The Breakfast Club

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Breakfast has certainly gotten its share of accolades--and not just from your mother. In a study of women, eating breakfast daily resulted in healthier cholesterol levels than skipping breakfast. In 2006, the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that breakfast-skippers had lower intakes of several vitamins and minerals including potassium, calcium, iron and vitamin C compared to their breakfast-loving counterparts. The first meal has been credited for everything from being thinner to improving memory and test-taking skills.

Preparing a nutritious meal doesn't have to be complicated or time consuming. If your first meal of the day is desperate for a makeover, our guide is just what you need.

Your Perfect Breakfast If...

You don't have time for breakfast
If your morning routine is rushed, and you typically grab a piece of fruit or skip eating altogether, remember that breakfast doesn't have to be a sit-down meal. "It doesn't matter how busy you are, you still need energy to tackle work, family and athletic training," says sports nutritionist Nancy Clark, author of Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook. She recommends taking a few minutes the night before to pack a quick grab-and-go meal for the car or during a work break.

Quick fix: Pack a bag with granola, nonfat or low-fat yogurt, banana and a spoon stored overnight in the fridge, so it's ready and waiting for the morning rush hour. Choose unflavored yogurt and add your own fruit or honey as a sweetener. Or chase a peanut butter-and-banana sandwich on whole-wheat bread with a 1-cup carton of nonfat or low-fat milk or 100 percent fruit juice.
 
You're just not hungry
If you always skip breakfast, you're probably eating too much at night, suggests registered dietitian Elizabeth Ward, author of The Pocket Idiot's Guide to the New Food Pyramids. So the first step is to spread your food out over the course of your day. If you're queasy first thing in the morning, Ward recommends eating breakfast a little later in the morning or breaking it up into two small snacks.

Quick fix: Drink a cup of orange juice before you dash out to start your day, then follow up with instant oatmeal made with milk and topped with raisins or dried cranberries a few hours later.

You hate breakfast food
No one says you have to start your day with eggs or cereal. Look to breakfast options around the world for some fresh ideas. In some parts of India, a popular breakfast includes a spicy yogurt and rice dish. Noodles and soup are common in other parts of Asia. To Ward, a good breakfast has complex carbohydrates, protein and fruits or vegetables. "Breakfast could be a half sandwich and some orange juice; leftover pizza and fruit; or last night's dinner. Just eat," she urges.

Quick fix: Choose whatever healthy foods you like, just balance them among three or four food groups. What about leftover lasagna or chicken and vegetable stir-fry over instant brown rice?

You're heading out for a training run
Resist the temptation to hit the pavement with nothing in your stomach but a few swallows of juice or sports drink. You'll perform better if you eat a nutrient-packed meal before exercising. Aim for at least three food groups, says endurance athlete and board-certified sports dietitian Suzanne Girard Eberle, author of Endurance Sports Nutrition. Choose a grain for some complex carbs, a calcium-rich food and some fruit. "If you have longer than two hours before you run, add some protein or healthy fat for sustaining power." Be smart about how much you eat, or you'll risk getting a bellyache. "Experiment with the timing. Most athletes need to eat one to two hours before they run," Eberle adds.

For the day of the race, don't try anything new. "The pre-event breakfast and the training breakfast should be the same," says Clark, "because part of training is to train the intestinal tract. The best pre-exercise breakfast includes tried-and-true foods that are easy to digest."

Quick fix: Try yogurt, fruit and oatmeal; if you have time before the run, stir in some peanut butter or nuts. Pour yourself a bowl of cereal with milk along with a glass of juice; if time permits, include a hard-boiled egg or a cheese stick. Or eat a bagel with jam and some yogurt; if you don't plan on running for a while, enjoy some scrambled eggs or spread some peanut butter on your bagel. 

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