Breakfast is an important meal. Get it right and your day is off to a flying start. Get it wrong and you're likely to be left feeling tired and cranky, not to mention hungry by 11am. Despite this, it's all too often neglected. We may lavish attention on our lunch and dinner, but how many of us manage to cobble together something decent to eat when we're bleary eyed and rushing around in the morning?
In 2003, a comprehensive study from Harvard Medical School found that obesity levels were lower among people who regularly ate breakfast, compared with those who skipped it. However, recent research has suggested that despite long-held beliefs, eating a big breakfast doesn't actually reduce calorie intake for the rest of the day and more often than not, it adds to it.
While this might sound confusing, one thing is for sure: eating breakfast is important. It energises us, kick-starts the metabolism and helps to stabilise blood-sugar levels that will have dipped in the night. Not only that, it aids concentration, helps prevent mood swings and ensures that we're less likely to succumb to a high-fat mid-morning snack.
According to nutritionists, conventional breakfast fodder such as white bread, cereal and pastries are far from ideal. These are essentially filler foods, which offer a quick burst of carbohydrate but little else in terms of nutritional value. Breakfast cereals, in particular, are often packed with worrying levels of salt and sugar and although granola has become the trendy breakfast of choice in recent years, commercial versions are often high in calories, unhealthy oils, fat and sugar.
Saying this is all very well, but it does raise the questions: what constitutes a healthy breakfast and during the week, when early morning minutes are precious, how do you go about eating it?
The ideal breakfast will be made up of a mix of protein and whole grain, slow-release carbohydrates, both of which will help keep hunger pangs at bay until lunchtime. Levels of salt, sugar and saturated fat should be kept to a minimum and portion size must be taken into consideration.
Eggs are a good breakfast standby. They are inexpensive and endlessly versatile; try them scrambled, poached, fried, baked or made into an omelette or pancake. They are packed with protein, are rich in vitamins A, D and E and contain important minerals such as zinc, calcium and phosphorus. Eggs are also relatively low in saturated fat and calories, meaning that poached or boiled and served with a slice of wholemeal bread, they make for a healthy start to the day - add a handful of spinach for an even bigger nutritional tick.
Eggs have long been demonised for containing high levels of cholesterol. However, the British Heart Foundation no longer places an advised limit on egg consumption for the average person. It used to be thought that eating food that contained high levels of cholesterol (eggs, shellfish and liver for example) had a direct impact upon cholesterol levels in the body. As research has developed, so have attitudes towards eggs; it is now thought that the amount of saturated fat we consume has a far more significant effect on blood cholesterol.
Oats are another humble breakfast ingredient that deserve recognition. They are a good source of protein and essential vitamins (E, folic acid, thiamin, biotin) and are absorbed into the bloodstream slowly. This means that they help to keep blood-sugar levels stable and leave you feeling full for longer. Oats are also a good source of soluble fibre, which is not only important for the digestive system, but is believed to be instrumental in helping to reduce high blood-cholesterol levels.
Porridge is the obvious healthy breakfast here. The brilliant thing about porridge is that there are countless ways to dress it up and everyone has their own (often hotly contested) way of preparing it. Do you simmer your oats in water or are you a half-and-half kind of person? Add a pinch of salt or a generous slug of honey? If you're not already doing so, then experiment with your porridge toppings - spoon over almonds, blueberries and natural yoghurt, decorate with chunks of banana that have been dusted in cinnamon and allspice, stir in some fruit compote or stud with juicy golden raisins. The possibilities are endless.
Speed and variety are the key to a satisfying weekday breakfast. Below are a few ideas for healthy breakfasts that can be prepared quickly, followed by more decadent recipes, suitable for the weekend.
Quick breakfast ideas
A smoothie is always going to be a breakfast winner. They are easy to prepare, can be customised to suit personal taste and if you add yoghurt and oats then the drink becomes substantial enough to keep you going for a good few hours. Try blending a roughly chopped banana, handful of raspberries, couple of tablespoons of oats and a teaspoon of honey with 150ml milk and 100ml of natural yoghurt.
