Thursday, October 22, 2009

Breakfast Foods: Your Healthiest Processed Food Options for Breakfast in a Hurry

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Fruit Filled Muffins
 are an Acceptable Breakfast-on-the-Go

In a recent post, I ranted about my frustration with food labeling guidelines, or perhaps I should say the lack of them. With manufacturers and grocers all adding their own rating labels to packaged and processed foods, consumers may as well throw up their hands in total confusion.

You may find this post more helpful if you take a minute to read the first post at the link above.Then you'll understand why the labels on your favorite cereals are so confusing. In an effort to help you find ways around the confusion, I highly recommend working toward eating fewer packaged foods, and using more lesser-processed basics. Unfortunately, in our convenience-driven society, we all want and need certain basics in order to speed up our meal preparation; time is not a commodity.

In this post, I will review some of your better processed food options for breakfast. Later, I'll do the same with lunch and dinner choices, so be sure to check back.

When seeking healthy breakfast choices that don’t break the bank, oatmeal is by far your best option. Oatmeal is high in fiber and protein, and has an infinite number of variations, giving you plenty of ways to serve it. Let's be clear. I'm not recommending instant oatmeal, but the real thing.  You can make it bowl by bowl, if you are comfortable with using a microwave, or put on a pot with a couple of days’ worth and reheat them bowl by bowl. It doesn’t have to take a chunk out of your morning. We all know that weekday breakfasts are the hardest to find time for, so get creative and you’ll be able to work oatmeal in. Adding different goodies to each day’s bowl can really make breakfast a new surprise each day. To avoid boredom, consider raisins, peaches, strawberries, Walnuts, granola, and other nuts or berries, along with the usual honey, cinnamon and brown sugar, if desired.

Cold Cereal is the most touted of the quick breakfast foods, and probably the most popular with youngsters. I have to admit that there is one plus with serving cereal. Can you guess? Most children who are not vegan or lactose-intolerant eat their cereal with milk, and many will enjoy a banana or berries sliced into the bowl, as well. While milk adds Calcium and protein, the fruit brings vitamins and fiber. This is where cereal makes the A list for breakfast. After eating this, they may want a drink, and juice can be served to top off the vitamin splurge. While cereal alone is not my favorite choice, when served this way, it has a fairly decent nutritional punch. One last thing. Choose the right cereal and you'll also be adding fiber. Don't forget you can also stir a little fiber powder into the milk before pouring it onto their cereal, or add the powder to their juice. There's all sorts of sneaky ways to get more fiber into your child's diet.

Fruit —When fresh fruit is not available or is too time consuming to prepare, sometimes dried fruits can fill the bill. My favorites are dates, raisins and dried mango; my hubby loves dried cranberries. Whatever works, dried fruits are a quick nutritional boost and a good take-along snack. Most natural foods stores sell these in bulk, so you can buy just the amount you need. These also make great additions to a healthy lunch. Another perk is the shelf life, which extends far beyond that of fresh fruit.

Eggs—Sometimes our workday mornings are the worst. We can't seem to find time to make a hot breakfast, even when it actually takes less time to scramble an egg than to prepare a frozen waffle. Products like Egg Beaters take the messy preparation out of the problem, minimizing time spent a bit. Boiled eggs can also be purchased in most delis, which make a quick breakfast on the go, when paired with a muffin or breakfast bread. Another option is to boil a half dozen eggs while you prepare dinner, then refrigerate for breakfasts throughout the week. These are also a good finger food for on-the-go noshing.

Pancakes—The healthiest of pancakes are the ones with extra fiber and fruit added. Check your dairy case for the new Organic Pancake Blaster, an organic pancake batter in an aerosol can, with no CFCs. Just add berries as you squirt the batter onto the pan and you’re in business. If you make your own batter, be sure to stir in some extra fiber, using Benefiber, or a similar product.

Fruit juices – Look for organic apple, grapefruit, grape, orange and tomato juices, even in your local supermarket. If they’re still too pricey for your budget, try diluting them slightly. Most family members will never know the difference if you add 25% water (well, maybe the tomato?).

Toppings for pancakes – Fruit compotes can be purchased in the jelly aisle at your store. If you choose maple syrup--the traditional pancake topping--go for the real thing to avoid the high-fructose corn syrup. This nasty stuff has been linked to far too many health problems; it's time to take a stand for your family's health. Finally, flavored yogurts go over well with many and are worth a shot—much healthier than sugary syrup.

Packaged Crepes – Not even close to being a staple, these babies make a special-occasion breakfast really quick, when you have company, or simply want to spoil your family. Filled with fresh fruit and topped with fruit yogurt, this is a favorite breakfast of my daughter, and an attractive choice for company.

Bagels and English Muffins – While hardly a necessity, these too are a nice choice and especially healthy if you choose a whole-grain variety. Whole Foods has organic brands that we find delicious. Top with your choice of low fat cream cheese (add smoked salmon for an extra punch of healthy omega fats and protein) or low-sugar, organic jam.

Toaster pastries of all sorts are also available in organic form in many flavors. Give them a try and you're sure to find something your kids will all like.

Finally, Breakfast breads, made with a blend of dried fruits and nuts, add fiber and vitamins to your quick breakfast, and are available in many bakeries.

While natural, unprocessed foods are still your best choice, the above options are the best of the processed versions, with Oatmeal being your most nutritious and budget-conscious on this list. As often as possible, try to give your family the benefit of fresh fruits, homemade breads and muffins, and a variety of eggs, if you choose to add these to your diet.

Join me soon for a lunch version of this post, where I will help you select the better processed foods from your supermarket.

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