By Maria G. Boosalis
Whether we wake up late or run out of milk for the cereal, breakfast is an easy meal to skip. However, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. One of the main reasons is that eating a balanced breakfast ‘‘breaks the fast” to jump-start our day and more importantly, our metabolism. When we skip a meal, we lower our metabolism -- the rate at which we burn calories -- so instead of burning more calories, we burn less. Therefore, eating breakfast is especially important when trying to maintain or achieve a healthy weight.
Skipping breakfast also makes it harder to concentrate since we likely are more focused on our empty stomach instead of work or school. Studies have shown children who participate in programs such as the national breakfast program have better concentration, problem-solving skills and creative thinking.
Our bodies need “fuel" throughout the day, so when deciding what to eat for breakfast, focus on how many servings from each of the food groups you need to eat for the day. Then, distribute these servings evenly throughout the day as meals and snacks, beginning with breakfast. Overall, we need to include whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean sources of protein and fat-free/low-fat dairy products (or other sources of calcium). A healthy breakfast includes some balanced combination of foods from some or all of these food groups to help meet our day’s needs.
Some examples of a balanced breakfast includes: Cooked oatmeal with skim milk and a serving of fruit; a whole grain pita (or whole wheat tortilla) stuffed with cheese and fruit and/or vegetables; a small whole grain waffle with peanut butter, skim milk and a small banana; or fat-free plain yogurt with fruit and dry cereal.
It is also important to select a variety of foods in moderate amounts when eating meals on-the-run. Foods high in sugar, fat and/or salt generally are not going to meet our required daily needs — so choose wisely and check out the government’s MyPyramid Web site (see sidebar) for a personalized plan.
If you are going to drink fruit juice with your breakfast, a serving is generally four to six ounces. Even though it may be 100 percent fruit juice, it is still a sweetened beverage with additional calories that won’t fill you up as much as if you had eaten a piece of fruit. If you are a coffee drinker, moderation is key. Also be mindful of the items added to your coffee, such as cream, creamer, sugar, and/or other flavored syrups which also add additional calories. Most importantly, make sure a healthy balanced breakfast accompanies that morning cup of coffee or glass of 100 percent fruit juice, skim milk, or water.
More information about national breakfast programs can be found here: http://www.fns.usda.gov/CND/Breakfast/
To get nutrition information on an overall healthy eating plan, visit:
To create a personalized healthy eating plan for yourself or family member, visit
For more information about food and nutrition, visit the American Dietetic Association's Web site at:
Maria G. Boosalis is Professor Emeritus and Former Director, Division of Clinical Nutrition in the University of Kentucky College of Health Sciences.