“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day” may sound like an old wives’ tale at this point, but some time-honored beliefs are worth the hype. In order to avoid potential brain-fog induced by low-blood sugar, you need breakfast. Starting off the day with a full, nutrient-dense meal also allows you to keep making better choices throughout the day, including zapping those late-night snack cravings.
Here are our top guidelines to make your breakfast that much more delicious (and nutritious):
- Eat breakfast every day (no exceptions!): A large body of evidence consistently supports the idea that consuming breakfast leads to better overall health and a lower body mass index (BMI). Research suggests that you’re likely to burn more calories throughout the day after having a big breakfast, while skipping breakfast is linked to burning fewer calories throughout the day — negating any weight-loss benefit of taking in fewer calories to begin with.
- Skip the sugary stuff: Cereals, granola, oatmeal, bars, bagels, and juice tend to be code words for sugar, which can set you up for an energy crash and ultimately overeating later on in the day. Look for cereals that are in the single digits for added sugar, breakfast bars that are under 4 grams of added sugar per serving, and unsweetened dairy products. Most importantly, steer clear of sugary beverages, which often include sweetened coffee and tea drinks.
- Choose lean protein: Prioritize eggs, seafood, unsweetened dairy products (like yogurt), poultry, legumes, beans, and lean cuts of beef and pork, and minimize your intake of processed deli meats.
- Power up with produce: Try adding leftover veggies to eggs for a satisfying breakfast combo (plan ahead by making extra at dinner!); add more vegetables to omelets; or grab a piece of fruit on your way out the door. More produce equals more fiber, which can help you stay fuller, longer.
- When in doubt, make it bigger: Breakfast should contain at least 300-350 calories for most of us, and you should be chewing, not drinking, your morning meal. (Sipping calories instead of eating them can make you feel less full and more ravenous for your next meal.)
A good breakfast should combine protein, stick-to-your-ribs fat, and some fiber-filled carbs. This is your key to feeling satisfied, energized, and not ready to eat your stapler by lunch. To make any of the breakfast combos suggested below heartier, up the veggies and/or fruit — these are unlimited as far as I’m concerned, especially at breakfast.
If you’re already a breakfast eater and you know that adding more veggies and fruit isn’t going to make you feel more satisfied, then it’s pretty likely that you’re not getting enough protein at breakfast. Add an extra egg, more nuts or nut butter, or some leftover chicken — you get the picture.
In our 1,200 Calories and More meal plan, we do the planning for you and give you 28 days’ worth of healthy breakfasts. If you want to build your own, here are 16 great options:
Oats are one of the best foods we can eat for a number of reasons. As a 100% whole-grain, they’re filled with fiber, plant-based protein, B-vitamins, and minerals, including iron, calcium, and magnesium. They’ve been linked to reduced risk of heart disease thanks to a type of fiber called beta-glucan that has been shown to improve cholesterol levels. This fiber also fuels for your body’s probiotics, helping friendly bacteria to survive and thrive.
Full of vitamins A, D, and B12, eggs are an inexpensive and nutrient-dense ingredient. Two large eggs contain more than 50% of the choline you need each day, which affects memory, mood, and muscle control. Just one egg has about 8 grams of protein as well. Nearly everything in our bodies requires protein, such as our skin, blood, and bones. Protein takes longer to digest than carbs, keeping you fuller, longer. Make breakfast a combo of filling fiber and lean protein, like scrambled eggs on whole-grain toast with sliced tomato or a spinach-broccoli-mushroom omelet. Or grab a couple of hard-boiled eggs if you’re on the go.
Sesame, chia, sunflower, pumpkin, flax … The list of great-for-you seeds goes on. Add them to cereal, smoothies, puddings, and even baked goods. Just 1 ounce can contain 10 grams of protein! The zinc, magnesium, iron, and calcium in seeds will help you stay healthy and boost immunity. Seeds also contain soluble fiber that can help lower your “bad” cholesterol (LDL) while increasing “good” cholesterol (HDL). The combination of protein and fiber is really optimal when it comes to preventing a blood sugar spike (and subsequent crash).
Frozen waffles are an easy, delicious swap for toast. Look for water or 100% whole grains as the first ingredient, and keep the added sugar content as low as possible. Kashi Whole-Grain Waffles are filled with fiber and protein and contain just 3 grams of sugar for two. Use them as for sandwich bread with eggs or top with 2 tablespoons of nut butter, cinnamon, and chocolate chips for a treat. Van’s’ 8 Whole Grains version tastes similar.
Unsweetened plain Greek yogurt and skyr both provide probiotic benefits. Choose ones that have five strains or more of bacterial cultures per 6-ounce serving. It’s also a great choice if you’re aiming for lower-sugar breakfasts but still like a sweet flavor in the morning — just add fruit! Greek yogurt is full of calcium and many versions get fortified with vitamin D. It also merits an A+ for its high protein content. Our Nutrition Lab loves Siggi’s (all flavors), Fage Unsweetened Greek Yogurt, and Clio Bars (chocolate-coated and super-filling).
Bananas help you fill up and come in their own portable packaging. The folate and vitamin B6 in bananas aid in the production of serotonin, which can help improve mood and reduce anxiety. The soluble fiber will also help lower cholesterol by removing it from your GI tract and preventing it from moving into your bloodstream (i.e., clogging your arteries). For an extra heart-healthy boost, slice bananas on top of morning oats with a tablespoon of chia seeds or walnuts.
