Breakfast provides the body and brain with fuel after an overnight fast - that's where its name originates, breaking the fast.
Apart from providing us with energy, breakfast foods can be good sources of important nutrients such as calcium, iron and B vitamins as well as protein and fibre. Breakfast can be helpful for maintain or reaching a healthy weight too. Research shows those who eat breakfast are less likely to be overweight and more likely to be within their ideal weight range compared with those who skip breakfast who are more prone to reaching for high sugar and fatty snacks mid-morning.
So what should make up a healthy breakfast?
Let’s start with what’s not a good breakfast! If your day starts with a typical processed breakfast cereal that’s high in sugar, then you will set off on what’s known as the “blood sugar roller coaster”.
Your blood sugar will rise quickly - giving you an initial burst of energy, then drop, leaving you hungry again and craving sugar or quick fix snack foods. Your mood and concentration is also likely to be affected by these blood sugar drops and children are even more vulnerable to the impact of this negative cycle. Examples of a high sugar breakfast include:
- Processed cereal with milk
- Flavoured yoghurts/yoghurt drinks
- White bread/toast with jam, marmalade, chocolate spread
- Orange juice or shop bought fruit smoothie
- Many breakfast bars
It’s particularly important to be label savvy with breakfast ingredients as so many of the cleverly marketed products appear healthy but are far from ideal. My personal tip is to switch off or mute the volume of TV adverts which encourage children to ask for - or demand - precisely the kind of food you want them to avoid!
Remember, there are other products which may appear to be ‘unhealthy’ on the label, such as cheese, milk and nuts due to the high fat content, but this type of fat is required in the diet so don’t worry about using full fat versions, especially for growing children. And remember, some of the best breakfast foods have no label at all such as fresh, seasonal fruit!
So what’s the alternative?
There’s no doubt about it, wholesome cereals and easy staples such as oatcakes win in the convenience stakes. Put a little more thought into toppings and you can turn them from a simple start into a super start.
That’s where protein comes in. Protein is the main building-block for the human body, so it makes sense that we need a good amount of it – especially in growing kids. As the only food source of amino acids, protein can help regulate mood swings and make us feel fuller for longer - the phrase ‘you are what you eat’ is never more true than in the case of protein. But often our breakfast choices are lacking in protein.
You might hear protein from animal sources such as eggs, meat and dairy described as ‘complete protein.’ This simply refers to the fact that animal protein contains all of the nine essential amino acids compared to plant foods that need to combine together to form complete proteins. Protein can also be found in nuts and seeds, beans and pulses, some grains and even some vegetables.
You can power up the protein levels in your breakfast with these simple additions:
- Add a sprinkling of nuts and seeds (walnuts are great brain food and pumpkin seeds are packed with immune boosting zinc) and a dollop of fresh, full fat natural (unsweetened and unflavoured) yoghurt to your porridge or cereal.
- Top your morning oatcakes with nut butter and banana.
- If you like eggs but lack time, batch cook boiled eggs and peel them so they’re ready to use as a topping - delicious on oatcakes with some baby tomatoes or avocado.
- If you enjoy a fresh juice in the morning and have a juicer, always try to balance fruits and vegetables - for example carrot and orange or apple, and lime with spinach and celery. Fruit juice alone contains too much sugar.
- If you and your kids like a smoothie try to make it at home - that way, you can control what goes into it. Smoothies are easier to make and retain the fibre in the flesh of the fruits or vegetables, so they are generally a better option - and try to balance the fruit and vegetables you use in them. They are also really handy if you or your children struggle to eat breakfast as they are so much easier to consume. Here’s one of my children’s morning favourite smoothie blends:
Quick, healthy breakfast ideas
I’ve kept this simple by showing portions for one so you can increase quantities to suit the size of your family:
Creamy strawberry breakfast smoothie – Serves 2 little people or 1 adult
150g strawberries (fresh or frozen)
2 tbsp oats
100ml natural yoghurt or coconut yoghurt
300ml milk (cow’s or dairy free alternative)
Half a small ripe avocado (optional)
Just add everything into a blender and whizz until it gets to the desired consistency - add more water or milk if too thick.
Greek yoghurt with nut butter and banana - serves 1
Packed with protein this breakfast should keep you feeling full until lunch
120 g greek yoghurt
1 tbsp nut butter of choice, the runnier the better
½ banana, sliced
1 oatcake, crushed for extra crunch
Mix everything to a bowl and eat - simple!
Healthy eggs on avo toast - serves 1
Eggs are a great protein source and the rye bread used here is gentler on your digestion than wheat bread. Can also be served on your favourite oatcakes.
2 slices rye bread
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
½ handful of fresh spinach
- Heat a pan of water on the stove and add in the vinegar to it.
- Crack your eggs into 2 small cups or ramekins and gently lower the eggs into the boiling water.
- Poach for 2-3 minutes depending on how soft you like your eggs.
- Mash avocado on rye toast and top with eggs and chopped spinach
Berry bircher muesli - serves 1
A simple nourishing and filling breakfast which can be prepared in advance ready for you to grab-and-go in the morning.
70g oats (Nairn’s Gluten Free Oats are particularly good)
250ml coconut or almond milk
Handful of blueberries/ raspberries/ strawberries (or a mix)
Optional: 1 tbsp of live yoghurt / kefir will boost the levels of bacteria which will support healthy digestion
Simply add all ingredients to a bowl, mix well, leave to soak for 15 minutes or overnight.
Play around with the flavours and ingredients by adding cinnamon and grated apple or desiccated coconut and a little lime juice to mix up your morning muesli.
Hopefully, this will have given you some food for thought and you’ll be feeling inspired to create breakfasts that are far from boring! We all know that during the week, mornings can be a bit of a rush - so try to have breakfast together as a family at the weekends and get everyone involved in choosing and making it. Next time, I’ll show you how you can get the family eating more veggies. Keep up the good work, and remember to share some of your brilliant breakfasts over the next week #NaturallyEnergising