These healthy out-of-the-box options will fuel you up without slowing you down.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

It might be the last thing on your morning to-do list, or worse, it might not be on your list at all. But a healthy breakfast refuels your body, jump-starts your day and may even benefit your overall health. So don't skip this meal — it may be more important than you think.

These quick and flexible options give you plenty of ways to put breakfast back on your daily menu.

Breakfast gives you a chance to start each day with a healthy and nutritious meal.

Adults who report regularly eating a healthy breakfast are more likely to:

  • Eat more vitamins and minerals
  • Control their weight
  • Eat less fat and cholesterol

Children who regularly eat a healthy breakfast are more likely to:

  • Meet daily nutrient requirements
  • Be at a healthy body weight
  • Have better concentration and be more alert
  • Miss fewer days of school

What exactly counts as a healthy breakfast? Here's what forms the core of a healthy breakfast:

  • Whole grains. Examples include whole-grain rolls, bagels, hot or cold whole-grain cereals, low-fat bran muffins, crackers, and Melba toast.
  • Lean protein. Examples include peanut butter, lean meat, poultry or fish, and hard-boiled eggs.
  • Low-fat dairy. Examples include milk, plain or lower sugar yogurts, and low-fat cheeses, such as cottage and natural cheeses.
  • Fruits and vegetables. Examples include fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, 100 percent juice drinks without added sugar, and fruit and vegetable smoothies. Choose low-sodium versions of beverages, though.

Together, these food groups provide complex carbohydrates, fiber, protein and a small amount of fat — a combination that packs health benefits and helps you feel full for hours.

Find options from these core groups that suit your tastes and preferences. And try to choose one or two options from each category to round out a healthy breakfast.

Cereal may be your go-to item for breakfast, whether you grab a handful to eat dry while on the run, or you have time to sit down for a bowl with milk and fruit. But not all cereals are created equal. Read the Nutrition Facts label and ingredient list before you buy cereal. And remember that not all cereals have the same serving size. A serving of one cereal might be 1/2 cup, while another may be 1 cup.

Key items to consider when choosing cereal are:

  • Fiber. Choose cereals with at least 3 grams of fiber in each serving, but if possible, aim for 5 grams a serving or more.
  • Sugar. After you find fiber-rich cereals that you like, look for the one with the lowest amount of sugar. Focus on cereals marketed to adults. They're usually lower in sugar than cereals aimed at children. To find out how much sugar a cereal contains, check the Nutrition Facts label. It's also important to check the ingredient list. Avoid cereals that list sugar at or near the top of the ingredient list, or that list multiple types of added sugar, such as high-fructose corn syrup, honey, brown sugar and dextrose.
  • Calories. If you're counting calories, choose cereals lower in calories, ideally less than 160 calories a serving.

Remember to top off your bowl of cereal with some sliced fruit and low-fat or skim milk. Or if you're on the go, take along a piece of fruit, a container of milk or some yogurt.

A word about cereal bars

Cereal bars may be a good breakfast option. Just be sure to look for those that meet the same guidelines as dry cereal. Also, don't forget some fruit and low-fat milk or yogurt to round things out. Even fruit or yogurt cereal bars won't satisfy all your nutrition requirements for breakfast.

You have plenty of ways to get in a healthy breakfast each day, and it doesn't always have to be a traditional breakfast menu.

Here are some examples of healthy breakfast options:

  • Cooked oatmeal topped with almonds or dried cranberries
  • A whole-wheat pita stuffed with hard-boiled eggs
  • Leftover vegetable pizza
  • A tortilla filled with vegetables, salsa and low-fat shredded cheese
  • A smoothie of fruits, plain yogurt and a spoonful of wheat germ
  • Whole-wheat crackers with low-fat cheese or peanut butter
  • A whole-wheat sandwich with lean meat and low-fat cheese, lettuce, tomato, cucumber and sweet peppers
  • Multigrain pancakes with fruit and yogurt
  • A whole-grain waffle with peanut butter
  • Egg omelet with vegetables (use more egg whites than yolk)

Try these tips for fitting in breakfast on a tight schedule:

  • Cook ahead. Make breakfast the night before. Just reheat as necessary in the morning.
  • Set the stage. Figure out what you'll eat for breakfast the night before. Then, set out dry ingredients and any bowls, equipment or pans. They'll be ready for use in the morning.
  • Pack it up. Make a to-go breakfast the night before. In the morning, you can grab it and go.

If you skip breakfast because you want to save calories, reconsider that plan. Chances are you'll be ravenous by lunchtime. That may lead you to overeat or choose fast but unhealthy options — perhaps doughnuts or cookies a co-worker brings to the office.

Your morning meal doesn't have to mean loading up on sugar and fats, and it doesn't have to be time-consuming to be healthy. Keep the breakfast basics in mind and set yourself up for healthier eating all day long.

Apr. 08, 2014