You could swap the raspberries for any type of fresh or frozen berry, add half a teaspoon of ground cinnamon or use agave syrup - a natural sweetener that is thinner than honey - in place of the honey. Alternatively, swap the banana for kiwi fruit (which is rich in vitamin C) and use orange juice instead of milk.
Granola doesn't have to be dismissed completely, particularly if you make your own. Check out The National's website for a recipe for healthy, reduced-sugar granola bars. These keep for several days when stored in an air-tight container and make for an instant and nutritious breakfast on the run.
Thismakes a great alternative to porridge. For two portions, peel, core and grate three apples into a bowl. Squeeze over the juice of half a lemon to prevent the fruit from browning. Add 175g porridge oats and 400ml plain yoghurt and stir well.
Cover and leave in the fridge overnight; the oats will plump up and absorb the yoghurt. Serve with an extra spoonful of yoghurt and a drizzle of honey or agave syrup. This recipe is merely a basis, you could add any number of ingredients to the mixture - raisins, berries, banana, dates etc.
Weekend breakfast ideas
Spicy scrambled eggs, mushrooms and avocado
For the mushrooms: 6 medium flat mushrooms 1 tbsp olive oil
For the spicy scrambled eggs: 4 eggs 15g butter, softened teaspoon chilli flakes
For the avocado salsa: 1 ripe avocado, chopped zest and juice of half a lemon red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped small handful coriander leaves, chopped
2 corn tortillas or flatbreads
Preheat the oven to 180¿C/fan 160¿C/gas 4.
Carefully scoop the middle out of the mushrooms so that you are left with a hollow shell. Place on a baking tray, brush with olive oil and season with salt and black pepper. Roast for 8-10 minutes, until tender.
Combine the chopped avocado, lemon juice and zest, red chilli and coriander leaves in a small dish. Warm the tortillas or flatbreads through in the oven.
Crack the eggs into a bowl, add three quarters of the butter and whisk lightly. Season with salt and black pepper. Melt the remaining butter in a saucepan over a low heat. Add the eggs and cook slowly, stirring occasionally. When the scrambled eggs are almost ready, remove the pan from the heat.
Place three mushrooms on each plate. Fill two mushrooms with the scrambled eggs and spoon the avocado salsa into the other. Serve with flatbreads or tortillas and any remaining avocado, sliced.
Cinnamon French toast with blueberries
2 tbsp caster sugar 1 tsp ground cinnamon 3 large eggs 4 slices brioche 2 tbsp vegetable oil
To serve: yoghurt / crème fraîche blueberries
Mix together the caster sugar and cinnamon. Lightly beat the eggs and tip into a shallow bowl. Mix in the cinnamon sugar. Remove the crusts from the brioche and slice into fingers.
Soak the bread in the egg mixture for two minutes on each side. Heat the oil in a large frying pan, add the brioche and cook for two minutes on each side or until golden brown. Transfer to a plate lined with kitchen roll to drain.
Put a couple of spoonfuls of yoghurt or crème fraîche in the bottom of each serving bowl. Top with the French toast and a handful of blueberries.
Herb labneh and roasted tomatoes on toast
4 medium tomatoes 2 tbsp olive oil 1 garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped 150g labneh handful parsley leaves, chopped red pepper, very finely chopped 4 slices sourdough or wholemeal bread salt and black pepper
Preheat the oven to 180¿C/fan 160¿C/gas 4. Slice the tomatoes in half horizontally and place on a baking tray. In a small bowl, mix together the oil and garlic. Season with salt and black pepper and spoon the oil over the tomatoes. Transfer to the oven and cook for 10 minutes.
Place the labneh in a small bowl, add the parsley and chopped red pepper and beat together until smooth.
Grill the sourdough or wholemeal bread. Spread each piece of toast with the herby labneh and arrange the tomatoes on top.