Could you share some ideas for a healthy, balanced breakfast?

DEAR DOCTOR K:

I’m trying to eat better, but breakfast has me stumped. Could you share some ideas for a healthy, balanced breakfast?

DEAR READER:

Eating a small, nutritious breakfast is a great way to jump-start the day. Yet many people skip breakfast because they are in a rush, aren’t hungry or are trying to cut calories. That’s a mistake because eating a healthful breakfast has benefits.

Studies suggest that eating breakfast regularly can reduce the risk of high cholesterol and decrease insulin resistance. (Insulin resistance increases the risk of Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.) People who regularly eat breakfast perform better on tests of memory than those who don’t. That doesn’t prove that eating breakfast every day improves your memory, but it’s plausible that it could.

Regularly eating breakfast also minimizes impulse snacking and overeating at other meals, and boosts your intake of essential nutrients. It can even help keep your weight in check. There’s some evidence that eating a certain number of calories at breakfast is less likely to cause weight gain than eating that same amount of calories at dinner.

Keep your breakfast moderate in size and focus on produce and whole grains. Minimize full-fat dairy products, breakfast potatoes and meats. Another tip: Boil or poach eggs instead of frying them to avoid a lot of extra calories.

To create a healthy, balanced breakfast, include three food groups: lean protein, whole-grain carbohydrates and fruit. Veggies are great, too, but most people aren’t in the habit of eating them in the morning. I’ll admit that the only time I have vegetables at breakfast is when they’re folded into an omelet. Because of saturated fat and other unhealthy components, in my opinion bacon, sausage, and other cured and processed breakfast meats should not be a regular part of breakfast. (Of course, they’re fine now and then.)

Think of a healthy breakfast in thirds: one-third protein plus one-third starch plus one-third fruit.

Here are some breakfast suggestions that follow this basic formula:

  • whole-grain cereal (at least 5 grams of fiber and less than 5 grams of sugar), plus milk (skim or 1 percent milk or soy milk), plus a small banana or half-cup of berries;
  • a half-cup of cooked oatmeal with cinnamon, plus 2 tablespoons nuts, plus a half-cup of berries;
  • one slice 100 percent whole-grain bread, plus 1 tablespoon natural peanut butter, plus a small banana;
  • breakfast sandwich: 100 percent whole-wheat English muffin or whole-grain mini bagel, plus one egg or slice of low-fat cheese, plus an orange;
  • breakfast burrito: 1 small whole-wheat tortilla, plus a scrambled egg or slice of low-fat cheese and salsa, plus a sliced mango;
  • one slice of whole-wheat toast, plus milk, plus a half-cup of berries.
  • a smoothie with plain yogurt, fruit, low-fat milk and a little wheat germ.

Here is a list of foods to pick up at the grocery store. Keeping your kitchen stocked with quick, healthful foods that don’t require much preparation will help you avoid making unhealthful breakfast choices — or skipping breakfast altogether.

Your healthy breakfast shopping list

A list of healthful foods can help keep you on track while food shopping. Use this list to give yourself a morning advantage. Stocking your kitchen with healthful options will help you avoid making unhealthful choices.

  • bananas
  • berries (fresh or frozen)
  • cinnamon
  • eggs
  • English muffins (100% whole-wheat)
  • grapes
  • low-fat cheese
  • low-sodium vegetable juice
  • melons
  • milk (skim, 1%, or soy)
  • natural peanut butter
  • nuts (unsalted)
  • oatmeal
  • pineapple
  • whole-grain oatmeal bread
  • whole-grain wheat bread
  • whole-grain cereal
  • whole-grain crackers
  • whole-grain mini bagels
  • whole-wheat tortillas
  • whole-grain waffles
  • yogurt (plain low-fat or nonfat)