Lisa Delaney is one of the rare souls who know what it’s like to be an “after.” This journalist and author of Secrets of a Former Fat Girl shed 70 pounds—and six dress sizes–and has kept it off for 20 years. She answers your questions here each week.
DEAR FORMER FAT GIRL: I’m trying to break my bad habit of skipping breakfast, but I need help! Do you have any ideas for healthy breakfasts that are quick and easy to prepare?—Martha
DEAR MARTHA: Breakfast happens to be one of my three favorite meals (along with lunch and dinner—ha!). No, seriously—I do believe it’s important for a number of reasons to start the day with a healthy nibble. For one thing, kids who eat breakfast have been shown to be more focused at school (a finding that likely applies to adults at work, too), and breakfast-eaters are more likely to have healthy cholesterol levels. (More on why you need breakfast) And—here’s the bonus—folks who munch in the morning tend to weigh less than those who don’t. Researchers aren’t sure why, but they suspect that skipping breakfast makes you more likely to overcompensate by eating more calories over the course of the day. Makes sense to me.
But what to eat? That is the question. I’m a working mom, so I know what you mean about quick and easy prep—that’s a must. Here are some ideas from my own kitchen.
Find your three. I have three standard, healthy breakfasts I rotate through during the workweek. This makes planning and shopping (which can be the biggest bear) a snap. It also gives me the security of knowing that, no matter what, I’ll get at least one good, healthy meal I enjoy during the day. My three: old-fashioned oatmeal with almond milk and fruit (whatever I have in the house); scrambled egg on whole wheat English muffin, cheddar, spinach (or leftover roasted veggies) and a hit of hot sauce; Cheerios topped with a bit of Kashi Go-Lean Crunch, skim milk, fruit (again, whatever I’ve got). Oh, and coffee—the stronger, the better.
Plan and prep. My “three” don’t particularly sound quick and easy, I know. But each can be made ahead to at least some extent. Take the oatmeal. Instead of making a batch fresh everyday, you can mix up several days’ worth of your ‘meal, any spices, and dried fruits with your choice of low-fat milk, cover, and place in the fridge (you’ll have to add any fresh fruit just before serving). This way, you can scoop out your daily serving and simply heat it up in the morning. (Or skip the microwave altogether—it’s great cold, too.) Breakfast sandwiches can also be made ahead and wrapped to go as well. Even the cereal mix can be pre-bagged. Most fruit can be washed, pre-cut and even portioned if that will save you time in the morning. Part of the trick is to think through what you can do now to make the a.m. go easier—and then to set aside time on Sunday afternoon or evening to do it!
Sip on a smoothies. I’m not a big fan of eating in the car, but if you must, smoothies are a great option. They also help you get your quota of fruits and veggies (don’t forget to add veggies). And for an extra boost, consider adding whey powder for protein, nuts and seeds like flaxseed for healthy fats and even a bit of oatmeal for fiber. Again, prep your fruit and even premix any add-ins (a scoop of whey, nuts, etc) to speed things along. By the way, skip fast-food smoothies—they’re relatively low on nutrients and high on sugar.
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Prioritize produce. If you’re not into smoothies, make it a priority to get at least one serving of fruit or vegetables (or both) at your morning meal. Getting the five to nine recommended servings of produce a day can be tough, so getting a strong start out of the gate is a great strategy. (A note about this: Although the “official” recommendation varies from 5 to 9, I counsel everyone to reach for the higher number, as fruits and non-starchy vegetables are great ways of getting full on fewer calories, not to mention all of those vitamins, minerals and antioxidants they offer.)
Make your own mix. Cereal (plus fruit) can be a great morning staple. But, frankly, it can also be a diet saboteur. Many cereals—even the so-called healthy ones—are way too sweet. Plus, it can be tough to control portion sizes, since it’s oh-so-easy to pour just a little more from that big, big box. My cereal strategy: Find an uber-healthy “base” cereal with very little sugar, and then sprinkle on a second, sweeter (yet still healthy) variety. Because they contain lots of air, puffy cereals (like Cheerios) give the illusion that you’re eating more than you actually are, adding to your feelings of fullness. But plain old bran flakes can make a good base, too. Check labels to make sure the base you choose has no more than TKg sugar. And try controlling portions by pre-measuring your cereal into containers, using a cup measure to scoop out your servings or using a bowl that holds only a single serving size.
Think outside the cereal box. No one ever said you have to eat breakfast food at breakfast. So if you find it more convenient—or tastier—to snag a salad, or leftover stir-fry, or a turkey sandwich for your morning meal, go for it. Just make sure whatever you choose includes at least one fruit or veggie serving, and stick to whole grains, lean protein, low sugar and healthy fats.
Don’t forget HOW you eat. I’m a big believer in savoring your food—I think (and other people who are much smarter than I am agree) that how you eat can play greatly into your level of satisfaction. You don’t have to get out the good silver and dine by candlelight, but simply sitting down with few distractions can make your morning meal more satisfying, more filling, more tasty. If it means getting up a little earlier, or getting to work in time to have a quiet-ish moment at your desk with your bowl of oatmeal while reading email (which is what I do), it’s worth it. Slowing down, taking time, enjoying each bite are almost as important as the nutrients in the food you’re eating.