven—ready to eat in just a few minutes. Look for healthy waffles made with buckwheat flour, flaxseeds, or protein powder.

  3. Miso soup. Dr. Andrew Weil recommends drinking it for breakfast, and that’s good enough for me. Several varieties of miso paste can be found in the refrigerated section of most grocery stores. Miso soup is delicious served steaming hot, with cubes of tofu and fresh chopped chives.

  4. A poached egg and a slice of Canadian bacon sandwiched between a toasted whole-grain English muffin. This is the healthful, lean version of a McMuffin—but in my humble opinion, far superior in taste and quality. Add a slice of low-fat cheese or a touch of Dijon to really get your taste buds going.

  5. Breakfast quiche cups. These make-ahead breakfast treats are great for anyone who’s perpetually running late in the morning (that's me!). I bake a dozen at a time in a well-greased standard muffin tin, then refrigerate them in individual sandwich bags and grab one before I leave in the morning; they reheat beautifully once I get to work. And the composition is so simple: beaten eggs (or EggBeaters), some shredded cheese, a little diced, precooked breakfast meat (think lean), and plenty of julienned vegetables of your choice. The combinations are endless. Imagine: sautéed red bell pepper and zucchini with sharp cheddar and chicken-habañero sausage; or spinach and mushroom with Parmesan and smoked bacon. They’re hearty, delicious and, best of all, each weighs in at an average of 250 calories. Especially good when sandwiched between toasted whole-grain English muffin halves or alongside a piece of ripe fruit.

  6. A poached egg on whole-wheat toast with a crisp strip of bacon. This is probably my favorite breakfast of all. I love to mash the egg evenly over the toast, salt and pepper lightly, crumble the bacon over the top…and enjoy every hot, nourishing bite.

  7. Cereal and milk. Simple and sublime. The key is to choose a high-fiber, low-sugar cereal. There are a lot of great choices available (my advice: hit the health-food section of your grocery store). Paired with skim or 1% milk and some fresh berries or a sliced banana: perfection.

  8. Yogurt and low-fat granola. Start with a small bowl of sugar-free, organic plain yogurt. If necessary, mix in a moderate amount of sweetener: a little Splenda, some honey, or a bit of maple syrup. Add 1/4 cup of your favorite granola (my current favorite is Trader Joe’s organic ginger granola—talk about flavor!) and, if you wish, a handful of fruit—raspberries, strawberries, blueberries (hint: frozen fruit it a great idea for those with a lengthy commute); dig in. Yum.

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