Eating a well-balanced breakfast that's also tasty and exciting and can be tricky to do every single morning, especially when many people are still dealing with disrupted (and monotonous!) WFH routines or trying to transition back to an office. Whether you already eat it every day or rarely make time for breakfast, transforming the first meal of your day into a nutrient-dense meal will help you break through potential brain-fog that's brought on by low blood sugar and slow metabolism. Regardless of what your pantry looks like right now, follow these nutritionist-approved guidelines to make breakfast more delicious (and nutritious!):
- Really try to eat breakfast every day: Skipping breakfast is one of the health field's classic debates. But the editors at Good Housekeeping are most impressed by research that suggests a link between a balanced breakfast and optimal nutrition, especially studies like this recent Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism piece that suggests the amount of energy needed to process a meal is higher in the morning — meaning breakfast eaters burn more calories overall. We need more data to know for sure, but the case for breakfast is looking pretty good right now!
- Watch for added sugar: Your favorite breakfast may taste savory, but sugar tends to silently hide out in things like granola, oatmeal, bagels, cereals and related bars, as well as coffee, tea and juice. Reach for unsweetened products if you can (including nondairy milk beverages for your cup of morning Joe) and keep sugar counts as far below 10g per item as possible.
- Power up on produce: Breakfast salads are in! Add leftover veggies from your crisper drawer, or even fresh greens, to eggs or whatever else is on your morning plate. The added punch of fiber can help you feel fuller (and satisfied) longer.
- Lean on lean protein: Bacon is tasty, but is best in keen moderation — choose lean cuts of fish and poultry, beans, legumes, unsweetened dairy products (like yogurt!) and eggs rather than processed deli meats.
- Chew more, sip less: Eating helps many people feel more satisfied and satiated than sipping smoothies or drinks that are intended to serve as a meal replacement. Nutritious smoothies can be great for hectic mornings, but pay attention to your body and opt for solid food if you notice you're hungry well before lunchtime.
What exactly does a balanced meal look like, you might ask? Primarily, you're gunning for a trio of protein, fiber-packed carbohydrates and better-for-you fats — but feel free to add in as many veggies and fruit to the equation as you'd like. Avoid subbing protein or fiber-rich carbs for more fat, or vice versa; you need all three to truly get your day started right.
How to Pull Off a Complete Breakfast — Fast!
Our favorite breakfast-in-a-hurry recipes are combos of the delicious foods above that don't require fancy prep. Here are some GH Nutrition Lab go-tos:
- Avocado toast on 1 to 2 slices sprouted grain bread with fresh arugula, two eggs and everything bagel seasoning
- 1 cup unsweetened Greek yogurt with 1/3 cup low-sugar granola and 1/2 cup fresh berries
- 3-egg white omelet with chopped veggies, 2 Tbsp. lite Mexican-Style cheese blend, 1/4 cup salsa and 1/2 sliced avocado
- Chilled overnight chia pudding
- 1 lite whole wheat english muffin with 2 Tbsp. almond butter and 1/2 cup mashed raspberries
- 1/2 to 1 cup cooked oatmeal with 1/2 cup milk of choice, plus 2 to 3 Tbsp. mixed nuts (or 1 to 2 Tbsp. nut butter) and 1 cup chopped fruit
- 2 frozen 100% whole-grain waffles with 2 tablespoons peanut butter and 1 sliced banana
- 1⁄2 to 1 roasted (or nuked!) sweet potato with 1⁄2 tablespoon nut butter, plus sliced apple, pear or banana
No matter what your peference, incorporate as many of the following ingredients into your breakfasts as possible:
Protein shakes aren't just a quick method for stocking up on protein. "They're also a great way to get in veggies with breakfast," says Amy Fischer, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., a registered dietitian with the Good Housekeeping Institute. In addition to protein powder, she adds two big handfuls of spinach, non-sweetened nut milk, high-fiber fruits like berries and a dash of cinnamon to her shakes. When choosing a protein powder, Fischer recommends looking for one that's a complete protein (meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids) and is verified by a third party (which ensures an outside company has performed quality-control testing). If you see words like organic, grass-fed, wild or non-GMO on the label, that's a good sign, too. "Overall the fewer ingredients the better," says Fischer. "Avoid added sweeteners, fillers and stabilizers."
Whole grains contain antioxidants, which protect your tissues from harmful inflammation. Plus, they’re loaded with minerals like calcium, potassium, magnesium, zinc and iron — important building blocks for a strong immune system and healthy heart. The B vitamins found in whole grains also help your body convert food into energy. You can choose anything from quinoa to farro, buckwheat groats to millet as a base layer of a breakfast bowl and layer it with savory ingredients (eggs! nuts! lox!) or sweet additions (almond milk! honey!). And, yes, bread can be part of a balanced breakfast: Select a 100% whole-grain or 100% whole wheat loaf.
Bananas help you fill up and come in their own portable packaging. Their folate and vitamin B6 aids in the production of serotonin, which can help improve mood and reduce anxiety. The soluble fiber also helps lower cholesterol by removing it from your GI tract and preventing it from moving into your bloodstream (i.e., clogging your arteries). For an extra heart-healthy kick, slice bananas on top of morning oats with a tablespoon of chia seeds or walnuts.
There are many reasons why eggs are a classic breakfast staple. Full of vitamins A, D and B12, they're an inexpensive and nutrient-dense food. Two large eggs also contain more than 50% of the choline you need each day, and just one egg has about 8 grams of protein as well. Nearly everything in our bodies requires protein to function properly, including our skin, blood, muscles and bones. Protein also takes longer to digest than carbs so you feel fuller for a longer amount of time. And GH Nutritionist Approved Eggland's Best Cage-Free Eggs have six times more vitamin D and 10 times more vitamin E compared to ordinary eggs. For a breakfast that's full of fiber and lean protein, try making scrambled eggs on whole-grain toast with sliced tomato or a spinach-broccoli-mushroom omelet.
