I really love snow, and last weekend Northeast Ohio finally got its first real snowstorm of the year. As you might guess, I spent a lot of time last weekend shoveling snow, so I needed a breakfast that provided a lot of fuel. That’s what I want to talk about today. Breakfast. So what’s for breakfast? In a word? Protein. In two words? Nourishing fat. In three words? No stripped carbohydrates. I’m going to share some of my favorite ideas for breakfast, but first I’ll tell you about some of the ways I learned to nourish myself when I was younger and traveling.
As a member of a student choir singing our way through the Rhine Valley in Germany one winter many years ago, our breakfast plates were covered with any combination of thinly sliced cheeses, fruit, cured meats, hard boiled eggs, and rye bread with fruit jams and butter. When I lived in Israel, I learned to eat soft cheeses, cucumber-tomato salad, roasted eggplant, and pita every morning. In the Cairo, Egypt, youth hostel where my husband and I stayed a few months after we were married, breakfast consisted of steaming bowls of mashed fava beans. Room and board was 60 cents a night, in part because beans are cheap and good.
In places where refrigeration is less common, people are likely to eat the leftovers from dinner when they awaken the next morning. You, on the other hand, probably have the option of opening your fridge and taking out whatever strikes your fancy. Food categories with plenty of protein include meats, poultry, eggs, fish, beans, nuts and dairy. You don’t have to eat them all. Just pick what you like from among these choices.
Eggs are one of my absolute favorites, whether boiled, fried, scrambled, or poached. You’ve probably tried all or most of these at one time or another. Another fantastic way to cook an egg is to crack it into a little ramekin with a spoonful of basil pesto, put the dish into a water bath (use a loaf pan containing two inches of water), and bake it in a toaster oven at 350F for 15-20 minutes. If you get it into the toaster oven when you wake up, it should be ready by the time you’re finished getting dressed. If you love pesto, you will love how extraordinarily delicious this is. And it will keep you satisfied for a long time.
In the poultry and meats department, you could heat up a drumstick or eat a burger left over from the previous night. Yes, for breakfast. In the Midwest, a typical breakfast 150 years ago might have been a pork chop and a cup of coffee with real cream. They didn’t have a diabetes epidemic then. Want something more exotic? Check your refrigerator. Chopped liver maybe? Anything goes, from aspic to venison. Or veal, if you prefer.
How about fish? There are so many choices! This past weekend I ate lox for breakfast on Saturday, and kippered salmon on Sunday. You could try smoked whitefish, tuna (from the can if you like), sardines, leftover trout, cod, catfish, shellfish and so much more. Of course, the chances are slim that you’d ever find any leftover lobster. But you never know…
For really busy people, nuts can be a mainstay of a healthy breakfast. When my children were younger, particularly the one who would not usually appear downstairs until just one or two minutes before the bus was scheduled to come, I would run a spoon along the surface of the peanut butter and hand it over. I called it a “peanut butter lollipop.” A short time later, on my way out, I would collect the empty spoon from the mailbox at the top of the driveway. Peanuts not your thing? Try almond or cashew butter. It’s not cheap, but then again you’re probably not planning to eat it every single day.
Then there are nuts themselves. If you keep a bag of nuts in the car, you can eat a handful or two on the way to work. This has to be the easiest way to eat breakfast. If you don’t feel like you have time to indulge in breakfast, this is the way to go. Don’t care for peanuts? Try almonds, cashews, Brazil nuts, pecans, walnuts, macadamias, pine nuts, hazel nuts…did I miss any? Buy a different kind each time, or make a trail mix from a few. The more the better. Look for raw or roasted nuts, and make sure they are unsalted if you have salt-sensitive high blood pressure. You want pure, unadulterated nuts. To protect their fragile oils and to keep them fresh longer, I also suggest storing them in the refrigerator or freezer though, truthfully, I don’t always get around to this myself. Allergic to nuts? Try sunflower or pumpkin seeds. Some grocery stores also carry sunflower seed butter, or sun butter.
Now let’s talk about beans. Beans are the best. Maybe there’s some leftover lentil soup in your refrigerator, or a three-bean salad. If you have refried beans, you could heat them up in the microwave, maybe with some cheddar melted on top if you like. Hummus is another great choice for breakfast, as is tahini. I like to dip slices of cucumber, celery sticks, carrots or even apple. Or you could eat a bowl of mashed fava beans, like we did when we were in Cairo.
You could make a burrito. Or a bowl of grain. Is it okay to eat a whole-grain tortilla for breakfast? Absolutely. Here are my guidelines for eating grain at breakfast: If you are 1) diabetic, 2) pre-diabetic (at high risk), or 3) more than 20 pounds overweight, I would recommend that you limit grain for breakfast and, instead, increase the amount of nourishing fat, like nuts, olive oil, eggs, avocado, fish, seeds. If, on the other hand, you do not fit into any of these categories, feel free to add grain to your breakfast. Just make sure it’s 100% whole grain. At the very least, don’t choose grain for breakfast every day if your blood sugar has ever been even a tiny bit higher than normal.
I also encourage you to eat plenty of fresh produce with your breakfast. Especially vegetables. Veggies give you and your breakfast a huge nutritional boost for the day. Whereas the only place you tend to find veggies in a typical American breakfast is in a Western omelet, breakfasts around the world typically contain all kinds of veggies. Remember that if you start eating vegetables with breakfast instead of at lunchtime, it’s a lot easier to get your daily allotment. You should feel free to eat whatever you find in the fridge.
Last but not least, I want to talk about dairy. Yogurt (plain) can be a great choice, as long as you add your own fruit, vegetables, nuts, vanilla extract, honey. Whatever you like, whatever your heart desires. Just don’t buy commercial brands that contain corn syrup or artificial sweetener. You can also drink milk or eat cheese. What kind of cheese? Your choice, as long as it doesn’t contain the words “processed” or “food.” If someone has to tell you it’s food, it isn’t. Less well known, but just as good, are kefir, clabber, and other fermented dairy products. Goat milk is worth a try if you feel adventurous.
So what did I choose for breakfast to fuel a full morning of shoveling snow? I ate a spoonful of almond butter on a slice of pecan-flour bread, two slices of tomato, a piece of kippered salmon, a cup of black coffee and a banana for good measure. And out into the snow I went!