Mama was right—breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Studies have repeatedly shown that breakfast eaters tend to be leaner, eat healthier overall diets, and tend to do better at morning mental tasks. The other mantra that Mama is famous for is equally correct—you need to eat more vegetables. In fact, most Americans don't even come close to the recommended amount of vegetables in their diet; while most adults need at least 2 and a half cups of vegetables each day, many of us struggle to get one measly cup on any given day. This is bad news for our health and probably our waistline. Eating more plant-based foods, including vegetables, is at the top of almost every health professional's advice list and may well be the most commonly given nutrition advice of all time.
Enter the breakfast salad. Adding vegetables to breakfast simply does not happen in many American kitchens, but vegetables are a morning staple for many other cultures. In Turkey, a typical breakfast might be a dish of tomatoes, green peppers, olive oil, and eggs. In Japan, vegetables are often served as a side dish with breakfast. Fava beans dressed with lemon and olive oil are served all over Cairo as a common breakfast food.
If you want to make Mama happy and eat your breakfast and your vegetables, why not experiment with a breakfast salad? Here are four ways to introduce the salad into your morning meal:
Sweet and Crunchy: Breakfast is the one meal of the day in which many people prefer something sweet. If this is your preference, there are plenty of options to get in a salad that satisfies your morning sweet tooth. Start with a bed of spinach, which pairs very well with sweets, and sprinkle in some fresh berries or even some dried fruit. Throw in some cinnamon toast croutons (to make these, simply cube some day-old bread, spray them with non-stick vegetable oil, toss them in a bag with some cinnamon and sugar, and bake for 10 minutes in the oven). Add some slivered almonds or sunflower seeds, and then drizzle your salad with nonfat, plain Greek yogurt mixed with a touch of honey.
South of the border: For a bit of spice in the morning, turn your taco salad into a breakfast salad! Registered Dietitian Lori Sullivan from Hartford, Connecticut frequently prescribes this type of breakfast for her clients to help them get in more veggies. Start with a whole-grain tortilla shell (corn tortillas count!), fill it with mixed, shredded greens and other veggies, low-fat cheese, black beans, and plenty of fresh salsa. To add more protein, and to make it seem more like breakfast, top it with a poached egg.
Fresh and Creamy: For a creamy, satisfying breakfast salad that's a snap to throw together, have on hand some grape tomatoes, shelled edamame, avocado, low-fat baby mozzarella balls, and balsamic vinegar. Toss the ingredients together, and experiment with adding in some sliced cucumber and fresh mint or basil, for variety.
Sauteed: If you're craving something warm on a cold morning, try a sautéed salad. This is what Sharon Palmer, registered dietitian and author of The Plant-Powered Diet, frequently does for her own breakfast. Sharon recommends using olive oil and herbs to crisply sauté Mediterranean veggies, such as eggplant, zucchini, peppers, and garlic, and serve with arugula, avocado, tomatoes, and a side of whole-grain toast. "It's delicious for a lazy Saturday morning breakfast," she suggests.
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Melinda Johnson, MS, RD, is the Director of the Didactic Program in Dietetics and lecturer for the Nutrition Program at Arizona State University, and a Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Follow her on Twitter @MelindaRD.