Break the fast

I’m often amazed at what people think is a nutritious breakfast. Watching people, and looking at the pictures many post on social media these days, it’s no wonder so many people say they’re struggling with their weight.

What you eat for breakfast is just as important as what you eat for dinner. It may be even more important.

Think about the origin of the word breakfast. It means break the fast. It involves fueling your body to get your metabolism moving. What you eat after you wake needs to give you enough energy to perform well during what is likely to be one of the most productive periods of your day. A jelly-filled frosted doughnut washed down by a giant latte covered in whipped cream and caramel sauce doesn’t do that. It’s more like a recipe for early morning sugar shock. Yet that’s what has become an acceptable breakfast for far too many of us.

Some people think they’re eating healthfully by foregoing a doughnut and choosing a huge blueberry muffin instead, or a large cream cheese covered bagel. However, based on the size and ingredients, some of those muffins and bagels contain an astonishing amount of calories, sometimes much more than a doughnut contains.

Other people throw an iced pastry into the toaster and call that a day starter. Plenty of others pop a frozen waffle in their toaster oven and then drench it in butter and syrup, or they dump a pile of overly sweetened cereal into a gigantic bowl and think that’s better because they pour a little milk over it. Some might think it’s healthier and easier to simply grab a yogurt, but then make the mistake of choosing one with fruit on the bottom or one that’s packed with a highly sweetened granola or candy crunch topping.

I wonder when people began to think sugar should play such an important role in the way they start their day. There is no good reason breakfast has to be so sweet.

Don’t be sucked in by what advertisers tell us we should want to eat to start our day, or by what restaurants have on their breakfast menus. Some current restaurant options are absolutely horrifying. Lately I’ve seen menus featuring options like huge stacks of chocolate chip pancakes drizzled with icing and covered in whipped cream. Don’t kid yourself. That’s not a reasonable breakfast. It’s dessert.

The traditional American breakfast many of us grew up eating isn’t really the best option.. A big plate of eggs, bacon or sausage, fried potatoes, toast and jelly with a glass of orange juice doesn’t fit in all that well with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommendations. According to recommendations, people should fill half of the plate with vegetables and fruits. A tablespoon of jelly doesn’t really count. It’s also wise to avoid fried foods and fatty meats, opting instead for more healthfully prepared foods.

There’s no rule that says we have to eat any of the foods people in America commonly associate with breakfast during our first meal of the day. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with reheating and eating a bowl of vegetable soup or a slice of pizza, or something else you enjoyed eating at an earlier meal. Those choices are probably a lot better than a sugar packed breakfast treat.

However, if breakfast means eggs that’s OK too – just find a way to make them healthier. Instead of eating a fried egg and fried potatoes, consider eating more vegetable omelets or fritatas. There are a million wonderful recipes out there. Consider adding tomato, zucchini, asparagus, broccoli or other vegetables in addition to the onions, peppers and mushrooms many people use in those egg dishes. There’s also nothing wrong with adding a vegetable side dish to your breakfast plate.

Yogurt with fresh berries is a great breakfast option. Whole grain cereals like oatmeal can also be a great choice. To add even more fiber to your diet, sprinkle berries or sliced bananas on your cereal too, and replace orange juice, which also contains a lot of naturally occurring sugar, with a fresh fruit salad. Or simply peel and eat an orange. It’s always better to eat your fruit rather than drink it.

Choosing one or more of those simple options can be very helpful if your weekday mornings are hectic. If everyone in your house seem to race through breakfast every morning or, worse yet, skip it all together, it’s time to sit everyone down during some other time of day to make a plan to fix that. Maybe something as simple as going to bed a few minutes earlier will do the trick. Maybe not. The solution may be different for everyone in your home.

If your children are old enough, put them in charge of their own breakfasts, or have them take turns preparing the meal for the whole family. You might also set out everything needed to prepare the meal the night before, with the exception of foods needing refrigeration.

Make sure weekend breakfasts are special. Again, that doesn’t mean serving dessert for breakfast. There are plenty of healthy breakfast options. Try Greek yogurt, unusual fruits or tasty vegetables. Serve foods new to you or your family, like interesting whole grain cereals. All kinds of whole grains are now more accessible in local grocery stores. Just remember to read the ingredient labels. Breakfast doesn’t need to be sugar coated.

