Eating Well: Breakfast

This is going to be a deviation from my usual recipe routine, thanks to an experiment I conducted last night. Let me give you a little background.

I love breakfast, and breakfast food. Eggs, pancakes, waffles, french toast, sausage, bacon, whatever. If I’m at a restaurant and I see they have an all-day breakfast, I’ll usually start and end in that part of the menu. Sadly, I also get up between 3:15 am and 3:30 am to get to work by 5 am. As a result, I frequently haven’t been making breakfast. Instead, I usually find myself hitting a drive-through or the little convenience store in my building. And believe you me, it is difficult to eat moderately out of a fast food bag.

Skipping breakfast isn’t an option either, for a couple of reasons. First, I get terribly hungry by the time my lunch rolls around – usually between 9 am and 10:30 am – which makes me far more likely to snack. And snacking can make fast food look healthy and sensible. Also, despite what some sites say, skipping breakfast isn’t a good idea if you’re trying to lose weight. The Mayo Clinic recommends that you eat a healthy breakfast to help you lose excess weight and then maintain that weight loss. Here’s a summary of the benefits of breakfast:

  • Reduced hunger. My specific reason for breakfast, because the meal helps you resist the urge to hit the vending machine. Also, they note that “the prolonged fasting that occurs when you skip breakfast can increase your body’s insulin response, which in turn increases fat storage and weight gain”.
  • Healthy choices. Breakfast primes the pump for the way you eat the rest of the day. “People who eat breakfast tend to eat a healthier overall diet, one that is more nutritious and lower in fat. In contrast, people who skip breakfast are more likely to skip fruits and vegetables the rest of the day, too.” Just think about it. How easy is it, especially when you’re watching your calories, is it to say “well, those two sausage, egg, and cheese biscuits cost me a thousand calories, so the heck with it. I’m eating Chipotle for lunch and a whole pizza for dinner”?
  • More energy. “A healthy breakfast refuels your body and replenishes the glycogen stores that supply your muscles with immediate energy. Routinely skipping breakfast is associated with decreased physical activity.”

They also advise that if you’re going to exercise in the morning, you would ideally want to eat breakfast at least one hour before exercising, as “[m]ost of the energy you got from dinner the previous night is used up by morning, and your blood sugar might be low. If you don’t eat, you might feel sluggish or lightheaded when you exercise.” If you’re going to exercise within an hour of eating, you should eat or drink something light to boost your blood sugar, and then have the rest of your meal afterwards.

With all of that in mind, let’s turn to my experiment. It occurred to me that we do have a such thing as a microwave at work, and that I can actually warm food up in it. So, last night, I scrambled three eggs (213 calories) and fried a slice of bacon (117 calories according to the USDA, 70 calories according to the package), and dumped it all in a container and put it in the fridge. Then while I was getting dressed this morning I toasted two slices of whole-wheat bread (162 calories) and applied a tablespoon of butter (102 calories). Then, when I got to work, I microwaved the whole thing until warm – about 30 seconds for the toast and about a minute and ten seconds for the eggs and bacon.

How’d it turn out? Mixed, really. The eggs and bacon were fine, which was good. Toast reheated in a microwave is a little bit of a loss, though. Kind of limp and soggy, which is pretty much the exact polar opposite of what you want out of toast. Still, not a bad first try.

In total the meal was 594 calories by USDA figures, and 556 calories by the nutrition information from the various packages I used. For comparison purposes, a McDonalds Big Breakfast consists of eggs, a sausage patty, a biscuit, and a hash brown and costs 800 calories (650, if you skip the hash brown). The Burger King Ultimate Breakfast Platter consists of scrambled eggs, hash browns, a sausage patty, a biscuit, and three pancakes with syrup and 1,190 calories (550, if you skip the hash brown and pancakes).

So it turns out that the calorie costs of my breakfast were right in line with the two sample fast food items. However, having eaten both of them, I feel like I got more food from what I made at home – roughly twice as much egg, for instance. And I could add a medium apple or a small banana or an orange to the homemade meal, and take it to within 5 calories plus or minus of the McDonalds meal. And since the bacon is a treat, not a staple, I’ll usually be looking at 486 calories for my meal.

When you get down to it, three eggs and toast probably isn’t the healthiest of all possible meals. I should really be adding fruit to it as well, or making an omelette and adding vegetables (most likely in the form of peppers), or something like that. But I’m willing to bet that homemade is still healthier than fast food. And honestly, I think it tastes better as well.

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