By Shannon Connor Winward
(PCM) It’s no wonder breakfast is a central part of life around the world: the average earthling sleeps roughly seven hours a night and, depending on body weight, burns upwards of 100 calories per slumber hour. Unless you’re a sleep-eater (which is totally a thing), you’re doing all this on an empty stomach. Hence the importance of breakfast, or, breaking the fast of the prior evening – a ritual to refuel the body for whatever trials and joys the day might bring, often in the company of other bodies, i.e. loved ones (roommates, spouses, kids, pets, favorite coffee mug, what-have-you.)
If your bevy of loved bodies includes teens or young children, that morning meal may be of particular importance: kids who eat breakfast perform better academically and on IQ tests, have healthier body weights, and run lower risk for nutrition-related diseases like diabetes. They’re also less likely to be irritable and annoying, so make sure to send those little darlings off to school with full and happy tummies.
But, for the rest of us, is breakfast really the most important meal of the day? We may have been spoon-fed this conventional wisdom as children, but modern science tells us that people who skip breakfast tend to make up those missed calories over the course of the day – which means your weight (and your health) probably won’t change much if you suddenly start passing on that bagel. And though heading out on an empty stomach may make it hard to resist bad-for-you snacks later, some studies suggest we actually make better decisions when we’re hungry (our cavemen ancestors had to be on-the-ball to take down that morning mammoth, after all).
So WHEN we eat our first meal may or may not matter (how many mammoths are on your hit list today?), but WHAT we eat certainly does. High-sugar cereals and breakfast bars may offer an early energy boost only to let you down hard later. For a nutritionally sound breakfast, experts suggest a balance of whole grains (oatmeal, whole grain breads or muffins, granola) and proteins (eggs, low-fat milk, yogurt or smoothies, lean meats or fish, nut butters) plus fruits or vegetables. Even coffee is considered a healthy addition, in moderation: caffeine can boost brain function and physical performance, help burn fat, and lower your risk for certain diseases.
That said, few of us are sitting down with our nutritionist at the breakfast table, or at the morning meeting, or over weekend brunch. Sometimes breakfast has to be a grab-and-go affair: egg burritos, Mc-whatevers, prepackaged biscuit sandwiches or stuffed croissants. You may not have time to think about what is tasty and quick that won’t also to go to your hips; fortunately, modern restaurateurs and marketing execs are getting hip to that demand. Check product labels or fast food menus which list the nutritional content of their offerings (and, yup, there’s an app for that). Tend towards ala carte items or those breakfast combos that are in the lowest total calorie range, (500-600, maybe, for the average adult); or if math isn’t your thing (especially before that first cup of coffee – we get it) opt for smaller (read: reasonable) portions, foods that are grilled or roasted instead of fried, and consider skipping the heavy cheese spreads, gravies, high-fat dressings and greasy sides.
THEN AGAIN. There are times when we want – when we need – to slow life down. There are times when we don’t give a tater tot about the caloric content of our breakfast plate. Sometimes, breakfast is an occasion for breaking bread, for savoring life, giving us permission to indulge in the maybe-not-so-good-for-you foods that often define family and home. For some, that means fatty Sunday breakfast meats like sausage or bacon, loaded omelets or eggs-your-way (scrambled, fried, sunny-side?), hash browns or home fries, buttered pancakes with syrup, chicken and waffles, donuts by the dozen, or regional favorites like scrapple, grits, biscuits and gravy, Dutch babies or creamed chipped beef on toast.
Heck, even a big ol’ rainbow-colored bowl of Captain Whosit can be an oasis of nostalgia, reminding us what summer vacation tasted like, or Saturday morning cartoons. While it may not be necessary to sit down to one every morning (unless you’re a kid, in which case, listen to your mother), breakfast has a role not just in our day-to-day routines but in our families, our cultures and identities.
If nothing else, you might find life lessons and great wisdom on the back of that cereal box. Or mazes… or coupons. Whatever puts the snap in your crackle and pop.