Whatever is chosen, make sure everyone we love and care for has time to eat a decent breakfast. It can make the difference between having a good or a bad day.

Find more nutrition information at ChooseMyPlate.gov and for more ideas to improve your family’s health, call to learn more about the Cornell University Cooperative Extension’s Eat Smart New York program. Learn fun new ways to eat more fruits and vegetables, drink fewer sugar-sweetened beverages, and get at least the recommended 30 minutes of physical activity each and every day, all while also saving money. The Eat Smart New York Program is one of many programs offered by Cornell Cooperative Extension of Chautauqua County. For information, call 664-9502 ext. 217 or visit the website at www.cce.cornell.edu/chautauqua.

If you, or people you know, are struggling to make ends meet, check into the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program. SNAP helps low-income people buy nutritious food and beverages. To find out more about SNAP benefit eligibility call 1-800-342-3009, apply online for SNAP benefits at www.mybenefits.ny.gov/, or contact your local social services office.

If you’re looking for new, healthier breakfast options, try our easy fruit salad. It can be made the night before, but if you like your bananas really fresh, you can make most of the salad and just take a second to add in the bananas in the morning.It’s also fun to get your morning started in a spicy way with our Mexican Omlet. If you, or someone at your table, like spicier food use a spicier salsa in the recipe, or add hot sauce at the table.

Mexican Omelet

Ingredients:

1 bell pepper

onion

8 eggs or 1 cup egg substitute

2 tablespoons nonfat milk

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

2 ounces nonfat cheese

1/3 cup nonfat refried beans

1/3 cup salsa

Directions:

Wash hands thoroughly.

Wash bell pepper and onion. Dice.

Coat pan with cooking spray and fry bell pepper and onion over medium-high heat for a few minutes until tender.

Put vegetables into another container and set aside.

In bowl, use fork to whisk 8 egg whites and 2 yolks (or egg substitute), salt, pepper, and milk.

Grate cheese. Open beans.

Place frying pan on medium heat. Lightly coat with cooking spray.

Pour egg mixture into pan. Scrape from edges to center for 20 seconds.

Let eggs cook until firm.

Spread beans onto one-half of eggs. Add vegetables and salsa.

Fold egg onto mixture (like a taco). Sprinkle cheese on top.

Carefully slide omelet onto plate. Cut into quarters and serve.

Yields about 4 servings

Nutrition Facts: Serving Size 1/4 omelet (5.6 ounces), 110 Calories, 25 Calories from Fat, 2.5g Total Fat, 4% Calories from Fat, 1g Saturated Fat, 0g Trans Fat, 110mg Cholesterol, 410mg Sodium, 8g Total Carbohydrate, 2g Dietary Fiber, 3g Sugars, 12g Protein, 6% Vitamin A, 15% Calcium, 50% Vitamin C, 6% Iron

Source: Eat Fit (University of California Cooperative Extension)

Dressed-Up Fruit Salad

Ingredients:

2 apples

2 bananas

2 oranges

1 small can of pineapple chunks in juice

1 8-ounce carton of non-fat vanilla yogurt

Directions:

Wash apples, remove cores, and chop them into pieces.

Peel and slice bananas.

Peel and chop oranges into pieces.

Drain pineapple in colander. Save juice in small bowl.

Measure 2 tablespoons of saved pineapple juice and stir into yogurt.

Mix apples, bananas, oranges, and pineapple together in large bowl. Stir in the yogurt and pineapple juice mixture. Mix well.

Variations:

Try different combinations of fresh or canned fruit.

Substitute lemon yogurt for vanilla yogurt.

Yields about 8 servings

Nutrition Facts: Serving Size 1/8 of recipe (5.6 ounces), 100 Calories, 5 Calories from Fat, 0g Total Fat, 0% Calories from Fat, 0g Saturated Fat, 0g Trans Fat, 0mg Cholesterol, 25mg Sodium, 25g Total Carbohydrate, 3g Dietary Fiber, 20g Sugars, 2g Protein, 2% Vitamin A, 8% Calcium, 40% Vitamin C, 2% Iron

Source: Sisters in Health: A Nutrition Program for Women. Division of Nutritional Sciences,

Cornell University and Cornell Cooperative Extension, 1999.

Patty Hammond leads Family and Consumer Science Programs at Cornell University Cooperative Extension of Chautauqua County. Her column is published on the first Sunday of each month in the OBSERVER.