The Good Breakfast

The quick answer:  Breakfast is the easiest meal to make healthy.  Just remember one rule: More natural fiber than added sugar.


There’s a timeless rhythm to our eating: breakfast, lunch, then dinner, plus a snack or two in between.  Occasional fasting provides health benefits, but skipping meals or eating irregularly doesn’t.  The meal most skipped is breakfast, the subject of this post.  You heard it from your mom, but we’ll say it one more time:  A good breakfast gives you energy for your daily work.  There’s one more benefit to eating regularly:  You’re less susceptible to craving sugary, unhealthy snacks due to fading energy.

Sugar bad; fiber good

In the modern diet of refined foods we eat way too much added sugar, and too little natural fiber.  Because the MAD diet is a scary bad risk factor for the chronic diseases, Science has provided sugar and fiber guidelines:  Refined sugar has a maximum limit, while fiber has a minimum requirement.

Sugar:  The American Heart Association says added sugar intake shouldn’t exceed 100 calories daily, or 6 tsp (26 grams) for women or 150 calories, 9 tsp (39 grams), for men.  (Don’t worry about the natural sugars in fruit—Nature delivers them with protective nutrients.)

Fiber:  The Institute of Medicine recommends 14 grams daily per 1000 dietary calories.  Per the NHANES data, the average woman eats 1833 calories, while men consume 2475 calories.  So our fiber goal is 26 grams for women, and 35 grams for men.  Basically we should reverse our diet to eat more fiber than sugar.

A Simple RuleCounting your daily grams of sugar and fiber is crazy hard so Word of Wisdom Living offers a simple rule:  Processed foods—the bulk of the MAD diet—should have more fiber than sugar.   This follows the guidance given above.  It’s easy to check because processed foods are required to show the grams of sugar and total fiber on the nutrition facts panel.

Applying the Fiber>Sugar Rule

We visited the breakfast cereal aisle of a local supermarket and checked every cereal against the fiber>sugar rule.  (That little horizontal “v” means, ‘greater than’.)  The results were reported in the post, Trouble In The Cereal Aisle.  Bottom line:  Of 128 packaged cereals only 13 met this healthy rule.  In other words, 90% of those over-priced breakfast cereals don’t meet basic health rules.  This is a food disaster.

Here are some cereals that met the rule:  old-fashioned Shredded Wheat (no white sugar coating); Post Grape Nuts; and Kellogg’s All Bran.  Regular oatmeal has no sugar added so is a great breakfast dish. 

We also applied the Fiber>Sugar Rule to the bread aisle in the post, Waking Up In The Bread Aisle, with similar results.  We didn’t bother with the cookie aisle—the stuff is terrible and doesn't really taste good.

A Better Breakfast

It goes against one’s sense of thrift that packaged cereals contain ingredients costing pennies per pound but are sold in stores for dollars per pound.  It’s both cheaper and healthier to cook a breakfast of whole grains.  So we developed a recipe called the Breakfast Compote based on whole grains sweetened with fruit; you can see the recipe here.  Its as healthy as a breakfast can be—we eat it five days a week by varying the ingredients.

Worried that a breakfast so healthy is too costly?  I got a scale and calculated the cost of ingredients for my Breakfast Compote—it’s way cheaper than the unhealthy stuff in the cereal aisle.  So one more time: It really is cheaper to eat healthy, if you use natural foods and are willing to cook.

There’s a seasonal rotation to the fruits we use:  strawberries in the spring, peaches in the summer, pears in the fall, and apples in winter.  (Actually, spring strawberries showed up last week in our farmers’ market.)  You can have blueberries year around by buying in bulk and keeping them in the freezer.  They pour out like marbles but thaw quickly.  I’ve made two other changes:  we’ve gotten good results by increasing the ground flaxseed from 1 tsp to 2 tablespoons, and we add Katie’s Granola, recipe below, to improve texture and flavor.  We eat the Breakfast Compote five days a week; I put a little milk on mine but the beautiful wife prefers fresh orange juice. 

If your husband won’t get up and cook for you, try the Swiss breakfast of Muesli.  (Yes, the beautiful wife is half-Swiss.)  Available in health food stores, it’s basically oats with dried fruits and nuts.  My brother-in-law makes a fruit smoothie for breakfast.  My fancy sister makes oatmeal once a week and saves it in the fridge using a bread pan for easy serving.  You can also make granola.  We use the recipe called Katie’s Granola, found here.

A New Friend

Katrina Jones writes a blog—Katrina’s Kitchen—that I like.  Check out her recipes for healthy breakfast treats, like Blueberry Muffins (whole wheat flour, just a little honey, no sugar); Homemade Granola; or something I’d never heard of, Carrot Pancakes.  We find very few blog that focus on healthy eating as we understand it, but Katrina seems to get it.

Healthy Change

Please comment:  Share your healthy breakfast ideas, your recipes, or your timesaving tips.

Need a reminder? Download our Healthy Change reminder card. Print and fold, then place in your kitchen or on your bathroom mirror to help you remember the Healthy Change of the week.

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    Breakfast is the first meal taken after rising from a nights sleep, most often eaten in the early morning before undertaking the days work.
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    Breakfast is the first dinner taken in the wake of climbing from a nights rest, regularly consumed in the early morning before undertaking the day's worth of effort.
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Reader Comments (15)

What an honor to be featured on a blog I respect so much! Thanks, Skip. Breakfast, dietary fiber, and no sugar are definitely topics I am passionate about.

January 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKatrina

My current breakfast addiction is plain Greek yogurt (the kind with lots of probiotics), a drizzle of agave nectar and fresh fruit. I think I'll make some homemade granola today and start throwing that in as well.

