How to Build a Healthy Breakfast: Think Globally

Here’s how to make a healthy breakfast that’s quick and tasty. Start by taking a look around the globe. 

Healthy breakfast in China includes soup

I enjoyed these soups for breakfast in Beijing. I’ve got tofu, veggies and noodles. Check out the rest of My Healthy Eats in China.

Completely toss the idea that breakfast means muffins, toaster pastries, pancakes, sausage and bacon. To help folks think of a different kind of breakfast, I ask them to think globally. Travel around the world or hunt for foreign breakfasts around the Internet, and you’ll see that relatively few other countries focus on processed meats and highly refined and sweetened grains for breakfast.

Breakfast Around the World

Think veggies! For breakfast? Yes, indeed.

Federal guidelines and various health organizations recommend that adults consume at least 2 to 3 cups of vegetables daily. A whopping 87% of adults in the US fail to meet that goal. If we wait until dinner to get all of our vegetables, we’ll be sitting at the dinner table for a mighty long time and possibly miss out on health benefits earlier in the day.

I first got the idea for vegetables at breakfast when I visited Israel a number of years ago. No matter what we ordered for breakfast, chopped cucumber and tomato filled a good section of the plate. I’ve been fortunate to travel to various countries over the years. Interestingly, most places I visited routinely offered vegetables at the morning meal, which is quite different from my closer-to-home experiences. Here’s some of what I saw and have learned from friends and colleagues.

  • Shakshuka, a dish of poached eggs in a sauce with tomatoes, onions and peppers, is common in the Middle East.

    Healthy breakfast of Shakshuka

    You’ll love this healthy version of Shakshuka with spinach and feta cheese.

  • Huevos racheros – typically made with eggs, salsa and corn tortillas – is common in Mexico.
  • Greek salad, stuffed grape leaves and olives greet breakfast diners in Greece.

    Healthy Breakfast in Greece

    This is what I ate for breakfast one morning in Athens, Greece.

  • An egg inside an avocado half and grilled tomatoes were on the breakfast buffet in Vienna.
  • I enjoyed sautéed mixed vegetables in Brazil and grilled tomatoes in Copenhagen.
  • English breakfasts often include baked beans, tomatoes and mushrooms.
  • Roasted tomatoes and mashed avocado belong on the breakfast plates in Chile.
  • Sautéed vegetables and leafy greens were common in Beijing, China.
Healthy Breakfast in China

Part of my healthy breakfast in China.

Go for whole grains. Whole wheat toast is great, but so are oatmeal, quinoa, barley and wheat berries. Why not try quinoa simmered in a mix of water and orange juice with sprinkled cinnamon, and diced fruit and nuts? Or check out this clever recipe for Apple Quinoa Bake by my friend and colleague Lauren Harris-Pincus over at NutritionStarringYou.com.

Add some protein. I see eggs nearly everywhere I travel, and there are some fun things to do with them. I learned about Shakshuka in Israel. At home, I love cottage cheese and Greek yogurt because they’re blank slates. I can try out any flavor palate with them – sweet or savory. Lots of European countries serve fish in the morning. Others serve tofu and beans. Try out my Creamy Oats and Lentils with Sweetly Spiced Apples to enjoy both whole grain oats and protein-packed lentils.

healthy breakfast recipe oats

You’ll love this healthy breakfast recipe that combines oats with other health-boosting ingredients.

Think healthy fats. Really we should be thinking healthy fats whenever we think fats. (Check out 3 Things to Know about Coconut Oil to Save Your Health.) Sprinkle some nuts on your oatmeal or into your Greek yogurt or spread peanut butter on your whole grain toast. One of my favorite hotel breakfasts ever was muesli (oats) with yogurt, strawberries, almond butter and walnuts in Lisbon.

Round out your meal with some fruit. Choose any kind – fresh, frozen or dried.

It may not be possible – and it isn’t even really necessary – to eat each of the food groups at breakfast. But breakfast is surely a great opportunity to fit in foods that are missing from other times in the day. My own goal is to eat at least three food groups per meal.

Enjoy a Global-Inspired Healthy Breakfast at Home

You don’t have to travel the globe to eat a healthy breakfast. But let’s get kitchen creative and update old ideas of breakfast. Here are even more ideas.

  • Sip an 8-ounce glass of V8®Original Low Sodium to score two vegetable servings at once.
  • Add any combination of sautéed vegetables to your omelet. I recently ate an amazing omelet with mushrooms, scallions, spinach and feta cheese.
  • Top scrambled eggs or tofu with jarred or homemade salsa.
  • Enjoy a breakfast burrito with eggs or tofu and sautéed onions, bell peppers and tomatoes in a whole grain wrap. Toss some black beans and reduced-fat cheese in there too.
  • Top lowfat cottage cheese with diced tomato, fresh basil and coarse black pepper. This is an all-time favorite of mine.
  • Whip up a batch of egg muffins with spinach, tomatoes and feta cheese.
  • Turn oatmeal savory. Add small bits of broccoli, kale or any favorite vegetables to the pot while the oats simmer. Season with garlic, sriracha, cumin or whatever you enjoy. Or try my Savory Oats and Lentils. Top it with an egg for an extra protein boost.

    Savory Oats and Lentilsfor a healthy breakfast

    This healthy savory oats and lentils recipe is even more delicious topped with grated Parmesan cheese, scallions and maybe even some toasted nuts.

  • Get creative with toast. Top whole grain toast with any of these:
    • mashed avocado and tomato
    • hummus, tomatoes and olives
    • caramelized onions, apple slices and goat cheese
    • beans, green chiles and a sprinkling of cheddar cheese
  • Cash in on the grain bowl trend. Add leftover vegetables or microwaved frozen vegetables to prepared rice or quinoa. Add some chicken or an egg for protein.
  • Even soups and salads make terrific nontraditional breakfasts. See what I ate in China.

What are some of your ways to boost nutrition in the morning?

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Jill-Weisenberger_about-image-2
Jill Weisenberger

I'm Jill, and I believe simple changes in your mindset and health habits can bring life-changing rewards. And I don't believe in willpower. It's waaaay overrated. As a food-loving registered dietitian nutritionist, certified diabetes care and education specialist and certified health and wellness coach, I've helped thousands of people solve their food and nutrition problems. If you're looking for a better way to master this whole healthy eating/healthy living thing or if you're trying to prevent or manage diabetes or heart problems, you'll find plenty of resources right here.

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2 Comments

  1. Amy on December 6, 2018 at 12:46 pm

    I love these ideas. Switching from a carb-heavy breakfast (muffins were my favorite) to a protein-based one was probably one of the hardest but most important changes I made after being diagnosed with pre-diabetes. I eat more fruit, yogurt, and eggs now. Adding veggies would kick that up a notch! Thanks!

    • Jill Weisenberger on December 6, 2018 at 1:56 pm

      I’m so glad to hear that you’ve embraced a healthy breakfast. And yay for adding some vegetables next. The difference between wholesome carb foods like fruit and yogurt and less nutrient-dense carb foods like muffins is enormous. I want to see most of us put more emphasis on the wholesomeness of foods instead of strictly classifying foods as protein, fat and carbs.

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Jill Weisenberger

I believe simple changes in health habits can bring you life-changing rewards.

And I believe willpower is way overrated.

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