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Morning fuel

No need to skip breakfast with these quick and nutritious ideas

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Just about everybody knows the importance of eating breakfast.

There are stacks of research proving the morning meal's benefits: Breakfast eaters are less likely to be overweight. They have healthier blood sugar and cholesterol levels. They have more energy throughout the day.

So why do so many people skip breakfast? Usually it's weekday logistics that get in the way. Too rushed to eat, too sleep-deprived, not hungry enough, nothing in the fridge that appeals.

The answer, says Montreal dietitian Janna Boloten, is breakfast on the go. But what she means is not a Starbucks muffin or a doughnut from the Tim Hortons drive-thru. Fast-food breakfasts are almost always higher in fat and/or sugar than homemade -- even the so-called healthy options.

Her idea of a speedy breakfast is a protein-rich morning meal that is ready in under five minutes. It's portable, too, so she can pack it up and take it to work when there's no time to eat at home.

It might be a microwaved mini-omelette sandwiched between a toasted whole-wheat English muffin with slices of tomato and cheese. Or a yogurt, fruit and granola parfait layered in a Mason jar. Maybe it's as quick and dirty as sliced apple and peanut butter on multi-grain crackers with a handful of nuts.

The healthiest to-go breakfasts, she says, are high in protein and low in fat, but they are also balanced. For example, she'll make sure to have a glass of milk alongside her oatmeal, or a non-fat yogurt with her fruit salad.

Chia seeds and ground flax provide heart-healthy omega-3 fats and fibre. Almonds are a rich source of monounsaturated fats and are rich in vitamin E, fibre and calcium. Dried cranberries have high levels of phenols, which have been proven to be a type of disease-fighting antioxidant. They also add sweetness without the need for refined sugars.

Boloten keeps a few staples on rotation for quick and fortifying breakfasts. She switches them up to avoid boredom, but always has fresh or frozen fruit on hand and protein in the form of eggs, yogurt, low-fat cheese or peanut butter.

"I'm always hungry when I get up in the morning, so I can't skip breakfast. If I have to, I get things ready the night before, but even when I'm not organized, there's nothing wrong with peanut butter and jelly on an English muffin," she said.

Even some hot breakfasts, like oatmeal and omelettes, can be adapted to the weekday rush with a little advance preparation or a shortcut or two.

Here are six ideas for single servings of quick and nutritious homemade weekday breakfasts:


Overnight Oats

This is Boloten's variation of Swiss muesli. The oats soak in milk or apple juice overnight and soften. For a nuttier flavour, toast the oats beforehand. The mixture will keep, refrigerated, in an airtight container for up to three days. The choice of toppings, to add just before eating, is almost endless. Try slivered almonds or chopped walnuts, pumpkin or sunflower seeds, raisins, dried cherries or cranberries or chopped dried apricots, figs, dates or prunes, sliced bananas, even finely chopped dark chocolate.

80 ml (1/3 cup) rolled oats (the one-minute kind)
80 ml (1/3 cup) skim milk or apple juice
2.5 ml (1/2 tsp) cinnamon (or to taste)
5 ml (1 tsp) maple syrup, honey or agave nectar (or to taste)
80 ml (1/3 cup) plain non-fat Greek yogurt
125 ml (1/2 cup) mixed berries or fresh fruit, sliced or chopped

In a Mason jar, combine oats and milk or apple juice. Add cinnamon and sweetener. Shake well and refrigerate overnight. In the morning, add yogurt, fruit and desired toppings.


Fast Flavoured Oatmeal

This is Boloten's homemade version of those sweetened flavoured oatmeal packets that are high in sugar and salt. When she can, she multiplies the quantities and makes a big batch to keep in a tightly sealed jar in the pantry, ready for measuring into a Mason jar or microwaveable container. She doesn't use sweeteners, but adds a little extra cinnamon or a few drops of vanilla extract, which she says tricks the palate into tasting sweet.

