The Benefits of Breakfast

The alarm never went off, you're late for work or the kids can't find their homework, and your dog needs to be fed. Got time for breakfast? No way!

According to one report, one out of four women between the ages of 25 and 37 regularly skips breakfast.

Why You Should Eat Breakfast

Numerous scientific studies have shown the following reasons for eating this important meal:

1. Improves Overall Nutrition: Eating breakfast improves the total daily nutrient intake. A simple breakfast of cereal, milk and fruit often provides the greatest amounts of calcium, B6, riboflavin, folate and iron.

2. Improves Ability to Concentrate: Children who eat breakfast have shown greater improvements in standardized test scores and increased ability to concentrate in class; they also are more alert and creative. Likewise, adults are better able to perform in an office or work environment if they have taken the time to eat breakfast.

3. Improves Ability to Control Weight: A 1994 report showed that in two-parent families, children who skip breakfast are almost twice as likely to be overweight as children who eat breakfast. Many adults skip breakfast as a form of weight control. Unfortunately, this is a weight loss program that is doomed to failure. Skipping meals sets up extreme hunger patterns later in the day, resulting in excess calorie intake.

How to Find the Time -- And What Should You Eat?

We now know the scientific reasons behind eating breakfast. But how do we find the time to eat, and what exactly constitutes a "balanced breakfast"?

Think three types of foods:

1. Whole grains for energy and fiber

2. Fruit for even more fiber and for vitamin power

3. Protein for lasting energy.

The Whole Grain Category

Whole grains may be cold or hot cereals; whole grain toast, english muffins, or bagels; or even leftover rice or potato from dinner.

  • Look for Whole Grain: When choosing cereals, look at the list of ingredients. The first ingredient should be a "whole" grain, which implies less processing and less added sugar. Next, consider a cereal that is fortified with a variety of vitamins and minerals. Finally, add variety to your morning by mixing handfuls of three different cold cereals together for a completely new taste. Add a tablespoon of bran to your cereal for crunch, fiber, and vitamins.
  • Add Your Own Sweetners: Instead of buying pre-sweetened and flavored hot cereals, make your own! Add applesauce, dried fruit, or diced fresh fruit; sprinkle with a small amount of brown sugar and cinnamon and enjoy!
  • Avoid so-called "breakfast bars:" Usually the first ingredient in a bar is sugar, followed closely by a refined flour. Most breakfast bars are nutritional in name only. Instead, opt for whole grain toast, bagels or English muffins. Top with peanut butter, jam, or even cottage cheese sprinkled with cinnamon.

The Fruit Category

Many people eat fruit only once a day: with breakfast. You may gag at the thought of a banana every day, but we can be more creative than that!

  • Fresh berries taste great on a host of cold cereals.
  • Melon mixed with oatmeal is a real treat.
  • Make fruit salad for dinner, and eat the leftovers for breakfast, mixed with yogurt and low-fat granola.
  • Make a "pizza" from leftover or frozen pancakes or waffles: top with yogurt, add cut-up fruit and a drizzle of maple syrup.

The Protein Category

Foods containing protein add additional punch to breakfast. They also keep our hunger satisfied longer and make breakfast a complete meal.

  • Dairy products such as milk and yogurt are excellent sources of protein.
  • The traditional egg for breakfast also supplies protein, but often with a not-so-healthy dose of fat. Try poached or boiled eggs with whole grain toast. You can even make your own egg McMuffin: top a whole-grain English muffin with an egg (fried in a non-stick skillet with cooking spray) and a slice of low-fat cheese.
  • Instead of high-fat sausage or bacon, try Canadian bacon. It has far less fat than regular bacon, with a wonderful taste.
  • Many people like egg substitutes. Make them into omelets filled with vegetables; scramble with bits of Canadian bacon; try them in French toast!

Don't Forget to Use Your Imagination

Often people skip breakfast because they don't like traditional breakfast foods. Use your imagination!

  • Eat leftover rice, mixed with vegetables and small bits of chicken.
  • A turkey sandwich with a glass of milk and a piece of fruit is a great breakfast.
  • Leftover pizza, if you go easy on the high-fat toppings, can be a complete breakfast meal.
  • If you don't like cereal, eat what you like, but make sure you aim to eat in the morning.

Work the Time Issue Into Your Lifestyle

No time for a meal? The night before, make sure the blender is ready to go. Mix together skim milk with the fruit of your choice and keep it in the fridge until morning. Pour the milk/fruit mixture into the waiting blender; pop a piece of toast in the toaster, and in less than 5 minutes you have breakfast! Or consider taking breakfast with you: spread peanut butter on a whole-grain bagel and take along a piece of fruit. Make an extra sandwich for your lunch and eat it on the way.

Remember: by taking care of yourself, you not only feel better but set a good example for your children. Try to eat a healthy breakfast, one with whole grains, fresh fruit, and protein, each morning. Pull out the blender, stock up on whole grains and fruit, and try some of these quick, simple, healthy and family-pleasing breakfast ideas to spark your morning!

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