Many believe breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But, according to the American Dietetic Association, anywhere from 10%-30% of Americans skip breakfast. Research studies suggest that breakfast contributes significantly to the health and nutrition of children, adolescents and adults. A healthy breakfast can also reduce risk for chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes and obesity.
According to researchers, children who skip breakfast don’t consume adequate amounts of several vitamins and minerals, including iron, calcium, zinc, Vitamin D and B-vitamins, and the odds of dietary inadequacy among teenagers are two to five times higher for breakfast skippers.
Recent food consumption studies including the Bogalusa (La.) Heart Study and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute’s Growth and Health Study reported many health benefits from breakfast. Breakfast seems to improve energy, memory, learning, alertness, mood, school attendance and performance, and physical activity in children.
Breakfast benefits: Studies show that eating cereal was related to better nutrition (e.g., more fiber, calcium and iron consumption) and lower fat and cholesterol intake in children and teenagers, while eating ready-to-eat cereal was associated with lower Body Mass Index (BMI) in children, adolescent girls and women.
Breakfast may also play a role in weight control: Among successful dieters, 78% of them ate breakfast daily.
A healthful breakfast is nutritionally balanced, so breakfast menus should include: high-fiber, whole-grain breads and fortified cereals; fruits, vegetables and juices; and low-or non-fat dairy foods and meats or meat substitutes, including beans, peanut butter, eggs and soy proteins.
Serve low-fat or soy-based versions of bacon and sausage meats, Canadian bacon and lean ham as sources of protein, and replace high-fat sweets like donuts and other pastries with cornbread and low-fat muffins.
Many operators find that a breakfast menu without such favorites as bacon and sweet pastries may be a turn-off to some customers; even the more health-conscious of the group may want to indulge themselves occasionally.
Still, most operators concur that today’s customers are looking for items that pack a nutritional punch.
Top 10 tips: Here are 10 suggestions of how to boost the health profile of your breakfast menu:
1. Serve low-sodium vegetable juices and unsweetened, 100% fruit juices. Some juices are fortified with vitamins like Vitamin C, minerals like calcium, or plant sterols, which may reduce high blood cholesterol.
2. Blend smoothies using low-fat milk or yogurt, silken tofu or soy milk, fruits, 100% fruit juice and spices such as nutmeg and cinnamon. Top with chopped nuts. Choose commercial smoothies with at least 5 gm. protein and not more than 30 gm. sugar and 170 calories per cup.
3. Check food labels on frozen pancakes, waffles and French toast for “100% whole grain,” at least 4 gm. fiber, and not more than 250 calories, 2 gm. saturated fat and 480 mg. sodium per serving. Top with fruits and nuts.
4. Prepare eggs with non-stick pans. Use egg substitutes for customers on low-cholesterol diets. Add vegetables and low-fat cheese or meats to omelets.
5. Serve crepes or blintzes with low-fat ricotta cheese and fruit fillings.
6. Offer breakfast, or cereal, bars that are rich in fiber (3 gm. or more), low in saturated fat (1 gm. or less) and sugar (not over 14 gm.), and not more than 150 calories.
7. Serve “100% whole wheat” or “whole grain” breads with at least 2 gm. fiber per slice (1 oz.). The first ingredient and only flour listed on packages should be whole wheat. “Multigrain,” “wheat,” rye, oatmeal and pumpernickel breads may contain mostly refined white flour. Ground flaxseed, in some breads and cereals, contains fiber and omega-3 fats.
8. Offer whole-grain, ready-to-eat cereals with at least 5 gm. fiber (e.g., bran) and not more than 200 calories, 8 gm. sugar, 1 gm. saturated fat and 200 mg. sodium per serving. Serve with skim or 1% low-fat milk, and top with fruits and nuts.
9. Serve whole-grain hot cereals (e.g., oatmeal). Cream of wheat or rice and grits are not whole grains. Check labels for at least 3 gm. fiber and not more than 250 mg. sodium per cup and no added sugars.
10. For variety, offer non-traditional breakfasts: low-fat yogurt-fruit parfait, pancakes with peanut butter and bananas, bean/cheese (low-fat) burrito, low-fat cottage cheese mixed with fruit on a bran muffin, whole-wheat English muffin mini-pizzas (low-fat cheese/vegetables), hummus on whole wheat pita bread, and vegetable quiche or frittata.