125 ml (1/2 cup) old-fashioned rolled oats (the ones labelled "minute oats")
15 ml (1 tbsp) raisins
15 ml (1 tbsp) dried sweetened cranberries
15 ml (1 tbsp) chia seeds
2.5 ml (1/2 tsp) ground cinnamon
5 to 10 ml (1 to 2 tsp) hulled, roasted sunflower seeds
5 ml (1 tsp) honey or maple syrup (optional)
1 to 2 tbsp (15 to 30 ml) chopped nuts (optional)

In a heatproof mug or microwaveable container, combine all ingredients. When ready to eat, add just enough boiling water to cover. Stir, and if too thick, add extra water. Serve with a glass of milk or a café au lait.


Miniature Frittata

This cooks in under two minutes in the microwave. Be as creative as you like with the ingredients. Serve it between toast or on a whole-wheat English muffin as a breakfast sandwich, or wrap it in a whole-wheat tortilla with a spoonful of salsa as a breakfast burrito.

Grease a small heatproof bowl or ramekin or even a mug (or coat with cooking oil spray).

In a small mixing bowl, whisk one or two eggs or egg whites with a small handful of shredded partially skimmed mozzarella, crumbled feta cheese or low-fat cottage cheese, a little grated Parmesan cheese and salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add chopped chives, slivered sun-dried tomatoes, sliced pitted olives, ham, smoked salmon or sautéd mushrooms, if desired. Cook at high in microwave for two minutes.


Fruit and Yogurt Parfait

A Mason jar makes the perfect container for this beautiful-looking and delicious low-fat breakfast. Use plain low-fat or non-fat yogurt or, for twice the protein, go for plain non-fat Greek yogurt. Layer yogurt with grated apple, diced pear or fresh blueberries, blackberries or strawberry slices.


The Smoothie

Boloten uses her Magic Bullet compact blender for this so she can take her smoothie to work in the same container she made it. But a blender works fine, too, if you transfer the smoothie to a Thermos.

Fruit and yogurt smoothies are packed with vitamins and protein. For the thickest smoothie ever, do what Boloten does: keep individual containers of non-fat yogurt in the freezer. In the morning, take the yogurt out and leave it to defrost on the counter for a minute. Pop it out of its container and blend with 250 ml (8 oz) of skim milk or fortified soy or almond beverage with vitamins A and D added. Add 80 ml (1/3 cup) of frozen fruit and a few leaves of washed baby spinach for an extra boost of vitamins. Whirr at high speed for a few seconds or until thick and smooth.


Hard-Boiled Eggs

The quintessential portable food, a hard-boiled egg is chock full of protein. Boil some eggs at the start of the week and keep them in the refrigerator, unpeeled, for up to three days, ready to eat on busy mornings with a sprinkle of sea salt and a little black pepper alongside a slice or two of toast.

The secret to cooking hard-boiled eggs without overcooking is to start with cold water. Bring eggs and water to a full rolling boil, then cover, turn off the heat and let stand for 10 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold running water. Hard-boiled eggs stored unpeeled in the fridge stay fresher longer. Also, they're easier to peel after a few days.

Heidi Swanson, the San Francisco food blogger and author of Super Natural Every Day (Ten Speed Press), turned me on to hard-boiled eggs and dukkah, the Middle Eastern nut-and-spice blend, with a tiny drizzle of olive oil. Make a jar full and scoop out a teaspoonful for individual servings.

Here's my adaptation of her recipe for dukkah, which will keep for up to a month in an airtight container in a cool place:

60 ml (1/4 cup) hazelnuts
30 ml (2 tbsp) coriander seeds
30 ml (2 tbsp) sesame seeds
15 ml (1 tbsp) cumin seeds
2.5 ml (1/2 tsp) fennel seeds
5 ml (1 tsp) black peppercorns
2.5 ml (1/2 tsp) dried mint
2.5 ml (1/2 tsp) fine sea salt

Heat a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the hazelnuts and toast until lightly browned and fragrant. Transfer to a small bowl and let cool completely. Repeat with the coriander seeds, sesame seeds, cumin seeds, fennel seeds and peppercorns. Combine all ingredients in a mortar and pound with a pestle until crushed but still coarse. Or use a spice grinder, mini-food processor or clean coffee mill. Be careful not to let the mixture become a paste.

-- Postmedia Network Inc. 2014

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 10, 2014 D1

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