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Tips for a five-day Breakfast Challenge

July 2, 2010

Here are five days' worth of tips for starting to eat a healthy breakfast every day.

Day 1: Finding the Time
Day 2: But I'm Not Hungry!
Day 3: Be an Informed Consumer – Know Your Options!
Day 4: The Myth of Will Power – Better to be Prepared!
Day 5: Staying on Track – How to Keep a Good Thing Going

Day 1: Finding the Time

Most of us know that eating breakfast is important for maintaining a healthy weight, promoting focus and concentration, and improving your mood (even later in the day). So with all that great information, why do so many of us still have difficulty eating breakfast? One of the most common barriers: time!

Any change you want to make in your routine takes planning and preparation. The path to success is in anticipating your reality, not in ignoring it or in wishing it would change. Read the time-saving suggestions below and be patient with yourself. Live and learn!

  1. Create a shopping list – make sure to have some staples in the house at all times (see Day 4 for a more detailed list):
    • Whole grain – cereals, English muffins, bread, etc.
    • Yogurt, cottage cheese and string cheese, milk
    • Fruit – frozen and/or fresh
  2. Cook in bulk or in advance when you have time:
    • Make a frittata, boiled eggs or a quiche and portion it out for multiple mornings
    • Bake whole grain muffins or breakfast breads and freeze them in single servings
  3. Have things that you can grab on the way out the door when time is tight:
    • Whole grain granola bars
    • PB&J on whole wheat (made the night before)
    • String cheese
    • Nuts
    • Fresh fruit
    • Single-serving cottage cheese or yogurt
  4. Keep an emergency stash at work:
    • Cold cereal (there's always milk at MIT Medical)
    • Oatmeal and nuts
    • Whole grain granola bars
    • String cheese
  5. Know what your options are if you buy breakfast at MIT (see Day 3 for more info):
    • Close to MIT Medical are Clover (the food truck on Carleton Street), Cosi, Au Bon Pain, Sebastian’s, and Dunkin Donuts (in the Stratton Student Center). Some of the vendors offer nutrition information on their websites; learn about your healthiest options before you're hungry.

Day 2: But I'm Not Hungry!

In our travels promoting the benefits of breakfast, the Community Wellness staff hear a lot of reasons to pass on the first meal of the day. Yesterday’s tip was about finding time for breakfast. Today we want to tackle one of the most common reasons we hear from breakfast skippers: “I'm not hungry.” Friends don’t let friends skip breakfast! Here's why:

  • When you skip breakfast, you're not just skipping a meal. For example, if you ate dinner at 6 p.m. and didn't eat again until lunch, that's 18 hours. Imagine what your body is thinking: "I'm starving!"
  • Your metabolism starts to rev up only after you put something into it in the morning. The word "breakfast" comes from "breaking fast" since your body goes into fasting mode at night.
  • Hunger is a physical sign that your blood sugar is low and your body needs fuel. Many things distract us from the signals our bodies send, and if you do that long enough, it might feel like the body gives up and stops sending them. When you ignore hunger for too long, you may develop more extreme symptoms, including difficulty making decisions about what and how much too eat later in the day.
  • Many people who struggle with their weight skip breakfast and skimp on lunch. By the time they finally do eat, they lose control over what and how much they eat. Breakfast can help break the cycle of overeating at night and then undereating during the day (Rinse. Repeat.). Take a leap of faith and start the day with a healthy meal!
  • The way to convince yourself to eat breakfast, even if you’re not ravenously hungry when you wake up, is to think of eating a morning meal as refueling your body. You don’t have to sit down to a big heavy meal, but have something with a little bit of whole grain and protein. Start slow and see what works for you.

Over time, the hunger signals will come through and you will be in tune with your body’s needs again. By then you wouldn't dream of skipping that ever-important first meal.

Day 3: Be an Informed Consumer – Know Your Options!

We have already acknowledged that time is tight, especially in the morning, but with a little information even the most hectic of mornings can include breakfast. MIT Medical is surrounded by local eateries that offer breakfast on the fly. Here are some tips to keep it healthy as well as convenient.

