First Meal, Best Meal
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First Meal, Best MealGet your breakfast on!
In our house, we have three growing, active teen boys, a husband who is trying to lower his cholesterol, and a mom who has added strength training to her morning fitness routine—all trying to get out the door by 8 A.M. Despite our schedules, skipping breakfast is never acceptable in our house and everyone starts the day with a filling and nutritious meal.
It’s not just a marketing ploy on the part of cereal companies: breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Think about it: your body has just spent (ideally) eight hours sleeping, and your last meal was probably a few hours before bedtime. You’ve had no food or water in almost 12 hours. You’re dehydrated, your blood sugar is low, and as a result, you have no energy. By skipping breakfast in favor of a snooze or getting the kids out the door in time for you to pick up coffee, you’re sabotaging your healthy eating efforts. By the time lunch rolls around, you’re ravenous and more likely to reach for larger portions and unhealthy foods.
A 2002 study by the National Weight Control Registry of more than 3,000 people who had lost at least 30 pounds and kept it off for at least a year found that breakfast eaters were more successful at maintaining their weight loss. Even if, like my family, you’re not trying to lose weight, breakfast should still be a part of your morning routine. It can improve your memory, brighten your mood, and even boost your performance at work and school. One study of college students found that those who ate breakfast scored 22 percent higher in word-recall tests than students who started the day with an empty belly.
Harvard researchers found that kids who skipped breakfast were twice as likely to be depressed, four times more prone to anxiety, and 30 percent more likely to be hyperactive. When those kids started eating breakfast regularly, their levels of depression, anxiety, and hyperactivity all decreased.
With all those benefits, why don’t people eat breakfast? The No. 1 reason is time. Well, you don’t need an hour to make breakfast. If you have five minutes, you have time for breakfast. You’ll soon find it’s worth it to make a good breakfast.
I remind my boys that I’m a chef—not a short-order cook—so breakfast during the week has to be quick and easy. As any mother knows, mornings require superhuman strength to keep everyone organized and on time. Just as mise en place (everything in its place and a place for everything) is the key to success in a restaurant, it is the guiding principle in my home kitchen as well.
Sunday is the day for organizing a week of filling healthy breakfasts. I take inventory of the pantry and fridge, making sure we have gallons of nonfat milk (my oldest son is growing like a weed and another chugs milk like it’s going out of style), low-sugar cereal for our busiest days, and fresh fruit to round out our meals. We each have our favorite meals, but none takes more than a few minutes to prepare.
There’s oatmeal for my husband, whose doctor recommended that he eat oats for high cholesterol. Oats contain soluble fiber, which can help reduce cholesterol absorption and lower blood cholesterol levels. Making oatmeal at home is cheap and healthy, and each person can customize his or hers.
One menu item all my boys can agree on is omelets. This is a perfect way to get your kids to eat right in the morning without having to get up at 4 A.M. Think ahead and always be on the lookout for omelet fillers and toppings as you prepare meals. If we have stir-fry for dinner, I put aside leftover vegetables for the morning. If lasagna is on the menu, I save some of the sauce for an Italian cheese omelet. The beauty of the omelet is that each of my boys can “have it his way” and head off to school with a healthy breakfast in his belly.
I could eat the same breakfast 365 days of the year: 1 cup high protein cereal, 2 tablespoons ground flaxseeds, and ½ cup skim milk, plus some fruit, so I try to plan for variety. To change things up, I eat granola with low-fat yogurt and berries. On days when I’ve had a harder workout, I have an egg-white omelet in a whole-wheat tortilla wrap with salsa.
SO WHAT SHOULD YOU BE EATING?
Because breakfast is such an important meal, you should choose your food carefully. We start with high-fiber carbohydrates for staying power and energy, then add some protein—which takes longer to digest—to keep you satisfied and fill you up. Add a cup of nonfat milk or a serving of low-fat yogurt and a generous portion of fruit, such as berries, a pear, an orange, or a banana to any recipe for a well-balanced meal.
Though you might be tempted to skimp on breakfast and “save” calories for a splurge at dinner or dessert, don’t do it! Studies have shown that that tactic usually backfires, and you’ll end up eating more in the long run.
The trick is to find something that satisfies you. If your epitome-of-health best friend swears by oatmeal every morning, but you can’t stand the texture, eat something else. Bake a batch of healthy muffins, make a smoothie, or whip up an egg-white omelet. Eat leftovers from last night. All of us have had those days where you say “I’ll do better tomorrow.” Eating a good breakfast is the No. 1 thing you can do to “do better tomorrow.”