Go, go, go. America has become a society of rushing from one thing to the next. In the process, many rush through breakfast. Sometimes breakfast is a sugary treat that sends our blood sugar into a crazed tap dance or it’s entirely skipped. Where ever you are with your breakfast routines, I want to talk about why breakfast is still the most important meal of the day.
Why breakfast is important?
Break fast. The word itself means the first food that you take after your night’s sleep. You’ve been slumbering peacefully through the night (hopefully) and now you are asking your body to get up and work through the day. You now have a choice to make – you have the opportunity to help or hinder yourself -and those around you. Depriving your body of regular meals will put it into deprivation mode and you run the risk of blood sugar issues, fat retention, mood swings, inability to focus, weight issue, muscle weakness and fatigue – and the list goes on. That’s not to say that the well timed and thought out fast or cleanse isn’t appropriate, but that’s a different blog.
Muscle weakness. I know some of you spotted that as right now there is a huge trend in diets and workouts to build, build, build muscles. In Chinese medicine, the firmness and strength of the muscles and the core are a direct reflection of the health and stability of the Earth element – specifically the Spleen. The Spleen rules over digestion and transformation and transportation, it holds the organs in place (think prolapse) and keeps the muscles firm and toned – when it’s happy. The Spleen is harmed by erratic diets, irregular eating habits, excess sugary and fatty foods. The Earth element’s peak time of day is 7-11 am, that’s when it can most utilize the food stuff it’s been given to create energy, heal and build muscles.
The Nutrient cycle is a flow of Qi in the body that moves from one channel to the next in a two hour rhythm. Qi enters the Spleen from 7-9 am and then moves to the Stomach from 9-11 am. This is when Qi is at its peak in these organs, meaning you have the most energy available to process and absorb the vital essences from the food at this time of day. This corresponds to western thought in that to keep the metabolism strong or to increase the metabolism you need to eat in the morning. Your system is running on empty starting in the morning – give it some good nourishment. Want to know about the Earth?
When it comes to breakfast at our house, we have a few guidelines
Menu Planning and Prepping – You will be hungry today, so why wait until it slips up on you? A little menu planning can save time, ward off frustration and improve your health and vitality – because you’ll be eating better. This step is especially important if you are someone who skips breakfast or stands at the counter to eat breakfast while your children sit to eat. Take 20 minutes, browse through the kitchen and layout a menu for 3 or 4 days at a time. Try and think even a little further ahead. Bake extra potatoes or root vegetables with dinner and use the leftovers the next morning. It’s pretty easy to turn left over mashed potatoes into potato pancakes like those pictured. I think I mixed about 3 cups of potatoes with an egg, some saute’d peppers, green onions salt and pepper and onto the skillet they go….
What if you vary from your menu? No worries, it’s not a test. It’s a habit that can help keep you on track–even if you just start with a breakfast menu. Simply pick up where you left off or revise your plan.
Breakfast is a hot meal – We eat hot meals, unless it’s the dead heat of summer. We also sit down together at the table. Why always hot? The digestive system is a cauldron – it has to heat everything up to transform food into energy. Warm foods are easier to digest and absorb. Family time together gives us an opportunity to bond as well.
Protein is served with each breakfast – This might be eggs, lentils, nuts and seeds, broth and a little meat. Baked goods (French toast or muffins) may appear, but not without a little fat and protein to anchor them.
Protein shakes are out – I know – they are popular, they are easy, and occasionally they can be fine. However, I don’t even have them in our house and here’s a simplified list of why.
- They are cold and require the body to work harder to heat them up to digest. If you are weak you are asking your body to generate more heat than it has available to transform.
- You do not chew them – missing the most important step of digestion we gulp them in a rush.
- They are not a whole food. Products are made up of foods that are fragmented and combined with other foods in a plant somewhere then shipped to you. They might be a whole food if you’ve made them yourself, but again, you will likely skip the step of chewing, you may over consume. No one needs a whole head of kale and whatever else you’ve tossed in at one setting. That’s asking your body to process a lot at once. Too many nutrients all at once burdens the body and can lead to high Liver enzyme counts and pre-diabetic conditions
- They often contribute to a rushed and hurried diet – which is one of the biggest factors in GERD, acid reflux, constipation, bloating and diarrhea.
