I’m a big believer in breakfast, especially if you’re trying to shed pounds. Among the people I counsel, I find that those who skip the morning meal tend to overeat in the evening, when they’re less active and can't burn off those unneeded calories. So I advise my clients to “eat breakfast like a king," as they say. And there's plenty of research to back that habit up.
One 12-week study showed that folks who ate their biggest daily meal at breakfast were much more likely to lose weight and shrink their waistlines compared to people who ate a large dinner. And a solid a.m. meal is good for your health, too: A recent study published in the Journal of Physiology tracked breakfast eaters and those who fasted until mid-day for six weeks. Researchers found that the genes of breakfast eaters were impacted in ways that may help protect against diabetes and other chronic illnesses.
What's more, breakfast is a good opportunity to fit in key nutrients many people don't get enough of. But if you’re trying to slim down, you may be confused about what (and how much) to eat when you wake up. Below you'll find a range of balanced and weight-loss friendly meals I recommend to my clients. Pick one that suits your food preferences, morning time constraints, and eating style—and commit to eating it daily for at least a month.
A note for coffee drinkers: There's no need to give up your beloved cup of Joe if you're trying to lose weight. In fact, there are health benefits tied to including it. Simply curb the calories in your mug by doctoring it up with a splash of unsweetened almond or coconut milk, one packet of raw sugar, and a dash of cinnamon; and replace the second cup with a tall glass of H2O.
If you're a grazer…
Prefer to nibble all morning rather than sit down for a meal? Pack the following nutrient-rich finger foods to bring to the office, and take your time enjoying them: one cup of raw veggies (such as sliced cucumber, red bell pepper, or broccoli florets); a single-serve container of guacamole for dipping; two hard-boiled eggs or a half cup of EVOO oven-roasted chickpeas; one piece of fresh fruit the size of a tennis ball, or a cup of loose fruit like berries or grapes. If you need a sweet treat to cap it all off, add a square of antioxidant- and mineral-rich 70% dark chocolate.
If you're hooked on smoothies…
The trick to a slimming smoothie is to strike the right balance of protein, fat ,and carbs—so you feel satisfied without creating a surplus of calories you can’t burn off. Start with a handful of greens, like kale or spinach, and a half cup of zucchini. Combine with one cup of frozen fruit (such as blueberries), or half of a banana with a half cup of frozen fruit. For protein add a scoop of a plant-based powder, or a single-serve container of plain grass-fed Greek yogurt. For a dose of satiating, heart healthy fat, toss in half of an avocado. And for an anti-inflammatory, metabolism, and immune-supporting boost, include a one-inch cube of peeled fresh ginger root. Finish with one cup of unsweetened almond milk and blend. To maximize how full you feel, sip your smoothie slowly over a 20-minute period.
If you love eggs…
Try this scramble: Over low heat, sauté one cup of chopped veggies (such as sliced yellow onion, tomato, cucumber, and green bell pepper) in a quarter cup of low-sodium vegetable broth, along with a quarter teaspoon of minced garlic, half teaspoon of Italian seasoning, and an eighth teaspoon each of sea salt and black pepper. When veggies are slightly tender, add two whole pastured eggs, and a dash of turmeric, and scramble until eggs are cooked thoroughly. Serve over a bed of fresh leafy greens, along with half of an avocado and one cup of fresh fruit.
If have no time in the mornings…
Your best bet may be to pack a clean ingredient protein bar, like Rx—or for a vegan and nut-free alternative like Amrita’s protein options. But if you can prep a ready-to-eat breakfast the night before, whip up protein-bolstered overnight oats. In a small bowl stir together a quarter cup each of dry old-fashioned rolled oats and plain (unflavored) protein powder. Add a half cup of hot water and stir to dissolve the powder evenly into the oats. In a separate small bowl whisk together a half tablespoon each of virgin coconut oil and honey, and a half teaspoon of ground cinnamon. Stir in a half cup each of shredded raw zucchini and finely chopped kale, and one small chopped or shredded green apple. Combine veggie and apple mixture with oat mixture until thoroughly mixed. Transfer to a sealable container, top with a tablespoon of sliced almonds and another dash of cinnamon, and refrigerate overnight.
Rather have eggs? Here's a simple recipe you can prep ahead: Combine one cup of chopped raw veggies (such as spinach, tomato, cucumber, and red onion) with two chopped hard-boiled eggs, and a tablespoon of dairy-free pesto. Chill in the fridge overnight and pair with a piece of fresh fruit.
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If you're just not a breakfast food person…
Why not make a traditional lunch or dinner meal your morning go-to? Some of my clients plate a second helping of their dinner to stash in the fridge for breakfast. (If you try this trick, be sure to include a generous portion of veggies, so they make up the bulk of your morning meal.) Other people love savory salads for breakfast. If that sounds tempting, try combining one tablespoon of balsamic vinegar with a teaspoon each of fresh lemon juice and either Dijon or stone ground mustard and a half teaspoon of Italian seasoning. Add a can of wild salmon, or a half cup of cooked lentils. Serve the mixture over two cups of kale or spinach massaged with one tablespoon EVOO, topped with a half cup of cooked, chilled quinoa.
Cynthia Sass is Health’s contributing nutrition editor, a New York Times best-selling author, and a consultant for the New York Yankees and Brooklyn Nets.