The old saying “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day,” is a prime example of a phrase so overused that it has almost lost its meaning entirely. Typically met with eye rolls, we rarely pause to consider the truth of this statement, or whether it is simply an old wives’ tale. Many of us simply disregard the statement, darting out the door with no more than a mug of tea or coffee with which to start the day; accompanied by, if we’re lucky, a single slice of white toast. I often wondered to myself why such value was placed in breakfast, recalling another old phrase of my grandmother’s, who used to instruct us to “Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dine like a pauper.” Perhaps, I thought, these old lecturing phrases were merely hangovers from the days when most people were employed in manual labour, and needed substantial fuel before starting a day of physically exhausting work bright and early. Today, however, this is not the case for as many people, or at least not for most college students rolling out of bed and across to their laptop for online lectures. Is the whole concept of a hearty, filling breakfast outdated?
In short, no. Most recent research seems to support what our parents told us over bowls of gloopy porridge through the years; that breakfast is indeed the most important meal of the day. Why? Well, there are a number of reasons. For starters, eating a decent breakfast in the morning kickstarts our metabolism. This essentially means that by eating something first thing in the morning, our brain sends a message to our system that we are not facing a food shortage, so there is no need to conserve energy or calories – which would subsequently be turned to fat. If we miss our first meal, our body won’t burn the rest of the calories we consume throughout the day as quickly, because it has received the message that it needs to retain as much energy as possible, due to a perceived shortage of food. Establishing concrete links between obesity – and its related conditions – and skipping breakfast will take more time and research, but with the knowledge presently available to us, it seems that eating breakfast is essential for our metabolism to function optimally.
As well as this, eating a good breakfast is a really easy way to include the different food groups and meet your recommended daily intake of various nutrients, minerals and vitamins. I, for one, sometimes struggle to meet the recommended “five a day” of fruit and vegetable servings. However, with a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice or a smoothie, some berries or a sliced banana with your breakfast, you’re nearly halfway there. Breakfast is also a handy time to include calcium-rich products like milk, yoghurt or cheese. These calcium-rich products carry the dual benefit of being high in protein too, which helps fill us up and contributes to healthy cell growth and repair in the body. Similarly, if you eat breakfast you are more likely to meet your recommended daily intake of fibre, since whole grain bread or cereals are common breakfast staples. These food groups are often lacking student diets, so starting the day with them is a no-brainer.
Of course, this theory – that breakfast will fill you up with the day’s necessary nutrients – is reliant on the assumption that we consume a healthy breakfast. Starting the day by exceeding your recommended daily allowance of sugar with a bowl of Coco Pops or Golden Nuggets is obviously not going to be beneficial to the body, so I advise using common sense when making your breakfast selections. Have a look at the nutritional information on the back of the cereal box, and try to keep an eye out for high-fibre, low-sugar options. Many cereals are fortified with nutrients like iron and vitamin C, which is another boost for the body nutritionally.
If cereals aren’t your thing, there are still so many alternatives to save you from skipping this all-important meal. Eggs are a classic breakfast food, and for good reason, as they are one of the most versatile, affordable and easily prepared protein sources out there. Between frying, poaching, boiling, scrambling and more exciting options like huevos rancheros, pancakes or omelettes, eggs for breakfast need never be repetitive. The Bord Bia website is a wonderful source of basic egg recipes if you’re unsure of how to cook an egg, or you can check out Jamie Oliver’s popular ‘Food-Tube’ YouTube page for tutorials. Overnight oats are another increasingly
popular and customizable breakfast food worth trying. Alternatively, a simple bowl of fresh or frozen fruit with nuts, some porridge or yoghurt and a drizzle of honey makes a quick and healthy breakfast to prepare if cereals aren’t for you.
One issue many of us have with breakfast is that it can so easily become monotonous. In fact, a Bord Bia survey of the breakfast habits of Irish people revealed that only 7% of us vary the food we eat for breakfast each weekday morning. Think about it, if you had to eat one meal for dinner for the rest of your days, I reckon you’d soon tire of it. No matter how much I love chicken curry, I really think that if I sat down to eat it every single evening, I’d be pretty fed up of chicken curry after a while. So why is it that so many of us eat the very same breakfast every single morning? Granted, our creativity and imagination may not be at their sharpest first thing in the morning, but nonetheless, I think a little variation could be managed when it comes to breakfast. Sitting in front of the same bowl of wilting cereal forevermore can’t be very appealing, can it? Simply mixing up the fruit you eat with your breakfast can transform it, experimenting with additions like peanut butter, cinnamon, cocoa powder or different kinds of cheeses can elevate the aforementioned breakfast basics, and make breakfast something to look forward to. With that in mind, here is a versatile breakfast recipe for granola that has endless scope for customization in both its ingredients and how it is served. It can be prepared in advance, so will suit any tired student shuffling to the kitchen in the morning.
I’ve been making my own granola for a few years now, so it’s just become part of my routine. My favourite thing about making my own granola is the easy way I can exchange ingredients to suit what’s available to me. I use pecans, because I love how the flavour goes with maple syrup and some autumnal spices, but any kind of nut (or a mixture) can work really well too. Similarly, the seeds can be swapped out according to your preference. Whatever variation you decide on, this is the ultimate fuel for those cold walks to the library for study. It’s perfect in the morning with some yoghurt or milk, as a crunchy topping for an açai or smoothie bowl, or even on its own in a lunchbox for a handy snack.
Autumnal Spiced Granola
• 350g porridge oats
• 150g pecan nuts (alternatively, try hazelnuts, almonds, walnuts or cashews)
• 150g pumpkin seeds (sunflower seeds also work well)
• 150ml maple syrup
• 50ml rapeseed oil
• Spices such as cinnamon and/or ginger, for an autumnal uplift (optional)
1. To start, line two large baking trays with parchment paper and preheat your oven to 150°C if using a fan oven, or gas mark 3.
2. Roughly chop the nuts, or break them up with your fingers, leaving them in quite large chunks, for a crunchy texture.
3. Add the pumpkin seeds and chopped nuts to the porridge oats and mix.
4. Then add the maple syrup, rapeseed oil and 50ml of water to the dry ingredients and stir to combine. Add the spices if using.
5. Tip the mixture onto the prepared baking trays, flattening it out slightly with a spoon.
6. Bake in the oven for 50 minutes in total, removing it halfway through to give a quick stir, pushing the centre out towards the edges to ensure an even bake.
7. Allow to cool thoroughly before storing in an airtight container, such as a large kilner jar or a lunchbox.
8. You can customize this recipe further by adding dried fruit or dark chocolate chunks after cooking, or serving it with fresh berries, pomegranate seeds, slices of apple or banana…the possibilities are endless!