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. So don't skip this meal — it may be more important than you think.
Even if you're short on time, quick-and-flexible options you can grab at home give you plenty of healthy 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. It also lays the foundation for lifelong health benefits.
Benefits for adults
When you eat a healthy breakfast, you're more likely to:
- Eat more vitamins and minerals
- Eat less fat and cholesterol
- Have better concentration and productivity throughout the morning
- Control your weight
- Have lower cholesterol, which may reduce your risk of heart disease
Benefits for children
Breakfast is especially important for children and adolescents. According to the American Dietetic Association, children who eat a healthy breakfast are more likely to:
- Meet daily nutrient requirements
- Concentrate better
- Have better problem-solving skills
- Have better hand-eye coordination
- Be more alert
- Be more creative
- Miss fewer days of school
- Be more physically active
The basics of a healthy breakfast
Even though you know a healthy breakfast has many benefits, you may not be sure what exactly counts as a healthy breakfast.
Here's what forms the core of a healthy breakfast:
- Whole grains. Examples include whole-grain rolls, bagels, hot or cold whole-grain cereals, low-fat bran muffins, crackers, or Melba toast.
- Low-fat protein. Examples include peanut butter, lean meat, poultry or fish, or hard-boiled eggs.
- Low-fat dairy. Examples include skim milk, low-fat yogurt and low-fat cheeses, such as cottage and natural cheeses.
- Fruits and vegetables. Examples include fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, 100 percent juice beverages without added sugar, or fruit and vegetable smoothies. Choose low-sodium versions of beverages, though.
Together, these core groups provide complex carbohydrates, fiber, protein and a small amount of fat — a combination that packs big health benefits and that also can leave you feeling full for hours. Find options from these core groups that suit your tastes and interests. And try to choose one or two options from each category to round out a healthy breakfast.
What to look for in dry cereals
Cereal may frequently be your go-to item for breakfast, whether you grab a handful to eat dry while on the run, or you have time to sit down with a bowl with milk and fruit. 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.
The key items to look for when choosing cereal are:
- Fiber. Choose cereals with at least 3 grams (g) of fiber per serving, but if possible, aim for 5 grams per serving or more.
- Sugar. Having sugar doesn't automatically make a cereal unhealthy. But the healthiest choices have 5 or less grams of sugar per serving. Check the Nutrition Facts label. This lists total grams of sugar per serving, which includes both naturally occurring sugar and added sugar. Some cereals contain dried fruit, which has natural sugar and adds to the total amount of sugar. But these cereals may still be healthy choices if eaten in moderation. 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 120 calories per serving. Some cereals have more calories per serving but can still be healthy choices.
|Examples of good options for dry breakfast cereals
|Cereal and serving size
||Fiber in grams
||Sugar in grams
|General Mills Cheerios, 1 cup
|General Mills Fiber One, 1/2 cup
|Kashi Go Lean, 1 cup
|Kellogg's All-Bran Bran Buds, 1/3 cup
|Kellogg's All-Bran Original, 1/2 cup
|Post Raisin Bran, 1 cup
|Post Shredded Wheat Original Spoon Size, 1 cup
|Quaker Life Cereal, plain, 3/4 cup
Source: USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 23
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 also may be a good breakfast option. Just be sure to look for those that meet the same guidelines as dry cereal. 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
You have plenty of ways to get in a healthy breakfast each day, and it doesn't always have to be a traditional breakfast menu.
Here are some specific examples of healthy breakfast options:
- Cooked oatmeal topped with almonds or dried cranberries
- A whole-wheat pita stuffed with hard-boiled eggs
- Leftover vegetable pizza
- A tortilla filled with vegetables, salsa and low-fat shredded cheese
- A smoothie blended from exotic fruits, some low-fat yogurt and a spoonful of wheat germ
- Whole-wheat crackers with low-fat cheese or peanut butter
- A microwaved potato topped with broccoli and grated Parmesan cheese
- A whole-wheat sandwich with lean meat and low-fat cheese and as much lettuce, tomato, cucumber, and sweet peppers as you like
- Multigrain pancakes with fruit and yogurt
- A whole-grain waffle with peanut butter
- Egg omelet with vegetables (use more egg whites than yolk)
Fitting in a healthy breakfast
If you skip breakfast because you're short on time each morning, plan ahead. Some tips to fit in breakfast on a tight schedule:
- The night before, figure out what you'll eat. Then set out dry ingredients and any bowls, blenders or pans so they're ready for use.
- Make breakfast the night before, then just heat as necessary in the morning.
- Pack a to-go breakfast the night before.
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.