It might be the last thing on your morning to-do list, or worse, it might not be on your list at all. But a healthy breakfast refuels your body, jump-starts your day and may even benefit your overall health. Don’t skip this important meal. Benefits of eating a healthy breakfast include: more energy, improved concentration, better mood, less irritability, better grades, controlling blood sugar levels, and maintaining a healthy weight.

What exactly counts as a healthy breakfast? Here’s the core of a healthy breakfast:

• Whole grains. Examples include whole-grain rolls and bagels, hot or cold whole-grain cereals, and whole-grain English muffins and waffles.

• Lean protein; this includes eggs, lean meat, legumes and nuts.

• Low-fat dairy, such as milk, plain or lower sugar yogurts, and low-fat cheeses, such as cottage cheese and natural cheeses.

• Fruits and vegetables; both fresh or frozen, 100 percent juice drinks without added sugar, and fruit and vegetable smoothies.

Together, these food groups provide complex carbohydrates, fiber, protein and a small amount of fat — a combination that packs health benefits and helps you feel full for hours.

Eating breakfast first thing in the morning, before school or leaving for the day for work can be a challenge. At my house, breakfast needs to be quick. The goal for breakfast is to include at least three food groups. One of the most popular breakfast meals at my house is pancakes. They are easy to prepare and can be topped with many different fruits/toppings to meet you/your family’s tastes. In addition, leftovers can be refrigerated or frozen and reheated in the microwave or toaster for a quick breakfast or snack. They can also be used as a part of a breakfast sandwich/wrap. Adding a fruit or veggie to your breakfast is a great way to add extra nutrients to your diet.

Try these tips for fitting in breakfast on a tight schedule:

• Cook ahead. Make breakfast the night before. Just reheat as necessary in the morning.

• Set the stage. Figure out what you’ll eat for breakfast the night before. Then, set out dry ingredients and any bowls, equipment or pans. They’ll be ready for use in the morning.

• Pack it up. Make a to-go breakfast the night before. In the morning, you can grab it and go.

Quick and easy suggestions: yogurt parfait (layer yogurt, fruit, nuts, and/or granola), peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a piece of fruit, egg and cheese sandwich, oatmeal topped with fruit and nuts, crackers and cheese with a piece of fruit, granola bar, banana and milk, frozen waffles or pancakes topped with peanut butter and fruit, scrambled eggs wrapped in a tortilla and topped with cheese, egg sandwich with spinach and cheese, and whole-grain cereal with milk and fruit.

Better breakfasts include whole grains, protein or dairy, and a fruit or vegetable. This will provide you with sustained energy with complex carbohydrates as well as key vitamins and minerals.

For those of you who like to plan ahead, try making overnight oats the night before for an easy grab-and-go breakfast. Simply add 1/2 cup oats, 1/2 cup milk, 1/2 cup low-fat yogurt and 1/2 cup fruit to a container. Mix together and place in the fridge for an easy, nutritious breakfast.

A calcium-rich breakfast that’s great for breakfast on the go is a smoothie. Combine fat-free milk, yogurt, frozen fruit and a banana in a blender; blend until smooth.

Pour into a glass and enjoy on your child’s way to school for a portable, nutritious breakfast.

Strawberry Banana Smoothie

2/3 cup milk

1 cup low-fat vanilla yogurt

2 cups frozen strawberries, no sugar added

1 banana, peeled

Place all ingredients in blender, process on high until smooth. Serve right away. Add additional milk for a thinner smoothie. Try other fruits such as peaches or mixed berries.

Banana in a Blanket

One 6-inch whole wheat tortilla

1 tablespoon creamy peanut butter

1 tablespoon cereal, crunchy nugget type or other variety

1 banana

1 teaspoon honey or maple syrup (optional)

Lay tortilla on a plate. Spread peanut butter evenly on tortilla. Sprinkle cereal over peanut butter.

Peel banana and place on tortilla. Drizzle honey or maple syrup on banana (optional). Roll tortilla up.

Ham and Egg Frittata

1 tablespoon margarine or vegetable oil

2-1/2 cups frozen hash brown potatoes

1/2 cup onion, scrubbed with clean vegetable brush under running water, diced

1/2 cup green pepper, gently rubbed under cold running water, chopped

Salt and pepper, to taste

1 cup cooked ham, diced

3 eggs, beaten

1/2 cup cheese, shredded

In a 10-inch skillet, heat margarine or oil. Place half the potatoes, onions, green pepper, salt and pepper in skillet. Layer half the ham on top. Repeat. Cover and cook over low heat about 20 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Pour eggs over potato mixture. Cook about 10 minutes or until the eggs are set.

Top with cheese and heat until melted. Cut into wedges.

Mini Quiche Cups

2 eggs

2/3 cup low-fat milk

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 green onion, gently rubbed under cold running water

1 cup cooked vegetable(s) and/or cooked meat (such as broccoli, potato, mushroom, bell pepper, bacon, ham, sausage)

1/4 to 1/2 cup shredded low-fat cheese

Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray mini muffin cups liberally with cooking spray and set aside.

Crack eggs separately into a small bowl then pour into a larger bowl. Add milk, salt and pepper to the eggs; beat until blended.

Finely chop green onion, vegetable(s) and/or meat.

In a medium bowl, combine onion, vegetable(s), meat and cheese. Divide evenly into each muffin cup. Pour egg mixture over vegetable(s), meat and cheese.

Bake 15-17 minutes or until filling is puffed and golden. Remove from oven. Cool for a few minutes, then carefully lift out and transfer to a wire rack.

Serve warm or cold. Store leftover mini quiches in a covered container in the refrigerator or freezer.

Makes 18 mini quiches.

Ham, Egg and Cheese Muffin

1 whole wheat English muffin, cut in half and toasted

1 egg

1 slice Canadian ham

1 slice American or cheddar cheese

Salt and pepper, to taste (optional)

Fresh spinach leaves (optional)

Gently wash spinach under cold running water. If spinach is marked “pre-washed” or “ready-to eat,” use the spinach without further washing

Spray a coffee mug or small bowl with nonstick cooking spray. Crack egg into mug, beat with fork.

Microwave egg for approximately 1 minute. (Cooking times may vary.) Remove cooked egg from mug and place on half of the toasted English muffin.

Place cheese slice and Canadian bacon on egg. Season with salt and pepper.

Place fresh spinach leaves on top of cheese, if desired. Top with remaining half of English muffin.

MICHELE ATKINS is the director for the Henry County Extension Service. Her email address is matkins1@utk.edu.

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