Just a cup of strawberries has 3 grams of fiber and all of your day's vitamin C needs for just 207 calories. The antioxidants found in berries (including blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries) also have cell-protecting properties. Eating more of them can help protect your blood vessels from harmful plaque and boost circulation. If berries aren't at the top of your list, citrus fruit, apples, stone fruit, and melon are all great fruit alternatives. They’re filled with potassium to help balance blood pressure and mitigate bloat.
Yes, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's 2020-2025 nutritional guidelines, coffee is good for you! In fact, a daily cup of black coffee (with milk or cream if you must!) may help you reduce the risk of certain chronic diseases per Harvard Medical School. It can also be a healthy way to boost energy long as you dodge high-fat dairy and copious amounts of sugar. (If you're at a Starbucks counter, stick to items like skim lattes, which packs in 13g of protein without sugar-filled syrups.)
Sesame, chia, sunflower, pumpkin, flax — the list of great-for-you seeds goes on. Add them to cereal, smoothies (or plain water!), puddings and baked goods. A single 1-ounce serving can contain 10 grams of protein! On top of that, the zinc, magnesium, iron and calcium in seeds will help you stay healthy and boost immunity. Seeds also contain soluble fiber that can help lower your "bad" cholesterol (LDL) while increasing "good" cholesterol (HDL). The combination of protein and fiber can also prevent a blood sugar spike (and subsequent crash) before lunch.
Oats are one of the best foods we can eat for a number of reasons. As a 100% whole grain, they’re filled with fiber, plant-based protein, B-vitamins and minerals, including iron, calcium and magnesium. Whole oats have been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease thanks to a type of fiber known as "beta-glucan" that research shows to improve cholesterol levels. This fiber also fuels your body’s probiotics, helping friendly bacteria in your digestive system to survive and thrive. Not sure which ones to pick? Look for GH Nutritionist Approved McCann's Steel Cut Oats.
These fruits have a unique mix of heart-healthy fats, water and dietary fiber. That combo enhances feelings of fullness, making you less likely to overeat throughout the rest of the day. The unsaturated fats in avocado are also linked to a decreased risk of heart disease, lifestyle-related cancers, and diabetes. So go ahead and eat that trendy and tasty avocado toast — it packs in B vitamins and minerals from both avocado and whole grains. (Bonus points if you put an egg on it for extra protein!)
Unsweetened plain Greek yogurt and skyr both provide protein and probiotics. Choose ones that have five strains or more of bacterial cultures listed on the label. It’s also a great choice if you’re aiming for lower-sugar breakfasts but still like a sweet flavor in the morning — just add fruit! Greek yogurt is full of calcium and many versions get fortified with vitamin D. Our experts love Siggi’s (all flavors) and Fage Unsweetened Greek Yogurt. If you decide to pair it with low-sugar granola, pick one that is free of lots of unnecessary sugar.
What can’t peanut butter do?! It contains 8 grams of protein in a 2-tablespoon serving plus heart-healthy unsaturated fats. Tree nuts and peanuts in general (like GH Nutritionist Approved Hampton Farms Peanuts) have been linked to a reduced risk of chronic disease as well as weight loss or maintenance. Look for nut butters that are made from only nuts and salt with less than 140 mg of sodium per serving. Products that use oil as a stabilizer are okay, too. Nut butter packs we love: Justin’s, Barney Butter, and Wild Friends.
Plain black or green tea is a solid zero-calorie choice! But this morning pick-me-up offers so many well-documented benefits: Green tea, in particular, can help lower cardiovascular risk and aid weight loss efforts, all while providing a calming moment in the morning rush. Just give it a try — drink 16 ounces of unsweetened black or green tea with your breakfast. It'll give you a head start on hydrating goals for the day and make up for any overnight losses.
Just one piece of part-skim mozzarella can add 8 grams of protein (that’s the same as one egg!) to your breakfast. A half-cup of lower-sodium cottage cheese can pack up to 20 grams. Dairy also provides calcium, magnesium, and potassium that’ll aid in reducing bloat, balancing blood pressure and helping you stay energized. Use around 1⁄3 cup of cheese as the main source of protein in the meal; use 1⁄4 cup if it’s for adding flavor (e.g., an omelet).
Whether it ends up in an omelette, grain bowl or smoothie, spinach is a wonderful option at breakfast time. That's because there are compounds in spinach that boost heart health by dilating arteries and reducing cholesterol. Plus, nitrates in spinach can keep blood sugar levels low, which is especially important for people with diabetes. On top of that, spinach also contains a suite of essential vitamins. In fact, a half-cup of frozen spinach provides 64% of the recommended daily consumption of vitamin A.
Just one medium-sized sweet potato provides almost 400% of your daily vitamin A. Its orange flesh is also rich in beta-carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A and is crucial for immunity. A single sweet potato also contains 15% of our daily recommended fiber intake, which can lower LDL cholesterol levels and boost your digestive health. Use sweet potato as a swap for your usual morning bread, bagel, or muffin and top it with eggs and/or avocado.
Frozen waffles are an easy, delicious swap for toast. Look for water or 100% whole grains as the first ingredient, and keep the added sugar content as low as possible. Kashi Whole-Grain Waffles are filled with fiber and protein and contain just 3 grams of sugar for two. Use them as for sandwich bread with eggs or top with 2 tablespoons of nut butter, cinnamon, and chocolate chips for a treat. Van’s’ 8 Whole Grains version tastes similar.