January 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSabrina

I keep thinking about the whole "it costs too much to eat healthy!" thing. Someone told me something once that stuck with me - and I think about it almost daily. It's this - medical bills 20 years from now will cost FAR more than eating healthy and exercising NOW.

January 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRik

I have a green smoothie for breakfast most days- made from leafy greens and fruit. I sometimes make oatmeal or quinoa as well. Quinoa is probably a bit more expensive than oats, but it is still a great breakfast! I serve it with a little honey and some cinnamon.

January 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLaura

Great post! We had homemade oatmeal with dried fruit, honey, and cinnamon this morning for the whole family. Yum! And I'm about to go make another batch of granola for the coming week to eat as cereal and with Greek yogurt.

I am laughing at how you had to explain the "greater than" symbol.

January 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLisa

My current breakfast favorite is baked oatmeal. I am quite fond of the 101 cookbooks recipe by Heidi Swanson.
I swap out the bananas for more berries (frozen work well) and use unsweetened almond milk instead of cow. It also works well with chopped apples, cranberries and cardamom. It is very delicious. I bake a batch at night while I'm cooking dinner and it heats up well for breakfast for several days.

January 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea

I usually do a variation of your Breakfast Compote because I'm being careful with eating gluten. So, I do half steel cut oats and half regular oats. I add one tablespoon honey for sweetness and about half cup of milk. I've been eating it with berries or bananas, but yesterday I added cinnamon and a chopped apple.

January 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAnn

We use the same recipe for baked oatmeal that Andrea does. My 3 year old, who hates oatmeal, gobbles it right up!! Love your blog by the way. I've been spreading the word about it!

January 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAudie

My quick, easy, cheap and nourishing breakfast is esentially home made muesli. Raw oats, a Tbspn grape nuts, fresh seasonal fruit with low fat milk. I have a few nuts afterwards as I don't like them on my cereal. I find this sets me up for the whole morning and I don't even find it boring eating pretty much the same thing each day.

January 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCon

Con, that's perfect. I don't get bored either, maybe because the fruit changes with the seasons. Best to you.

January 28, 2012 | Registered CommenterSkip Hellewell

Sigh. I argue with my husband over this all the time. We have young children who really love cereal. I forbid Cheerios in the house on the grounds that they were only slightly more nutritious than cardboard and probably undergo more processing. My husband still buys the kids "healthy" boxed cereal - which, when I look at the nutrition information, still contains a horrible sugar-to-fiber ratio and is extremely expensive to boot. "Dehydrated cane juice" is still sugar! It drives me nuts. As of now, the cereal lives in the cupboard so my kids don't see it and want it all the time, and I make them toast or oatmeal or homemade high-fiber pancakes more often. They get the crappy "healthy" cereal on the weekends when I sleep in and my husband feeds them breakfast.

Skip, I would really appreciate a post concerning your take on "sneaky chef"-style cooking. My kids are both going through picky-eating stages and I have found that the only way to get them to eat vegetables is pretty much to hide them in smoothies and other foods, but in the process I have found that pureed vegetables also adds a lot of flavor to many foods, like pancakes, macaroni and cheese, and tomato sauce!

January 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKiera

Kiera, it's a good idea, but if it's okay with you, we'll think of a word other than "sneaky." The goal is to make healthy ingredients the mainstay of home cooking. This is the basis for our recipes, that besides tasting good, they contain the good stuff, mainly vegetables with a sparing amount of animal products (meat, eggs, cheese, etc.) for seasoning..

Your husband's idea of a "healthy" breakfast on Saturday morning does have the benefit of giving mom some health-restoring rest while he has some one-on-one with the children.

You're touching on a giant issue—how to build a family consensus on healthy eating. Food Inc has done a clever job of putting the "healthy" tag on all sorts of highly processed foods and the puffed oats are a good example. They add synthetic vitamins, or processed fiber, moving from one nutrient de jour to the next. So there is a process of education but the children will follow your lead. In the child's world, Mom is the most credible person. Best to you.

January 30, 2012 | Registered CommenterSkip Hellewell

One of our favorites for breakfast is Irish porridge (steel-cut oats.) I typically make it before I go to bed and reheat in the morning. You can make it with just water but I have no problem adding cream to it. I boil 6 cups of water, 2 cups heavy cream with a pinch of salt. When it come to a rapid boil I add 2 cups of steel-cut oats, cover the lid, and turn off the burner and go to sleep (you can also do this in a crockpot on low.) I serve with a little milk and fresh berries, nuts, dried fruit, and little honey (whatever combo is in season or to your liking.)

February 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRachel

I have always found that maynly non-sweet breakfasts keep me fuller longer as they don't start a sugar craving first thing in the morning. The only exceptions are greek youghurt with fruits, walnuts and a drizzle of honey, whole wheat bread with honey and pine nuts (the pine nuts take an edge of the sweetness) and steel cut oats with a drizzle of maple syrup and walnuts or apple sauce and cinnamon or blueberries. But just as Con, I'm actually a creature of habit and usually eat one hamsandwich and one sandwich with avocado, or "Eggs and Soldiers" (whole wheat toast dipped in soft boiled egg yolk). I feel that I tend to weer towards unsweetened yoghurt with fruit or unsweetened yoghurt oats and banana during summer time though.

May 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMims

For anyone who needs to avoid gluten, oatmeal must be labeled gluten-free. Other oats in the U.S. are cross-contaminated with wheat. Rolled or steel-cut are the same in terms of this situation. Bob's Red Mill makes GF oats, both rolled and steel-cut. They also produce regular oats, so be sure to look for the GF label. Some few people with celiac disease can't tolerate even that special version of oats.

September 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCornlily

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