Is breakfast the most important meal of the day?

close up of person making healthy breakfast in kitchen with fruits and yogurt

You’ve probably heard “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” throughout your life. But is it really true?

“Yes and no,” says Ashley Kiser, a registered dietitian with BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee. “Breakfast is very important. It can set you up for a day of feeling nourished and ready to take on whatever comes your way. However, all the meals you eat throughout the day are important.”

Here’s how to make breakfast count.

Why do we need to eat breakfast?

Ashley: Eating breakfast provides your body and brain with fuel after a period of not eating while we sleep. You get more nutrition—more fiber, more calcium, more vitamin C and vitamin A and other nutrients—when you don’t skip breakfast. Eating a healthy, balanced breakfast can:

  • help you stay focused,
  • boost your brain power, and
  • may even prevent you from overeating later in the day due to excessive hunger.

If you’re trying to lose weight or maintain a hard-won weight loss, eating a healthy breakfast can help you on that front, too. The National Weight Control Registry reports that nearly 80% of people who lose a significant amount of weight and keep it off eat breakfast every day.

Breakfast is especially essential for children, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Kids who eat breakfast tend to:

  • have higher school attendance rates,
  • higher overall test scores, and
  • more success with solving problems.

They’re also more likely to get enough calcium and maintain a healthy weight. If your child is reluctant to eat breakfast, get them involved in choosing and preparing the food. You could even get them to plan out a week’s worth of breakfasts in advance.

What is a healthy breakfast anyway?

Ashley: A healthy breakfast doesn’t necessarily look the same for everyone. But there are a few elements that a healthy breakfast should contain. You want to have a balance of carbohydrates and protein—and yes, you need both! The amount will vary from person to person. Ideally, in your meals throughout the day, including breakfast, you want to include:

  • a little healthy fat,
  • some protein,
  • grains, and
  • fruits and vegetables.

How to approach a healthy breakfast

Ashley: If cereal, eggs, and oatmeal don’t appeal to you, don’t worry. You don’t have to limit yourself to only traditional breakfast foods. You can eat whatever foods you enjoy, as long as they are made up of nutritious choices.

However, it may be helpful to plan ahead, especially if your mornings tend to be hectic. Come up with a few go-to healthy breakfast options for busy mornings. Take some time to think about foods that you can add to your grocery list to have on hand. Talk to your friends and family and ask for ideas, and you may learn about something tasty that you want to try.

Then stash a few a few options in your pantry or freezer that you can easily grab during the week. For example, you could try making a breakfast casserole on the weekend and use the leftovers throughout the week. It’s really about planning in advance—and choosing foods that you like to eat. Experiment and find out what works for you on the go.

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Healthy breakfast foods to try

Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

  • Whole grain cereal with low-fat or fat-free milk and banana slices
  • Whole grain toast with two tablespoons of peanut butter
  • Steel cut oats or oatmeal sprinkled with blueberries or strawberry slices and chopped walnuts
  • Smoothies made with frozen banana, spinach, low-fat milk, and nut butter
  • Scrambled egg with a side of sauteed veggies and whole grain toast
  • Greek yogurt topped with berries and a few chopped nuts or chia seeds

And if you want to go a little less traditional, consider:

  • Roasted chickpeas with tomatoes, bell pepper, and red onion
  • Sweet potato with a dollop of low-fat cottage cheese and a sprinkle of cinnamon
  • Burrito made with a whole wheat tortilla, black beans and avocado, with a little cumin and chili powder

Make breakfast simple and satisfying

Ashley: Fitting a healthy breakfast into your morning doesn’t have to be complicated, time consuming, or a one-size-fits-all approach. It can look different every day, too! You might be inspired to cook on a weekend. Or you may want to have foods that you can grab and eat quickly during the work or school week. Whatever your approach, a healthy breakfast can help you start each day fulfilled.

Jennifer Larson

Jennifer Larson is Nashville-based writer and editor with nearly 20 years of experience. She specializes in health care and family issues.

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