Although the morning rush of getting the family and yourself ready to face the day may seem at odds with eating a nutritious, low-calorie breakfast, it's vital to send kids off with something in their bellies. A 2003 study published in the International Journal of Obesity found that children who skipped breakfast regularly reported less comprehension of their schoolwork. Missing a wholesome breakfast affects you, too, so make time for a few bites in the morning.
Why Calories Matter
Scientists define calories precisely, but for dietary purposes, the important thing to know is that calories are units of energy. Without sufficient caloric intake, the human body must rely on its own stores of fat and muscle to function. If you're trying to lose weight, you can use this knowledge to your advantage: cut your calories and you'll cut your weight. Cut too much, though, and you risk losing muscle as well as fat. Lowering calories gradually instead of going on a crash diet will preserve more of your lean muscle mass. Keeping breakfast to around 300 calories ensures that you and your family gets proper nutrition while leaving room for lunch, dinner and snacks.
Grains and Cereals
Prepared cereals typically contain fewer than 250 calories per serving, but you can improve on that figure. Choose breakfast cereals with no added sugar to lower the calorie count. If your kids prefer sweetened cereals, serve them smaller amounts of cereal and top it with fresh berries or banana slices. The lower-calorie fruit takes up space in the bowl and in the belly, decreasing the calories in the breakfast without cutting overall portion size. Pour skim milk on cereal to lower the calorie count still more. A serving of cereal with fruit and low-fat milk may take up as little as half of the allotted 300 calories, leaving room for other breakfast items. If you prefer, skip the milk and sprinkle a serving of crunchy cereal and fruit into a bowl of non-fat yogurt.
Rich in protein and more versatile than just about any food in the kitchen, eggs have only 70 calories apiece. That figure applies to the whole egg; use just egg whites instead and you'll consume about 50 calories in an entire cup. Egg yolks contain fat, but that fat has flavor that makes breakfast more appealing. Combine a whole egg with egg whites, and scramble, fry or make omelets with the mixture to enjoy rich egg taste with fewer calories. An omelet containing the whites of two eggs plus one whole egg makes a substantial breakfast. Stuff it with chopped spinach, tomatoes or peppers and you'll have a hearty meal for about 150 calories. Sprinkle ranch seasoning mix or hot sauce into the beaten eggs before you make your scramble or omelet for added flavor.
Bacon and Sausage
Some kids don't consider the morning complete without rich, salty breakfast meat on the plate. The majority of the calories in bacon and sausage come from fat, so eliminating the fat cuts calories substantially. Drain away the excess fat when cooking breakfast sausage or bacon and blot the meat with paper towels to absorb even more oil. Cut portions and use these highly flavorful meats in other dishes where a few pieces will go a long way, such as folded into an omelet, blended into a quiche, or sprinkled on a frittata. Three strips of bacon flavors an entire breakfast if they're part of a larger dish. Thin strips of bacon generally have 45 calories, while thicker strips go up to 60 calories per slice. Link sausages typically come in around 120 calories apiece.
Putting It Together
When you break down breakfast into its component foods, you'll find that each food amounts to fewer than 300 calories. Mix and match them according to your family's tastes and provide a serving of fruit or vegetables on every plate. For example, a breakfast consisting of a two-egg omelet topped with fresh red salsa plus a bowl of cereal with blueberries comes in at approximately 300 calories. So would three egg whites scrambled with spinach, onions, and bacon served alongside a bowl of granola-topped yogurt. Keep careful track of portion sizes with a kitchen scale or measuring cups to stay below the 300-calorie limit.
- International Journal of Obesity; Longitudinal Study of Skipping Breakfast and Weight Change in Adolescents; C.S. Berkey, et al; 2003
- Journal of the American Medical Association; Aging, Adiposity, and Calorie Restriction; Luigi Fontana, Samuel Klein; 2007
- World's Healthiest Foods: Eggs
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Food Exchange Lists
- Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images