Shelley Maniscalco, M.P.H., RDN
Founder and CEO, Nutrition On Demand, Member, American Society for Nutrition
Tricia Psota, Ph.D., RDN
Managing Director, Nutrition On Demand, Member, American Society for Nutrition
Breakfast is often called “the most important meal of the day,” and for many good reasons. For one, as its name tells us, it breaks the period of fasting overnight. This means the food and beverages consumed at breakfast help replenish your body’s blood glucose (sugar), and in turn boost your energy level to start the day.
On average, Americans eat 5-6 times each day, with most eating two (28 percent) or three (64 percent) full meals — but this varies widely depending on someone’s age. Young children and older adults are most likely to eat breakfast, while adolescents and young adults are least likely to and tend to consume more meals and snacks later in the day.
Breakfast occasions typically have higher overall dietary quality and are more nutrient dense than other meals and snacks. This means breakfasts generally provide fewer calories (i.e., energy) than other meals, while contributing much needed nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Fortified breakfast cereals and bars are some of the most common breakfast choices, and are a great way to fill up on all these nutrients. Yet, they also are a top source of added sugar for many Americans, so compare options and opt for lower-sugar cereals and bars.
Whether or not you consider breakfast your “thing,” it’s never too late to start building healthy habits. The only rule is that there are no rules. Whatever your goals, whatever your food preferences, breakfast fits the bill. Use these ideas to get started:
Make it healthy
No need to overthink here — use your natural nutrition know-how. There are five food groups (fruits, veggies, dairy, protein foods, and grains), and more and less healthy foods within each group. Skip the saturated fat (the solid fat from animal sources), added sugar, and salt whenever possible. Pro tip: While most people consume enough grains and protein foods, intake of fruits, veggies, dairy, and whole grains is lacking, so keep these foods top of mind when deciding on your go-to breakfast options.
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Make it varied
There are as many combinations for breakfast as days in the year. While you may have your favorites, try asking yourself, “How many food groups am I getting in this meal?” If the answer is 3 or more, you are in a great place! For inspiration, check out these three food group breakfast ideas:
- Smoothie made with 100 percent fruit juice, your favorite frozen fruit, veggies (think spinach, carrots, or kale), and low-fat Greek yogurt
- Whole-wheat English muffin with a hard-boiled egg and avocado
- Parfait with layers of low-fat yogurt, low-sugar granola, and fresh berries
- Oatmeal made with milk and topped with nuts and dried fruit (4 food groups!)
Make it easy
There’s no need to stress first thing in the morning. Breakfast can be quick and:
- No fuss, like whole-grain cereal with low-fat milk and canned fruit or avocado on whole-wheat toast with a glass of 100 percent juice;
- Simply reheated by using last night’s dinner or fridge leftovers to make a breakfast sandwich;
- Made-ahead by soaking oats in milk with frozen fruit; or
- Comforting, like scrambled eggs with your favorite veggies and low-fat cheese.
Make it simple
If you’re part of the 15 percent of Americans skipping breakfast, start with one “as is” item. Grab a banana, bar, an ounce of roasted nuts — or a combination — and gradually add in foods from other food groups to round out the meal. Before you know it, you’ll have added a healthy meal to your day and your body will reap the benefits of extra energy and nutrition.
No matter what your day looks like, breakfast can be a staple. Whether you regularly consume breakfast and are looking for new ideas, or are a breakfast beginner, visit ChooseMyPlate.gov for inspiration and food-group tips and tricks!