The family kitchen

Editor’s note: In her new regular column The Family Kitchen, Asheville yoga instructor and parent Mado Hesselink will explore ways for families to eat a healthy diet on a budget.

Breakfast. Sometimes called the most important meal of the day, I call it the most troublesome. When I wake up in the morning, I feel groggy, and it takes a while for my brain cells to settle into their proper places. I do try to get up extra early to compensate for this but still rarely have the time or energy to cook a complicated breakfast (much less clean up afterward!).

Aside from the few enviable “morning people’” who spring out of bed each day with bright eyes, most of us face a similar conundrum. I believe this lack of mental clarity in the morning leads us to make more emotional and less rational choices for what to eat in the a.m. than we do at other times of day. In this article, I will share several solutions that have helped me to deal with the breakfast dilemma.

Leftovers: The International Breakfast

One simple option is to eat leftovers. Many of us have very strict ideas about what qualifies as breakfast food. However, around the world most cultures eat breakfasts that would look more like lunch or dinner to us. There’s no reason you can’t eat reheated stir-fry, soup or quiche for breakfast. What we run into is our emotional (not rational) definition of what breakfast looks like. Some of this has to do with what we ate for breakfast as children, a lot of it was planted into us by advertisers, and all of it is made worse when we are groggy and short on time. Make extras of your favorite healthy dinner and decide that is what is for breakfast the night before, while you are still thinking clearly.

Intermittent Fasting and Bulletproof Coffee

If you are used to eating a big breakfast every morning or even just cereal, intermittent fasting could take some getting used to. Intermittent fasting is eating at specific times, but not at others. Most of us already do this — we eat our last meal at 7 p.m. (or whenever) and don’t eat again until 7 a.m. That’s 12 hours of fasting. Some people choose to stretch that out and not eat until noon or even just eat one meal per day at dinner.

The side effect to intermittent fasting is that you might lose weight due to eating fewer calories overall on a given day. This makes it a poor choice for people who are underweight or trying to keep their weight up (yes, they do exist!), but it might be a great solution if you have a few pounds you'd like to lose.

Intermittent fasting obviously requires some self-control. If you skip breakfast only to end up snacking on a muffin, then you might as well just eat cold cereal for breakfast. Even putting sugar in your coffee will elevate your blood sugar temporarily, only to leave you ravenous before lunchtime. So, if you choose to fast be strict about it.

If you're a coffee drinker, you might try bulletproof coffee in addition to intermittent fasting. This is coffee emulsified with high-quality fats such as grass-fed butter and coconut oil. It’s really a lot better than it sounds. When you blend hot coffee with these fats in a blender, it creates the texture and color of a cappuccino, including the foam on top. You can add nutmeg or vanilla if you like, but absolutely no sugar if you are fasting. This concoction will fill you up without switching your blood chemistry to sugar-burning mode. People who do this report feeling calm yet energized, as though the fats take the edge off the caffeine buzz.

Porridge: the old fashioned standby with a modern twist

Lately, grains have gotten a bad reputation. Even beyond the issue of a wheat and gluten allergy, many people avoid them completely. Even whole grains, touted for decades as the antidote to the refined version, are out of vogue. According to Sally Fallon in her cookbook Nourishing Traditions, “Whole grains contain phytic acids which combine with iron, calcium, magnesium, copper and zinc in the intestinal tract thus blocking their absorption. They also contain enzyme inhibitors which further inhibit digestion.”

Fortunately there is a solution that allows us to obtain the nutrients in whole grains. Soaking or fermenting grains neutralizes phytates and enzyme inhibitors. This predigestion makes all their nutrients more available to our bodies. While soaking and fermenting does add an extra step, the work is done the night before — not in the rush of the morning. So if you're a fan of oatmeal or other hot grain concoctions, consider soaking your grains overnight in a mixture of water and whey (you can strain the whey off of high-quality yogurt). As a bonus to the improved digestibility and absorption of nutrients, soaked grains cook faster too.

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