Tips for Eating a Healthy Breakfast

What are mornings like in your world? If you’re organized enough to make and eat a nutritious breakfast every day, congratulations! But if you tend to hit the snooze button one too many times and grab a bagel with cream cheese or hit the drive-thru for a coffee roll (or two), don’t despair. Although it is important to eat a healthy breakfast, you don’t have to whip up a veggie-rich egg-white omelet or stir a pot of oatmeal to get there.

Why a Healthy Breakfast Is Important

Food—protein, carbohydrates, and fats—is the fuel that makes your body function. Breakfast is important because you haven’t eaten in several hours. Dietitians recommend that your first meal of the day include complex carbohydrates such as whole grains like oatmeal or a cereal like Total or Cheerios; or vitamin-rich carbs like fruit; or lean protein like reduced-fat milk or yogurt and eggs. However, breakfast foods, especially instant or on-the-go options, are usually high in fat, sugar, salt, or some combination. Even foods that are marketed as healthy, like granola, can be deceptively high in fat or sugar.

Making the Transition to Healthy Breakfast Options

Instead of all-or-nothing changes, a gradual transition can help you avoid feelings of deprivation. Give yourself time to get used to healthier flavors and textures before you make another change. For example, say your current breakfast is a medium caramel latte (330 calories; 50 grams of sugar) and a chocolate muffin (570 calories; 40 g sugar) or apple fritter (420 calories; 24 g sugar). To make a transition to unsweetened coffee with low-fat milk and whole-grain toast, you might try this:

  1. For the first week or two, swap out the muffin or fritter with a chocolate-filled croissant (240 calories; 10 g sugar) or an apple-spiced doughnut (260 calories; 9 g sugar).
  2. For the next week or so, order a medium latte with whole milk (170 calories; 14 g sugar). For sweetness, stir in 1 packet of sugar (23 calories; 6 g sugar).
  3. Gradually reduce the fat and sugar in your breakfast till you find what works for you. You might be okay with reduced-fat milk but not fat-free. Rather than gulp down something unpleasant, stick with reduced-fat milk in your coffee and try switching from a small plain doughnut to whole-wheat toast and a teaspoon of jam. If you’re still hungry, add some fruit or a hard-cooked egg.

Easy and Healthy Breakfast Ideas

If your issue is time, here are eight ideas for speedy meals. Some require a bit of prep the night before, others a few minutes that morning—and some require simply opening the fridge.

Prep in Advance

Hard-Cooked Eggs: These keep for several days, so boil up enough for the week, then stash them in the refrigerator. (Tip: If you put them in the same container as raw eggs, make a dot on the shells of cooked eggs with a crayon so you can tell them apart.)

Overnight Oatmeal: Rolled oats are higher in fiber than instant oatmeal. Mix ¼ cup rolled oats, ¼ cup milk, 2 tablespoons plain yogurt, and a teaspoon of honey in a microwave-safe container with a lid. Refrigerate overnight. You can either grab and go (and eat cold) or heat it in the microwave for a hot breakfast. If you like, stir in 1 tablespoon of chopped nuts and either 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh fruit or berries or 1 tablespoon of dried fruit.

Five-Minute Meals

Oatmeal: Choose plain (unflavored) packets of instant oatmeal. Prepare according to package directions, but use fat-free milk rather than water for 15 percent of your daily requirement of calcium. Top with a few shakes of ground cinnamon and some sliced almonds or chopped walnuts, or stir in 1 tablespoon of peanut butter and top with banana slices.

Egg Sandwich: Spread a toasted whole-wheat English muffin with 2 tablespoons black bean hummus. Top with avocado slices. Whisk 1 egg, 1 tablespoon of grated cheddar, and a splash of milk and cook, scrambling. Layer on a muffin half and add some taco sauce or hot sauce.

Baked Apple: If you prefer sweet in the morning, core and chop an apple and put into a microwave-safe bowl. Sprinkle with 2 to 3 tablespoons of water (or use apple juice or cider) and a shake of ground cinnamon. Microwave until the apple is softened (about 2 to 3 minutes). Top with a spoonful of vanilla yogurt and 1 tablespoon of chopped walnuts.

Almost Instant Ideas

PB&J: Who says peanut butter and jelly is just for lunch? Opt for whole-grain bread and read labels. Pass on peanut butter that lists high-fructose corn syrup as an ingredient. Look for preserves made without sugar or artificial sweeteners, or ditch the jam altogether and layer sliced apples or bananas for a boost of fiber.

Yogurt Sundae: Flavored yogurt can be surprisingly high in sugar—25 to 33 grams, or more than 100 calories per serving! Stock up on single-serving containers of plain Greek yogurt (4 g sugar, or about 16 calories per serving from sugar). Top with fresh berries or a handful of dried fruit, a drizzle of honey, and a tablespoon or two of granola, muesli, or wheat germ. (Or layer in a glass for a breakfast parfait.)

Cheese and Crackers: Pack whole-grain crackers or flatbreads in snack-sized zip-close bags, and keep string cheese, Laughing Cow wedges, or Babybels in the fridge. Grab them on your way out the door when you’re in a mad dash.