Many people are challenged by or simply not excited about breakfast. They may feel limited with their choices, not have enough prep time or generally think it’s not that important. Even if we have the best intentions, we often turn to our quick standbys like cereal and milk or toast and jam to fuel us till lunch. As a culture, we tend to be uninspired about this first, yet very important, meal of the day.
My first goal here is to get people to see beyond bread or cereal and start to embrace that you can eat ANYTHING for breakfast. Leftovers from dinner? Sure! Hot soup? Why not! Of course, I also strive to encourage thinking ahead so you can be prepared for making this meal score some hearty nutritional points.
First consider what people around the world are eating.
I have found that exploring different cultures is one of the most effective ways to bring new eating ideas into my repertoire. It may seem strange to eat beans and rice for breakfast, but certainly not if you were traveling in Costa Rica or Mexico. Enjoying salad first thing in the morning looked odd until I lived in Israel for six months and fell in love with the typical Israeli breakfast of multiple yummy salads. In the cold winter months, it makes more sense to me to enjoy a Japanese hot soup or Chinese congee for breakfast than a cold cereal.
You don’t have to adhere to the global breakfast idea to eat healthfully, either. The idea is to expand our horizons so we feel we have more options and can pack more nutrition into our day. I find that young children will eat anything for breakfast as long as you make the food seem breakfast-worthy. (I name things “Early Bird Soup,” “Breakfast Stir-fry,” “Morning Miso”… you get the picture.)
Sure, “Western breakfast food” can be healthy.
Organic yogurt with sprouted raw granola, nuts and fruit is a stellar way to start the day. A porridge with slow-cooked oats topped with some superfoods is simply fantastic. Eggs and veggies are, of course, a perfect combination. A fruit parfait with cashew cream is to die for (recipe below). A hearty almond-flour waffle with fruit compote will certainly do the trick. A healthy smoothie is always a great idea. Perhaps we can start by recreating what we feel comfortable with as appropriate breakfast foods. I have some ideas and recipes below.
Well, what about my boxed “whole grain” cereal?
Let’s first talk about what a whole grain actually is. Whole grains are grains in their unprocessed form, meaning they haven’t been beaten, pulverized, polished, bleached or stripped of their nutrients. When a grain is still whole (unrefined), it is loaded with fiber, B vitamins, vitamin E, zinc, magnesium and some protein. When grains have been refined, the bran and germ are often removed, leaving behind mostly starch.
Boxed breakfast cereals unfortunately don’t count as whole grains. High pressure and heat destroy most of the nutrients previously available in the grains listed on the box (so frustrating, I know!). Sally Fallon, health pioneer and author of Nourishing Traditions, suggests: “For a new generation of hardy children, we must return to the breakfast cereals of our ancestors — soaked gruels and porridges.”
I hear ya, Sally.
Gotta love a good ol’ porridge.
Porridge is one of the mainstay wintertime breakfasts in our house. I love that it’s warm and nutritionally balanced, and I can prepare most of it the night before. Porridge can be oatmeal, yes, but it also can be made with rice, quinoa or any combination of grains you like. Porridge is a perfect way to use cooked leftover grains from the days before. The point of the recipe below is to use what you have and play around with the ingredients endlessly for different flavors.
The Kitchen-Sink Breakfast Porridge
Start with a grain and milk then add anything you fancy!
Something grainy– Steel cut oats or other grains (rice, quinoa, couscous, millet, amaranth). Leftovers are divine here.
Something milky– I suggest canned coconut milk or hemp milk here for ultimate nutritional punch, but you can use whatever you like.
Something fruity– Fresh or dried fruit. Dried fruit ideas- raisins, cranberries, currants, apricots, figs, dates, shredded coconut (ideally unsweetened and unsulphured)
Something sweet– Maple syrup, raw honey, coconut sugar, date sugar, Jerusalem artichoke syrup, jam, fruit compote
Something nutty– Nut butter (e.g., almond butter) or whole nuts chopped into desired consistency: brazil nuts, almonds, walnuts, pecans (We grind brazil nuts in a coffee grinder and keep in a jar for easy sprinkling.)
Something seedy– Sesame, sunflower, hemp, flax seeds
If using uncooked grain: Rinse first, then soak overnight in boiling water. This makes the grain easier to digest and cuts the cooking time by 75%.
If using already cooked grain, you are ready to go.
Put desired amount of grain in saucepan (about ½-1 cup per person) and top with liquid till grain is covered by ~½ inch of liquid. For liquid, you can use your desired milk or a combo of milk and water. When I use canned coconut milk, I may cut it with about ¼ part water.