- Did I mention they are cold? So consider cutting them out if you have low body temperature conditions like hypothyroid or adrenal fatigue, chronic low immunity and are easily chilled.
Breakfast doesn’t have to be “traditional” foods – We eat dinner for breakfast often. Soups, stews and stir fry are all regular breakfasts for us. Even the occasion steak salad may appear. Clara is now at college and fortunately, she is still solid on making sure she has breakfast. Often times it’s leftovers curry or stirfry that she made the night before, or a favorite “Miyazaki style” breakfast – just a egg on toast.
Will it carry us to lunch? Yep, it is really a consideration and breakfast is often the largest meal for my family because of it. Clara had a zero hour class her sophomore year. That meant she had to be to school by 6:40 and lunch wasn’t until 11:30. That’s way too long to go without food and expect her to or us to have energy or focus. We usually had breakfast by 6, she kept a variety of snacks in her locker and backpack and would nibble around 9-10, then she’d be good until lunch. No crashing in chemistry class or on clients please.
Share the duties – Nourishing the family and kitchen duties are social and life skills and should rarely be one person’s duty, especially if you have children. All too often I hear from clients how frustrated they are about being responsible for all the meals, cooking and cleaning up. It’s a life skill that should be taught sooner rather than later. Cooking and eating when angry, resentful or frustrated are not ideal for healthy digestion. So start getting the family to help out.
Give thanks – However you do it, show gratitude – for the opportunity to eat, for the beautiful food, for the person who prepared it. A little gratitude goes a long way.
Check out 14 Steps To Simplify Your Meals
Eggs are nutrient dense. They are warming, build Qi and Blood which makes them an excellent start to mornings, especially if you have growing bodies in the house. A little goes a long way, usually one egg is sufficient per person unless you are an athlete or working out hard. Yes, you read that right – usually one is enough. Eggs are often over eaten in our culture–especially in certain trendy diets. Over consumption can lead to excess patterns. You are literally taking in too much at one time of nutrients this can show up as elevate enzymes, cholesterol, sugar imbalances. In Asian medicine terms it show up as patterns of dampness, phlegm and aggravate gallbladder and allergy patterns. Though I believe eggs are beautiful I don’t recommend eggs daily unless have a high level of physical activity. Eggs are beautifully versatile. If they are a part of your diet be sure to explore. Baked, boiled, poached, steamed, scrambled, try them in souffles and frittatas. I also use them in soups like miso, hot and soup soup, and egg drop soup.
Grains, Breads & Baked Goods
Beautiful grains have gotten such a hard rap lately – which is unfortunate, because they are beautiful! Warming and nourishing, the anchor and ground and create integrity and strength. It is true that some people may need to reset their relationship to grains, how much they eat, which grains they eat, and the quality of the grain. Grains are still very much a part of our diet, mostly in the form of true whole grains – amaranth, teff, millet, quinoa, rice. For breakfast these mostly served as a porridge Occasionally baked goods like cornbread and zucchini breads pop in for breakfast. I also make up large batches of granola to be eaten as is, on yogurt or to top off fruit in crisps. I always serve grains with some form of fat or protein to anchor them. Choose your grains wisely, free of GMO’s and pesticides. If you need to avoid gluten, read more here.
Lovely, gorgeous fruits show up on our breakfast plates as side dishes or maybe as crisp or crumble. We eat fresh fruit mostly in season when they have their best flavor and their energetics help the body adapt to the season. In late fall and winter and spring most of the fruit has either been dried, frozen or home canned, except for apples that store well through winter. Sure we eat out of season every now and then, but coconut and pineapple are too cooling when there’s a foot of snow outside. A warm, spiced fruit compote over hot grains warms the core.
Dinner and everything else….
Breakfast foods don’t have to be the common American fare. Maybe you feel like a salad with a steak or fish? Stir-fry? Maybe a soup or stew? I often make double dinner recipes with the intention of left overs being breakfast. I know a few cooks that would be horrified to see that I will just slip the pan of stew into the fridge. Why take the time to put it in a different container if I’m just going to pull it out again in the morning and put it on the stove top? Think outside the box and enjoy a variety and explore.
Here’s to a great start to your morning!