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Starting the day with a more healthful breakfast

SHAPE August 2015

With more Americans relying on restaurants to provide their first meal of the day, chefs and operators have the opportunity to help steer customers down a more healthful path when it comes to breakfast.

Experts agree that what we eat for breakfast sets the stage for how we perform for the rest of the day. “It doesn't matter how old a  person is,” says Sarah Krieger, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Getting sufficient protein and fiber immediately after rising sets the tone for energy and appetite for the next 24 hours.”

Breakfast also is an important meal for those individuals who have lost weight or are looking to lose weight, Krieger adds.

Consumers' increasing interest in breakfast is helping to fuel the growth of the early morning daypart among restaurants, making it the only meal period still offering any growth potential. Visits to restaurants by U.S. consumers were flat at lunch and dinner for the year ended in May 2015, while they rose by 4 percent at breakfast during the period, according to the NPD Group, a global information company in Port Washington, N.Y.


More Americans, in fact, are choosing to eat breakfast away from home these days. NPD vice president Harry Balzer says the average American purchased 19 morning meals at restaurants in 1984. Today, the average has risen to 31.

NPD's “A look into the Future of Foodservice” study also projects total restaurant breakfast visits are expected to increase by 7 percent over the next nine years.

However, while more Americans may be aware of the importance of breakfast, it's difficult to determine in aggregate whether they're moving in a more healthful direction. “Breakfast is subjective,” Krieger says. “To some it's coffee; to others it's a full meal. It's really all over the place.”

George Shannon, lecturing instructor at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., agrees. “... while most Americans eat some form of breakfast, most do not eat a healthful breakfast,” he says. “I am even guilty of eating the wrong things at breakfast — too much fat, processed sugar, simple carbohydrates and too much protein.”

However, he adds, the breakfast daypart is changing. For example, more school-age children are being exposed to healthful breakfast choices through the USDA School Breakfast Program, which is available in more than 89,000 schools and institutions.

Experts note that to maximize breakfast benefits, the meal should contain some forms of grain and protein. “Healthy fat and fiber tend to keep you more satisfied,” Krieger says. Restaurateurs looking to cater to the evolving breakfast market should try to offer guests more healthful options from the following categories:

Grains and cereals. Grains are important sources of many nutrients, including dietary fiber, B vitamins and minerals. Dietary fiber from whole grains may help reduce the risk of heart disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes. Foods containing whole grains — such as breads, rolls, bagels and pancakes — help provide a feeling of fullness with fewer calories. Oatmeal in particular has emerged as a breakfast favorite recently. Oats contain omega-3 fatty acids, folic acid and potassium, and have been shown to reduce bad cholesterol.

Fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables also pack a lot of nutrition. Most fruits are naturally low in fat, cholesterol, sodium and calories. They are sources of such essential nutrients as potassium, dietary fiber, vitamin C, and folic acid. Vegetables also are low in fat and calories. They're important sources of many nutrients, including potassium, dietary fiber, folic acid, and vitamins A and C. Experts recommend that “more matters” and people should eat a variety of fruits and vegetables daily.

Nuts and seeds. In addition to calories and vitamins, nuts and seeds are a rich source of minerals, omega-3 fatty acids, and anti-oxidants. Peanuts are an excellent source of anti-oxidants. Nutritionists recommend eating a variety of nuts, seeds and nut butters to get their full benefit. For example, almonds are high in vitamin E.

Dairy and yogurt. Krieger recommends offering a variety of low-fat cheeses that can be served with eggs or melted on whole grain breads, rolls or bagels. Greek yogurt also has emerged as a popular option. Loaded with calcium and protein — nearly double the amount of regular yogurt — Greek yogurt helps maintain a feeling of satiety throughout the morning.  

Eggs. While eggs are versatile and the star of many breakfast plates, the egg shortage has impacted foodservice operators across the industry. In a move to keep costs down, some operators have reduced breakfast hours or temporarily removed egg-based items from their menus. Others, however, have chosen to substitute different ingredients for eggs — for example, some operators are replacing them with tofu in dishes like scrambled eggs and omlets.

At the Culinary Institute of America's new Egg student dining center, tomorrow's chefs are learning to prepare more healthful breakfasts incorporating principles of the CIA's forward-looking Menus of Change initiative. According to the CIA's George Shannon, students in the breakfast class are being trained to update traditional menu selections. Some changes include:

• Using vegetable purees as a topping for traditional Eggs Benedict, and serving it on a bed of whole oat groats instead of an English muffin. Vegetable purees also are being used in sauces to remove roux and whole milk.

• Serving leaner meats like uncured Canadian bacon.

• Reducing the amount of meat protein in a typical sausage by substituting 20 percent of the meat with a whole grains like quinoa, faro and brown rice, and other ingredients like vegetables or apples.

• Replacing butter with healthier fats.

• Using whole grain flours in quick bread recipes — pancakes, waffles and biscuits.

• Using chia seeds to make a pudding that can be substituted for whole milk yogurt and served with fruit.

A few of the newer dishes that are representative of the CIA's more healthful breakfast program are poached eggs on savory groats, with green onion, asparagus, roasted peppers, arugula, and mint and pea puree; red quinoa Johnny cake with red onion bacon marmalade; black bean and corn frittata; smoked salmon, egg whites and dill crème fraîche on a whole wheat bagel; and farro and roasted summer vegetable hash.

For foodservice operators who want to make breakfasts more healthful, Shannon recommends starting with some simple replacements. “Substituting ground whole grains when possible for white flour, using fresh fruit instead of dried, minimizing sugars — especially white sugar,” he says. “These are just a few of the [things] that can be done.”

In the meantime, the breakfast daypart is undergoing a transformation as a growing number of consumers wake up to the possibility of choosing more healthful fare. “There is a change occurring with what some people eat for breakfast and what is being offered for breakfast,” Shannon says.

And,  he continues, “even if [consumers] are not personally paying attention to what they eat daily, restaurants are offering items for breakfast that are better and healthier for them.”



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