What Does a Healthy Breakfast Look Like?

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Trying to make healthier food choices can sometimes feel overwhelming and frustrating. But it doesn’t have to be. Eating well is possible. The more effortless we make it, the better chances are that we actually stick to it.

We asked Charlotte Furman, a registered dietitian and Technology and Wellness Manager in the Department of Food and Nutrition at UW Medical Center, to help us understand what a healthy breakfast should look like. Furman loves breakfast—it’s her favorite meal of the day. The goal is not to feel like you are depriving yourself of anything, but instead rewarding yourself—with new patterns, new flavors, and hopefully renewed energy and improved mood and health.

Why is breakfast important?

Breakfast is important for several reasons. Eating a meal in the morning provides necessary fuel for your body and brain. It can also help regulate hunger, reducing the urge to snack throughout the day. For children, eating breakfast has been positively associated with academic performance, as well as a decreased risk of obesity.

What foods make a nutritious breakfast?

For the most nutritious breakfast, try to choose whole, unprocessed foods from each of the five food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, protein foods, and dairy. Try to include proteins from foods like yogurts (look for varieties with less sugar added), eggs, nuts and seeds or legumes. Also try to include complex carbohydrates such as whole fruits and vegetables, and whole grains (i.e. oatmeal) that provide fiber and will help you feel full longer.

What should my breakfast never lack?

As with any meal, it’s important to focus on your overall diet and not on any one meal in particular. Making sure your breakfast usually contains a vegetable and/or a fruit serving is a great way to make sure that you are getting in enough fruits and vegetables throughout the day.

What foods should I limit?

The main foods that I would recommend limiting in the morning are processed cereals or pastries which contain a lot of added sugars and little nutritional value, as well as breakfast meats such as sausage and bacon which have been shown to increase risk of some cancers when eaten regularly, and which are also high in saturated fats, which increases risk of heart disease.

So, what are some examples of a balanced, healthy breakfast?

Here are some ideas:

  • Oatmeal with fruit and flax or chia seeds

  • Whole wheat toast with peanut butter and banana

  • Whole wheat toast with pesto, avocado and egg


What would you recommend for someone like me who is never hungry early in the morning, and only feels like eating a very light meal?

The great thing about breakfast is that its timing can be flexible. Even if you don’t eat immediately after waking up, try to make sure to space your meals out so that you don’t get too hungry at a particular time, which can lead to eating too fast or too much.

Breakfast doesn’t have to be large or complex. Start with something simple like a banana & peanut butter or a cup of yogurt with fresh fruit, or make a smoothie using lots of fresh fruits & vegetables. You can even add in some ground seeds (flax or chia) for added fiber and omega-3 fatty acids.

Do you have any tips on how to plan in advance?

Many breakfast foods can be prepped in advance, or require very little preparation. One of my favorite breakfasts when I have little time is overnight oatmeal. Oatmeal can be combined with fruit & milk (any kind) and put in the refrigerator the night before and is ready to eat in the morning – no cooking required!

Usually I use blueberries and a banana, but any combination of fruit works fine. Another great option when you are in a time crunch is a piece of fruit like apple or banana with some nut butter or Greek yogurt with granola; these can be made ready in minutes. You can also make breakfast scramble wraps or mini-frittatas that can be frozen individually and microwaved in the morning for a quick breakfast.