Stir so the liquid gets to the bottom. Cook, covered, on low-medium heat until grain is soft and hot. Stir a few times so it doesn’t stick. Add more liquid if it’s drying out.
Now, have fun topping it with anything and everything you desire!
Note: I will often set this up the night before since I can think more clearly when the house is quiet. You can pre-soak the grain right in the saucepan and have your toppings ready to go. Our kids love this breakfast! (Probably because they get to scoop their own toppings). We keep the toppings in jars in the fridge so it’s really simple to pull them all out and throw them back in the fridge when we are done. I usually add maple syrup slowly, then taste it to check the sweetness level. Add more milk at the end for people who like a soupy porridge or to quickly cool it for hungry mouths.
Cashew Cream Recipe
This cream is somethin’ special. Every time I make it, people beg me to send them the recipe. I use it for dessert with fresh sliced apples and strawberries or to spread on muffins. It works well mixed in yogurt or layered with granola and fruit for the most decadent breakfast parfait ever. It is high in healthy fat and protein, so it packs some real nutritional muscle. And did I mention it’s delicious?
1½ C raw cashews
5 dates, pits removed
1 C fresh orange juice
1 t vanilla or almond extract
3 pinches cardamom
1 big pinch cinnamon
2 pinches sea salt
• Soak the cashews and pitted dates in the orange juice for at least 30 minutes. (If pressed for time, soak the dates in hot water for 5 minutes, discard soaking water, and get movin’)
• Add the rest of the ingredients.
• Blend until creamy. This may give your blender a little workout, so you will probably need to involve your spatula a bit. If more liquid is necessary to get things going, feel free to add a tablespoon or two of orange juice, water, or milk of your choice.
Make in advance and enjoy for a few days!! For breakfast, serve with fresh sliced fruit or layer in a cup with granola and fruit.
Other points, tips and ideas for a healthy breakfast!
~Leftovers can be breakfast!
One of my favorite breakfast ideas is to take leftover stir-fry or Thai food (perhaps not the soup) and mix with eggs. If I have an extra second, I may spruce it up with a handful of chopped broccoli or greens. A stir-fry/Thai scramble is absolutely delicious and is the easiest thing ever.
Another idea: Beans and rice makes a great base for a Costa Rican breakfast. I will warm the beans and rice and serve with fresh avocado and fruit (or I will mix the two~ mango or banana guacamole is delish!). Great with or without corn tortillas.
Or simply: soup from the days before! We eat soup for breakfast pretty often. Doesn’t a warm and hearty soup sound like a great way to start the day?
If you have some time to plan ahead, you will thank yourself later. You can make frittata batter (eggs and sautéed veggies), pour into a muffin pan and bake till firm. After baking, store in freezer; then it’s ready to be heated for a quick and easy breakfast when you want it. (Thanks to Dana Drutz, my dear friend and collaborator on the Nourish Me book, for this genius idea!)
~You can’t go wrong with smoothies
Smoothies are the easiest meal in the world. Fast, efficient… just a great way to get lots of nutrients into the whole family! They are fun to make and give everyone a chance to let their creativity in the kitchen shine. I encourage you not to measure; just start going for it. Fruit, yogurt, protein powder, juice, avocado, silken tofu, nut butters, even spinach all go well, so just start throwing things in your blender! The goal is to make sure there are good fats and protein represented, not just the sweet stuff.
Here is an example of a standard in our house to feed 3-4 of us:
1.5 C vanilla hemp milk
2 scoops Nourish Me powder
2 frozen bananas (peel first before you freeze)
A few handfuls frozen blueberries
Big spoonful almond butter
½ C water
(I may add spinach, spirulina, maca, or a number of strange things hanging around the house!)
Quick and Easy Breakfast Ideas
Here are some other quick and easy ideas:
Mana bread topped with almond butter, apple butter and hemp seeds. (Mana bread is something really special. It’s in the fridge or freezer at the healthy market. You can eat it warm or straight from the fridge.).
If cereal and milk is the choice for the day, don’t feel guilty. Perhaps try to make the toppings count. Choose a nutritionally powerful milk like hemp or coconut milk and sprinkle on hemp seeds, coconut flakes, ground nuts and/or chia seeds. It only takes a few seconds to make plain cereal and milk really shine.
And for the days that a scone on the run or a sip of coffee will be the way you start your day—just enjoy it!