Clover Food Truck — located on Carleton Street right outside MIT Medical

  • Local, home-made and vegetarian
  • Focus on:
    • Oatmeal or yogurt parfait
    • Egg sandwiches

Au Bon Pain — 238 Main Street, Kendall Square

  • Both healthy and decadent options here; short on whole grains.
  • Focus on:
    • Oatmeal, fruit cup, yogurt or yogurt parfait
    • Egg sandwiches (ask for the whole wheat multi-grain bread)
    • Hot breakfast bar – eggs and home fries

Cosi — 290 Main Street, Kendall Square

  • Both healthy and decadent options here. Some of their new breakfast wraps can be high in saturated fat.
  • Focus on:
    • Oatmeal, fruit cup or yogurt parfait
    • Omelet Squagels (their version of a bagel); get the whole grain

Dunkin Donuts — Stratton Student Center

  • We give DD some credit for adding some healthier options, but there are no official whole grains. The multi-grain options can work in a pinch.
  • Focus on:
    • Egg white flatbread sandwiches
    • Egg or egg white and cheese on English muffin or multi-grain bagel

Sebastian’s — Main Street (corner of Ames Street)

  • A lot of grab-and-go as well as made-to-order options.
  • Focus on:
    • Oatmeal, fruit cup, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese or yogurt parfait
    • Made-to-order omelets (can have egg whites) and hash browns – only $3.95
    • Grab-and-go egg sandwiches and burritos

Day 4: The Myth of Will Power – Better to be Prepared!

How often have you heard someone say, “You just need willpower”? Well, if will or desire was all it required to make a positive health behavior change, most people would be eating well, exercising more, managing stress, and quitting smoking a lot more easily then they do. What most people need for success is planning and preparation. Here are some strategies to maintain good breakfast eating behavior.

Create your shopping list

  1. Focus on getting some whole-grain options in the house. Look for items that list whole wheat, whole oat, whole rye or whole barley as the first ingredient, or products that say 100% whole wheat. Don’t be fooled by “multigrain” or “wheat” products.
    • Everything has a whole-grain equivalent—whole-wheat English muffins, bagels, bread, waffles, pancakes, cereal, tortillas, pita, etc.
    • Consider some of the options you tried this week during the Breakfast Challenge – old-fashioned or steel-cut oatmeal, Kashi cereals (we tried the Kashi Go Lean Crunch), whole-wheat bagels and granola bars, etc.
  2. Make sure to incorporate protein into your morning. Some things to have in the fridge are regular or Greek-style yogurt, low-fat/low-sodium cottage cheese, string cheese, milk, nuts and/or nut butters, and soy-based meat substitutes—and don’t forget eggs, egg whites or Egg Beaters. If you don’t love breakfast food, try sliced chicken or turkey. Pick your favorites and keep them around.
  3. Have something yummy to pair with your breakfast.
    • Fresh or frozen fruit. Try frozen fruit with your yogurt—it’s cheaper, it won’t go bad, and it’ll keep your yogurt cold in the summer (by the time you eat it at work, it’ll be defrosted).
    • Nuts, raisins, applesauce, maple syrup, brown sugar (Splenda brown sugar is available if you need to watch your sugar).
    • Low-fat cream cheese, peanut butter (be sure to get one that only has peanuts and salt in it), other nut butters, fruit preserves or spreads, fruit butters.

Keep some healthy foods at work

Consider some nonperishable options along with foods you know you’ll want as a breakfast or snack if you need them during the day. Focus on:

  • Packages of oatmeal or a box of whole-grain cereal or whole-grain granola bars
  • String cheese, individual packages of yogurt or cottage cheese, boiled eggs and/or slice turkey or chicken
  • Raisins, nuts, applesauce, or frozen berries you keep in the freezer

Day 5: Staying on Track – How to Keep a Good Thing Going

Take a couple of minutes to think about how the Breakfast Challenge has made you feel about your breakfast habits.

  1. How did eating a balanced (whole grain and protein) breakfast each morning make you feel?
    • Did you have more energy?
    • Did you need less coffee?
    • Did your concentration and/or focus improve?
    • Anything else?
  2. What new foods did you try this week?
    • Make a mental note of the options you liked and would consider adding to your routine. If you have questions about any of the products you tried, contact us at wellness@med.mit.edu.
  3. Setting a breakfast goal—create a plan for keeping your good breakfast behavior going:
    • Commit to eating some type of breakfast every morning
    • Focus on having a balanced breakfast with a whole grain and a protein each day
    • Experiment with some new foods and/or ideas
    • Create a plan for what healthy foods you’ll keep in the house and at work

It’s also important to contemplate what you’ll do if and when breakfast becomes a challenge again. We all relapse into bad habits at times, so thinking now about what resources, personal strengths or tools you’ll use to get back on track will help you in becoming a breakfast champ. Remember, we’re always here to support you. Thank you for taking the time to participate.

*This news story has not been updated since the date shown. Information contained in this story may be outdated. For current information about MIT Medical’s services, please see relevant areas of the MIT Medical website.

More information

Community Wellness at MIT
E23-205
M–F, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
617-253-1316
wellness@med.mit.edu