Healthy breakfast: Quick, flexible options
Medically reviewed on February 25, 2017
It might be the last thing on your morning to-do list, or worse, it might not be on your list at all. But a healthy breakfast refuels your body, jump-starts your day and may even benefit your overall health. Don't skip this important meal.
These quick and flexible options give you plenty of ways to put breakfast back on your daily menu.
The benefits of a healthy breakfast
Breakfast gives you a chance to start each day with a healthy and nutritious meal. Adults who report regularly eating a healthy breakfast are more likely to:
- Eat more vitamins and minerals.
- Control their weight. Research suggests that consuming most of your daily calories in the morning can aid weight loss.
- Control their blood sugar levels — which is important in preventing or controlling diabetes.
- Eat less fat and cholesterol.
- Perform better at work.
Children who regularly eat a healthy breakfast are more likely to:
- Meet daily nutrient requirements
- Be at a healthy body weight
- Have better concentration and be more alert
- Miss fewer days of school
The basics of a healthy breakfast
What exactly counts as a healthy breakfast? Here's the core of a healthy breakfast:
- Whole grains. Examples include whole-grain rolls and bagels, hot or cold whole-grain cereals, whole-grain English muffins, and whole-grain waffles.
- Lean protein. Examples include eggs, lean meat, legumes and nuts.
- Low-fat dairy. Examples include milk, plain or lower sugar yogurts, and low-fat cheeses, such as cottage cheese and natural cheeses.
- Fruits and vegetables. Examples include fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, 100 percent juice drinks without added sugar, and fruit and vegetable smoothies.
Together, these food groups provide complex carbohydrates, fiber, protein and a small amount of fat — a combination that packs health benefits and helps you feel full for hours.
Find options from these core groups that suit your tastes and preferences. And try to choose food from at least three of these four food groups to round out a healthy breakfast.
What to look for in dry cereals
Cereal may be your go-to item for breakfast, whether you grab a handful to eat dry on the run or you have time to sit down for a bowl with milk and fruit. Cereal can be a good choice — research indicates that people who eat cereal consume fewer calories at breakfast and are less likely to be overweight than people who eat other foods for breakfast. But not all cereals are created equal.
Read the Nutrition Facts label and ingredient list before you buy cereal. And remember that not all cereals have the same serving size. A serving of one cereal might be 1/2 cup, while another may be 1 cup.
Key items to consider when choosing cereal are:
- Fiber. Choose cereals with at least 3 grams of fiber in each serving, but if possible, aim for 5 grams a serving or more.
- Sugar. Focus on cereals marketed to adults, which are usually lower in sugar than cereals aimed at children. Check the Nutrition Facts label to find out how much sugar a cereal contains. Avoid cereals that list sugar at or near the top of the ingredient list, or that list multiple types of added sugar, such as high-fructose corn syrup, honey, brown sugar and dextrose.
- Calories. If you're counting calories, choose cereals lower in calories, ideally less than 160 calories a serving.
Remember to top off your bowl of cereal with some sliced fruit and low-fat or skim milk. Or if you're on the go, take along a piece of fruit, a container of milk or some yogurt.
A word about cereal bars
Cereal bars may be a good breakfast option. Just be sure to look for those that meet the same guidelines as dry cereal and that are made with simple, wholesome ingredients, such as dried fruit, nuts and whole grains such as oats.
Also, don't forget some fruit and low-fat milk or yogurt to round things out. Even fruit or yogurt cereal bars won't satisfy all your nutrition requirements for breakfast.
Quick and flexible breakfast options
A healthy breakfast doesn't always have to be a traditional breakfast menu.
Healthy breakfast options include:
- Cooked oatmeal topped with almonds or dried cranberries
- A whole-wheat pita stuffed with hard-boiled egg and a vegetable such as spinach
- A whole-wheat tortilla filled with vegetables, salsa and low-fat shredded cheese
- A smoothie of fruits, plain yogurt and a spoonful of wheat germ
- A whole-wheat sandwich with lean meat and low-fat cheese, lettuce, tomato, cucumber and sweet peppers
- French toast made with whole-wheat bread, eggs whites or an egg substitute, cinnamon and vanilla
Fitting in a healthy breakfast
Try these tips for fitting in breakfast on a tight schedule:
- Cook ahead. Make breakfast the night before. Just reheat as necessary in the morning.
- Set the stage. Figure out what you'll eat for breakfast the night before. Then, set out dry ingredients and any bowls, equipment or pans. They'll be ready for use in the morning.
- Pack it up. Make a to-go breakfast the night before. In the morning, you can grab it and go.
If you skip breakfast because you want to save calories, reconsider that plan. Chances are you'll be ravenous by lunchtime. That may lead you to overeat or choose fast but unhealthy options — perhaps doughnuts or cookies a co-worker brings to the office.
Your morning meal doesn't have to mean loading up on sugar and fats, and it doesn't have to be time-consuming to be healthy. Keep the breakfast basics in mind and set yourself up for healthier eating all day long.