There’s a slew of studies that link the antioxidants and caffeine found in unsweetened tea and coffee to health benefits, including decreased risk of chronic disease and weight management. Black coffee or tea is always a zero-calorie choice. My pro tip: Drink 16 ounces of water or unsweetened tea or coffee before you head out the door in the morning. This will help you get a head start on your hydration goals for the day and ensure you’re making up for overnight losses.
This is the one exception to the whole “don’t drink your calories at breakfast” rule. By making a large (16 ounces and up) latte a part of your breakfast, you’re getting around 13 grams of protein! It’s a great solution when you’re pinched for time. Since milk is 80% water but also contains minerals such as calcium and potassium, it can help you hydrate with both fluid and electrolytes. Skip flavored syrups, sugar, caramel, or deceptive calorie bombs in pre-sweetened drinks. Choose coffee–based beverages like café au laits, lattes, or mistos with low-fat milk or unsweetened plant-based alternatives, like soy milk.
Whole grains provide antioxidant benefits, protecting your tissues from harmful, inflammation-causing damage. Plus, they’re loaded with minerals like calcium, potassium, magnesium, zinc, and iron — key to your overall immunity and heart health. The B vitamins found in whole grains also help your body convert food into energy.
These fruits have a unique mix of heart-healthy fats, water, and dietary fiber. That combo enhances feelings of fullness, making you less likely to overeat throughout the rest of the day. A winning breakfast combo? Avocado toast, which packs B vitamins and minerals from both avocado and whole grains. (Bonus points if you put an egg on it for extra protein!). The unsaturated fats in avocado are also linked to a decreased risk of heart disease, lifestyle-related cancers, and diabetes.
What can’t peanut butter do?! It contains 8 grams of protein per 2 tablespoon serving plus heart-healthy unsaturated fats. Tree nuts and peanuts in general (like GH Nutritionist Approved Hampton Farms Peanuts) have been linked to reduced risk of chronic disease and weight loss or maintenance. Look for nut butters made from only nuts and salt with less than 140 mg of sodium per serving, though brands that use oil as a stabilizer are okay, too. Nut butter packs we love: Justin’s, Barney Butter, and Wild Friends. As for nut-based bars, choose ones made from 100% real food ingredients in the 110-250 calorie range.
Just a cup of blueberries can pack up to 9 grams of fiber and 50% of your vitamin C needs for just 60 calories. The antioxidants found in berries (including raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries) also have cell-protecting properties.Eating more of these foods can help protect your blood vessels from harmful plaque and have a circulation-boosting effect. If you’re not as keen on berries, citrus fruit, apples, stone fruit, and melon are all great alternatives. They’re filled with potassium to help balance blood pressure and mitigate bloat.
Just one medium-sized sweet potato provides almost 400% of your daily vitamin A. Its orange-flesh is rich in beta-carotene, which is crucial for immunity. A single sweet potato also contains 15% of our daily recommended fiber intake, which can lower LDL cholesterol levels and boost your GI health. Use sweet potato as a swap for your usual morning bread, bagel, or muffin.
Just one piece of part-skim mozzarella can add 8 grams of protein (that’s the same as one egg!) to your breakfast. A half cup of lower-sodium cottage cheese can pack up to 20 grams. Dairy also provides calcium, magnesium, and potassium that’ll aid in reducing bloat, balancing blood pressure, and helping you stay energized. Use around 1⁄3 cup of cheese as the main source of protein in the meal; use 1⁄4 cup if it’s for adding flavor (e.g., an omelet).
Breakfast is tricky, so having something on hand that’s quick to prepare and easy to eat while you commute, apply mascara, or dial-in to a conference call is crucial. Look for frozen sandwiches made from real, whole food ingredients, like Sweet Earth’s Get Focused Breakfast Burrito or Amy’s Gluten Free Tofu Scramble Breakfast Wrap. Aim for a minimum of 4 grams of protein and fiber a piece (the more, the better!) and try to cap sodium at less than 500 mg. Check labels for the good stuff: 100% whole grains, veggies, and eggs. They should contain least 300 calories a pop, and stay as low in saturated fat and added sugar as possible.
Some of my favorite breakfast-in-a-hurry options are combos of these delicious foods — especially since the idea of “making” breakfast can sound daunting (compared to the idea of simply organizing it, right?). Here are some ideas from my book, Dressing on the Side:
• 2 frozen 100% whole-grain waffles with 1 tablespoon peanut butter, plus 1 cup berries
• 2 eggs on a slice of 100% whole-grain toast with 1⁄2 of an avocado and 1⁄2 cup tomatoes; add salt and pepper to taste
• 1⁄2 to 1 cup cooked oatmeal with 1⁄2 cup milk of choice, plus 2-3 tablespoons mixed nuts (or 1-2 tablespoons nut butter), plus 1 piece of fruit
• 1⁄2 to 1 cup Greek yogurt with 1–2 cups berries of choice, plus 2 tablespoons of nuts
• 1⁄2 to 1 roasted (or nuked!) sweet potato with 1⁄2 tablespoon nut butter, plus sliced apple/pear/banana
• Last night’s leftover veggies, plus 2 hard-boiled eggs, 1 100% whole-grain English muffin with 1 ounce cheese and sliced tomatoes, plus seasoning to taste