You've heard it pretty much every morning of your life: Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But how important is it when you're tired and in a big rush and barely have time to brush your teeth and your hair before running out to make it to the office not-too-late. Cereal and doughnuts may be quick fixes in the morning, but they're not satisfying and can be worse than not eating breakfast at all.
So is breakfast really worth eating? Short, morning-friendly answer: Yes.
"Eating in the morning improves cognition and mood, particularly when the foods are lower glycemic index," Jennifer Bowers, PhD, RD and self-proclaimed long-term horrible breakfast eater trying to change her ways, said in an interview. Recent studies have shown that eating breakfast can result in overall lower calorie intake throughout the day and greater physical activity. To practice what she encourages her patients to do (i.e. become breakfast eaters) Bowers now eats fruit and veggie smoothies, overnight oats and homemade ham and egg muffins made with Greek yogurt in the morning.
Wonder how other nutritionists are starting their days? We asked nutritionists what food they wake up with to inspire you to seriously up your breakfast game.
Greek yogurt and fruit topped with a nutty granola
"It's easy fast and filling," Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RDN and Director of Nutrition at WebMD said. "My goal, and I think most nutritionists would agree, is to have a meal consisting of protein, healthy fats and fiber that fill you up and hold you until lunch."
Leafy greens (or hard boiled eggs)
"Because my days are usually pretty busy and I know it is difficult to get in my green leafy vegetables, I will have a smoothie made with plain Greek yogurt for protein and probiotics, frozen fruit, spinach or arugula, chia or flax seeds," Kim Melton RD at Nutrition Pro Consulting said. If Melton isn't in a smoothie mood, she'll have two hard boiled eggs and some fruit. "The eggs have a good amount of protein and fill me up which helps to control my weight," Melton said. "They also have a good amount of choline and several vitamins. Eggs are a great, inexpensive food to eat in the morning."
A smoothie or hot quinoa
Stephanie Dunne, MS, RD, CDN, IFNCP, has two go-to breakfasts, one being a smoothie she's made almost every morning for the past 12 years. "I always make it using whole foods like cucumber or celery, spinach or arugula, avocado or coconut milk, frozen berries, and a few other nutrient-dense ingredients," Dunne explained via email. "I love it because it is packed with nutrition from healthy fats and protein to lots of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients which ensures I stay satisfied throughout the morning and that I start my day with at least two of my fruit or veggie servings for the day."
When a smoothie won't cut it, Dunne make hot quinoa, similar to oatmeal. "I use a base of almond or coconut milk to cook it and then add in spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, roasted pumpkin seeds or almond slices, and fruit like blueberries or mango," Dunne explained. "Quinoa is high in protein and fiber, while the seeds and nuts provide healthy fat and the fruit provides phytonutrients and more fiber. Plus it's really tasty and feels snuggly in my stomach on a cold morning."
"I eat papaya about four days a week for breakfast," Pearl Dworkin, holistic nutritionist and licensed esthetician, said via email. She likes to sprinkle her papaya with some bee pollen, which contains vitamins, minerals and fatty acids that can help with seasonal allergies. "I eat papaya because it's enzyme rich, contains a lot of potassium, beta-carotene and choline, so a great way to start the day," Dworkin said. Sometime's she'll also have full fat Greek yogurt with her papaya and some maple syrup. "I stay full until lunch and it's a sweet way to start the day!"
Two slices of whole grain toast with smashed avocado, crumbled feta, and cherry tomatoes, with a whole milk cappuccino
"I work out from 6:30-7:15 a.m. most mornings, and the first stop after my run is usually my local coffee shop for a cappuccino," Edwina Clark, MS, RD, APD (Aus), CSSD, said via email. "Milk is packed with protein and rapidly absorbed carbs, making it a great choice for recovery," she said, noting that she prefers a cappuccino with whole milk, as the fat slows down the caffeine absorption. At home, Clark will make her signature breakfast avocado toast topped with feta and cherry tomatoes. "The combination of healthy fats, whole grain carbs and veggies keeps me fueled for hours," she said.
Three food groups
"My breakfast goal is to incorporate at least three food groups with a balance of carbohydrates, fats, and protein to start off the morning," Julie Harrington, RD, Culinary Nutrition Communications Consultant at RDelicious Kitchen said via email. This can include overnight oats, frittatas or smoothies, which are easy to prep in advance by combining ingredients in individual packages, storing them in the freezer and blending a packet with liquid each morning. The combo Harrington is using now: Banana, berries, chia seeds, spinach and almond butter, blended with unsweetened almond milk for breakfast time.
Steel cut oats topped with Greek yogurt
Michelle Jaelin, RD, adds berries like strawberries, blueberries or blackberries and a small handful of walnuts to her steel cut oats and yogurt on a weekday morning. "Berries are high in antioxidants and steel cut oats are a complex carbohydrate high in soluble fiber, [which is] essential for healthy digestion and lowering LDL cholesterol," she explained via email. "Breakfast is a great way to try to meet most of your daily fiber needs." The yogurt also adds protein and calcium to an already nutritious breakfast.
"Eggs are my go-to," Ana Reisdorf, MS, RD, CDE, said via email. "I find that starting my day with a little protein and fat helps me stay full until [lunch]. One egg has about 7 grams of protein and 5 grams of fat, I find it is the right balance I need to get me through the morning," she said, mentioning that eggs are also high in several fat-soluble vitamins and choline, which is hard to find in other foods. Reisdorf will scramble her eggs with salsa or shredded cheese to mix up her routine, or eat eggs on whole wheat toast, a tortilla, an English muffin or with an avocado. "Eggs are easy and quick to prepare, critical for busy mornings!" she said.