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 and on the second Sunday of each month in The Post-Journal.
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 are also saying 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.
Do you really think a jelly-filled frosted doughnut washed down by a giant latte covered in whipped cream and caramel sauce will do that? That sounds 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 delude themselves into thinking they're eating healthfully by foregoing a doughnut and choosing a huge blueberry muffin instead, or a cream cheese-covered bagel the size of their head. 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 for them because they pour a little milk over it. Maybe you 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.
Looking at many people's breakfast choices makes me wonder exactly 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.
Even the traditional American breakfast many of us grew up eating isn't really the best option for most of us. A big plate of eggs, bacon or sausage, fried potatoes, toast and jelly with a glass of orange juice doesn't really fit in all that well with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommendations. We're supposed to be filling half of our plate with vegetables and fruits, so a tablespoon of jelly doesn't really count. We'd also be 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 would probably be a lot better for you than a sugar packed breakfast treat.
However, if breakfast means eggs to you, that's OK too, just find a way to make them healthier. Instead of eating a fried egg and fried potatoes, you might want to 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 also a great breakfast option. Whole grain cereals like oatmeal can be a great choice. If you want to add even more fiber to your diet, sprinkle berries or sliced bananas on your cereal too, and replace that 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 for you if you 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 their food every morning or, worse yet, are so rushed that they skip breakfast 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.
You also want to make sure weekend breakfasts are special. Again, that doesn't mean serving dessert for breakfast. There are plenty of healthy breakfast options to choose from. Try Greek yogurt, unusual fruits or tasty vegetables. Serve foods new to you or your family, like interesting whole grain cereals. I'm seeing all kinds of whole grains becoming more accessible in local grocery stores. Just remember when you're shopping, read the ingredient labels. Breakfast doesn't need to be sugar coated.
Whatever we choose, we need to make sure everyone we love and care for has time to eat a decent breakfast. It can make all the difference between having a good or a bad day.
You can more nutrition information at ChooseMyPlate.gov and if you'd like 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, a community based educational organization affiliated with Cornell University, Chautauqua County Government, the NYS SUNY system, and the federal government through the United States Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture. CCE-Chautauqua is part of a network of extension associations, programs and services located across the state and nation. For more information, call 664-9502 ext. 217 or visit our website at www.cce.cornell.edu/chautauqua.
Cornell University Cooperative Extension provides equal program and employment opportunities.
It's also important to remember that if you, or people you know, are struggling to make ends meet, you may be eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program. SNAP helps low-income people buy nutritious food and beverages. Because the U.S. Department of Agriculture knows a healthy diet will likely reduce health care costs, it's putting healthy food within everyone's reach. 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 Omelet. If you, or someone at your table, like spicier food use a spicier salsa in the recipe, or add hot sauce at the table.
1 bell pepper
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
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
1 small can of pineapple chunks in juice
1 8-ounce carton of non-fat vanilla yogurt
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.
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.