Top Ten Breakfast Foods

by Daisy Cuinn

The value of breakfast can't be underestimated: It is the fuel that recharges us every morning, that AM energy boost that keeps the body and mind going strong until lunch time. Breakfast helps children grow up healthy and adults maintain good health. With the right foods, breakfast can even help with weight loss.

Breakfast can be fancy or casual, a quick grab on the way out the door or a fun trip down memory lane. Some popular breakfast foods vary by region, others are popular everywhere. The top ten breakfast foods take into account taste, popularity, history, nutrition, and how important each food is to the institution of breakfast.

Oatmeal

Some popular breakfast foods are not very nutritious. Oatmeal, on the other hand, is high in fiber and is good for cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and even stress. It may be old fashioned, but this nutritious comfort food remains a breakfast table staple.

Home Fries and Grits

Starchy breakfast side dishes mean fried potatoes or grits, depending on region.

Home fries are pre-boiled chunks of potato, pan-fried in butter, alone or with onions. Creative cooks sometimes add additional vegetables, but, in general, the simpler the better. Home fries are the cousin of hash browns, grated raw potato fried to crispy in oil. Hash browns get a bad rap, thanks to the frozen patties found in cafeterias, fast food places and some breakfast chains, but a good homemade hash brown is a breakfast delicacy.

Grits come from corn and are a creamy, savory side dish. They are a staple in the South, where they transcend breakfast. They can be baked, fried, or, most commonly, simmered in water and scooped onto a plate with butter or cheese.

Corned Beef Hash

A meat and potatoes dish in one, corned beef hash got its start as a way to use up leftovers, and is believed to go back to the 1600s. On most diner menus it is served with toast. Eggs may be served alongside, or cooked on top.

Biscuits and Gravy

There are two main types of gravy served over biscuits for breakfast: red eye gravy, made with country ham drippings with coffee added to make a broth, and sausage gravy, a white sauce studded with ground pork sausage. Both are worth trying if you see either on a menu—restaurants rarely serve both styles. Biscuits and gravy is not health food by any stretch of the imagination, but it's a good old-fashioned way to treat yourself every once in a while.

Bacon

American bacon is a fatty, salt-cured, smoked cut of pork, thin sliced and usually pan fried. Though it does contain a good amount of protein and some nutrients, it is very high in saturated fat and salt—unquestionably why it tastes so good. Bacon pairs perfectly with eggs, and is on the breakfast menu of virtually every diner in existence. Bacon is also believed to be a hangover cure, especially paired with a carbohydrate like toast.

Pastry

America loves its doughnuts. The ubiquitous worker's breakfast of coffee and doughnuts isn't healthy, but it does the trick: the combination of sugar, carbs and caffeine is a guaranteed jump-start, if only temporarily.

The muffin craze threatened doughnuts' pastry dominance, especially low-fat and high fiber "healthy" versions. The subsequent low-carb craze decreased the muffin's popularity, but not entirely—muffins are still popular, though more as an afternoon snack than a breakfast.

Cold Cereal

Cold cereal isn't glamorous, but it sure is popular. With connoisseurs who rate different brands as if they were fine wines and debate the finer points of freeze-dried marshmallows, and with some nostalgic cereals having full-on fan clubs who campaign to have their favorites brought back, cold cereal is serious breakfast food. It can be fun, colorful, and sweet or grown-up and sophisticated. On top of that, it's one of the easiest possible breakfasts to prepare—just add milk.

Pancakes, Crepes and Waffles

Few things evoke comfort like a stack of hot pancakes. Pancakes and crepes are incredibly simple: pan fried batter, sometimes, thick, sometimes thin. The cousin of the pancake is the waffle, with a buttery batter cooked in a waffle iron—or heated from frozen in a toaster.

In the US, pancakes and waffles are most often topped with butter and sweet syrup, usually maple blended with corn. Pure maple syrup is expensive, making it a gourmet pancake and waffle topping.

Eggs Benedict

Eggs benedict is the gold standard of egg dishes: soft poached egg on top of a slice of Canadian bacon and an English muffin, topped with a creamy hollandaise sauce. Eggs benedict was invented in the 19th century in New York City, and originally involved toast and ham or bacon.

Modern day interpretations include fast food breakfast sandwiches that replace the sauce with American cheese, but keep the English muffin and Canadian bacon.

Bagels and Lox

Lox, a slow cured and often smoked salmon, is a staple of Jewish delicatessens and luxurious brunches. Pair it with cream cheese on a bagel for a breakfast that is not only delicious, but unusually healthy: lox is high in protein and omega-3, a healthy fatty acid that can help prevent heart disease, increase brain function and even improve mood.

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About the Author

Delaware-based Daisy Cuinn has been writing professionally since 1997, when she became the features editor for her local biweekly music newspaper. She has been a staff writer and contributor to online and offline magazines, including "What It Is!," Celebrations.com and Slashfood. Cuinn holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Temple University.