I don’t buy into the notion that breakfast is the most important meal of the day — the science doesn’t support such a strongly worded statement. But what is important about breakfast is when you have it, whether that’s shortly after waking, right before you head off to work, or at your desk once you arrive. The value of eating a meal morning-ish is clear for a few reasons.
For one, shifting more of our calories to breakfast and lunch helps us stay in balance with our circadian rhythms, which benefits health. Eating breakfast can also make it easier to eat well for the rest of the day. When my clients who aren’t used to eating a morning meal start developing the habit, they often find that they need to snack less, that it’s easier to make nutritious choices at lunch and that their energy levels are steadier.
To build a breakfast that sets you up for the day, make sure you include some protein for staying power — toast with jam or a breakfast pastry isn’t going to cut it. Then pair with fiber in the form of whole grains, vegetables, fruit or all of the above. Most Americans don’t get enough fiber, so why not get a jump-start? Here are some protein- and fiber-rich timesaving morning options, some make-ahead, some grab-and-go:
Make overnight oats: Combine one part rolled oats, one part plain Greek yogurt, one part milk or plant-based milk substitute, and ¼ cup chopped nuts. Top with blueberries (fresh or frozen) or chopped fruit and refrigerate overnight.
Make a big batch of steel-cut oatmeal on Sunday. Then reheat individual portions. Top with berries, nuts and a dollop of plain Greek yogurt.
Make smoothie bags: Add half a banana, 1 cup berries and 1 tablespoon flax, hemp or chia seeds to a plastic baggie, then seal and pop it in the freezer. In the morning, dump the contents into a blender along with a big dollop of plain yogurt, a tablespoon of almond or peanut butter and unsweetened vanilla almond milk.
Make minifrittatas in muffin tins, or make an egg casserole in a pan. If you need inspiration, try the recipe for Southwest Egg Casserole below.
Whisk eggs with salt and pepper, then cover and refrigerate. In the morning, sauté some baby spinach then dump in the eggs for a quick scramble. Like more veggies? Presauté a batch of onions and bell peppers — or roast a big pan of vegetables — so all you have to do is heat some of them in the pan before adding your eggs.
Make a peanut-butter sandwich on whole-grain bread. Enjoy with a piece of fruit.
Pair a plain or lightly sweetened yogurt (aim for at least 10 grams of protein) with an energy bar (aim for at least 7 grams of protein and 2 grams of fiber). Bonus points if it contains primarily “real food” ingredients.
Grab a healthier breakfast sandwich: Choose one on an English muffin, and go for ham or turkey bacon, not sausage or “regular” bacon. Pair with fruit from home.
If you have access to a refrigerator at work — and low risk of pilfering by co-workers — keep some yogurt and hard-boiled eggs on hand, along with a desk stash of fruit, nuts and healthful energy bars. Love cold cereal? Look for one that has about 5 grams of fiber per serving, then add milk and fruit. If that’s not enough protein to keep you satisfied, pair your cereal with Greek yogurt.
Southwest Egg Casserole
Makes 8 to 12 servings
This recipe is not only a protein-rich, fiber-rich way to start the day, but you have the option of making it ahead for easy breakfast on busy mornings — just reheat in a toaster oven, regular oven or microwave.
1 ½ tablespoons olive oil
1 medium red or yellow onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 pound ground turkey
¾ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper, or more to taste
2 cups cooked brown rice or quinoa
1 4-ounce can diced green chilies
1 15-ounce can black, pinto or kidney beans (drained and rinsed)
½ cup crumbled cotija cheese (or shredded cheddar cheese)
Optional for serving: chopped cilantro, salsa, plain Greek yogurt (or sour cream)
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly oil a 9-by-13-inch or 8-by-12-inch pan.
2. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in large skillet or sauté pan over medium heat. Add chopped onion and bell pepper and cook until softened, stirring frequently, about five to eight minutes. Remove vegetables to a bowl.
3. Add an additional ½ tablespoon olive oil to the pan if needed. Add the ground turkey to the pan and season with salt, pepper and cumin. Cook, stirring and breaking up with a spoon or spatula, until no pink remains. Add to the bowl with the vegetables. Add the cooked rice or quinoa, diced green chilies and beans. Toss gently to combine.
4. Spread the mixture in the prepared pan. Cool for about 10 minutes while you break the eggs into a bowl or large Pyrex measuring cup and whisk to combine.
5. Sprinkle the cheese on top of the turkey mixture, then pour the eggs evenly over the top. Use a spoon or spatula to lightly smooth or redistribute the mixture as needed.
6. Place the pan in the preheated oven and bake until the eggs are set and the top is just starting to get golden in spots, about 35 to 45 minutes. Remove from oven and serve, with additional toppings if desired.
7. If making ahead, cool for about an hour before placing in the refrigerator. When chilled, cut into 8 to 12 pieces. You can wrap individual pieces securely and freeze them for later use. (I use a layer of plastic wrap, then one of aluminum foil, then stash them in a freezer bag.)