Healthiest Go-to Breakfast Foods and Meals
If you wake up, get ready and hurry to start work, you don’t have time to cook an elaborate meal.
Most mornings are a rush, perhaps making you grab a muffin, croissant or bagel to temporarily soothe the hunger pangs. With no preparation necessary, these foods are convenient, but they’re not the only easy options. You can still find quick breakfast ideas for work that are also healthy.
Here is your go-to list of healthy breakfast foods and ideas. We’ve also included some make-ahead tips, meaning some of these options are just as convenient as your local café donut.
Choose the Right Breakfast Foods
Your 7-9 hours of nightly sleep acts like a fast. When and how you break that fast matters. When compared to skipping the first meal, eating breakfast can reduce the risk of chronic diseases and give you a better nutritional intake. It can also help give you brainpower for the day ahead, potentially improving spatial memory and auditory attention. It may help you feel better, too. A 2015 study found that women who didn’t eat breakfast had higher levels of a stress hormone, cortisol.
Learn more about intermittent fasting and eating vs. skipping breakfast.
But it’s not as simple as eating any breakfast. The health benefits of eating breakfast depend on what you eat. There are a few principles to consider when considering your options:
- Nutrition—choose a meal that helps meet your daily essential nutrient and vitamin requirements.
- Energy— aim for complex carbohydrates (like oatmeal and potatoes) over simple ones because they tend to provide a slower, more even release of energy.
- Satiety—breakfast foods that contain lean protein and healthy fats will make you feel full longer.
Using the general guidelines above, most donuts, muffins, bagels, croissants and other pastries don’t make the cut. These have a low nutritional value and are high in refined carbs, leading to a loss of energy (the dreaded “carb crash”). What’s more is that they don’t typically contain any protein or healthy fats, meaning it probably won’t take long before you’re hungry again.
There are still many quick foods you can grab that are also healthy. Here are the top 10 breakfast foods to satisfy your mornings.
Nutrients per 1 cup serving:
- Carbs: 11 g
- Fats: 0 g
- Protein: 1 g
Raspberries, strawberries, blueberries and blackberries are high in fiber and packed with antioxidants, making them great breakfast ideas before work.
The American Heart Association studied over 90 thousand women to see if there was a relationship between heart attacks and anthocyanin intake, a pigment with antioxidant effects. They found that eating blueberries and strawberries was associated with lower heart attack risk.
Berries also only have 50-85 calories per cup and are low in sugar compared to other fruits. You can purchase fresh in-season berries or a frozen blend (try to avoid varieties with added sugar).
Nutrients per medium banana:
- Carbs: 27 g
- Fats: 0.4 g
- Protein: 1 g
Bananas are a healthy fruit and a good source of resistant starch, which helps support digestive health. They also provide healthy carbohydrates, making you feel full for longer. Unripe bananas with a little green are typically higher in this starch. They're also known for being high in potassium, which may help improve blood pressure.
While they’re a good choice, moderation is key since they contain anywhere from 14 to 19 grams of sugar, depending on the size of the banana.
Nutrients per avocado:
- Carbs: 17 g
- Fats: 4 g
- Protein: 29 g
The exact nutritional information depends on the size and type of avocado you eat. Also, some people may have a whole one, while others will save the other half for later. A whole avocado can be around 322 calories, but they're packed full of nutrients, making you well on your way to reaching your daily values before noon.
Avocados contain healthy fats, helping you feel full, and they’re high in vitamin K too. They’re also a source of fiber, with about 13 grams, making it a good choice for digestion.
Nutrients per 100 g serving of mixed nuts:
- Carbs: 21 g
- Fats: 54 g
- Protein: 20 g
Nutritional information depends on the type of nut you choose. For example, pecans have more fat and less protein than almonds. A longitudinal study published in a 2013 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine tracked nut consumption of people over 30 years. They found that those who ate the food seven or more times a week had a 20% lower risk of death than those who didn't eat nuts.
While nuts provide many benefits, they’re an important food to eat in moderation since they’re high in calories and fat. For example, 100 g of mixed nuts can add up to 605 calories. Although they contain healthy fats, you can have too much of a good thing.
Nutrients per 1 tbsp serving of peanut butter:
- Carbs: 4 g
- Fats: 8 g
- Protein: 4 g
The nutrients of nut butter depend on the type and brand you choose. For example, almond butter is typically lower in sugar but provides a little more calcium. When shopping for nut butter, look for and avoid varieties that contain added sugar. Choose natural brands and compare the labels and ingredients to make your decision.
If you have an allergy to nuts, you can also consider soy nut or sunflower butter. Whichever variety you choose, similar to nuts, their fat content and calories can easily add up, so you should also be mindful of your servings.
Nutrients per 100 g serving of raw oats:
- Carbs: 11 g
- Fats: 5 g
- Protein: 55 g
Oats are available in regular and gluten-free varieties. The nutritional value of your meal will also depend on how they’re prepared (stirring with milk vs. water). To make the healthiest choice, look for brands without added sugar and with natural flavors only.
One study showed that compared to eating nothing, those who ate porridge before cycling could better digest and metabolize carbs. Oats are also high in a fiber called beta-glucan, which may help reduce cholesterol and increase a fullness hormone.
Nutrients per 1 cup serving of plain Greek yogurt:
- Carbs: 10 g
- Fats: 5 g
- Protein: 24 g
When shopping for Greek yogurt, choose brands that are plain and add flavor yourself. The fat content will vary among varieties too, or you can select a non-fat version. However, full-fat yogurts have conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which may improve fat loss and decrease your risk of breast cancer.
Greek yogurt is a good source of calcium and will likely satisfy you until your next meal since it’s much higher in protein than regular yogurt. If you’re vegan, you can choose alternatives such as coconut yogurt.
Nutrients per 1 cup serving of cottage cheese:
- Carbs: 10 g
- Fats: 5 g
- Protein: 21 g
Cottage cheese is a great food to get an entire serving of protein from. One study found that it was just as filling as eggs. As we mentioned about Greek yogurt, cottage cheese is also high in CLA, perhaps helping weight loss efforts.
To add to the list of benefits, it’s also high in vitamin A, B vitamins and, since it's a dairy product, it's a good source of calcium. Many people combine cottage cheese with other natural flavors, layering on the health advantages.
Nutrients per 1 large egg:
- Carbs: 0.3 g
- Fats: 5 g
- Protein: 6 g
Although eggs typically take longer to prepare than some of the other foods on this list, they’re a popular option—and for healthy reasons. They’re high in protein, healthy fats and vitamin D.
Some people avoid eggs because they think eggs contain too much cholesterol. However, studies show that even though they do have cholesterol, they don't significantly change bad cholesterol levels. Of course, there are many healthy breakfast ideas with eggs, but some preparation methods are healthier than others (like frying eggs in vegetable oil).
Nutrients per 100 g serving of mixed seeds:
- Carbs: 22 g
- Fats: 50 g
- Protein: 22 g
The specific nutrients contained in the seeds you eat depend on the variety. For example, flax seeds are known for their fiber and digestive benefits, while hemp seeds are known for packing a punch of protein.
Seeds are typically high in healthy fats and low in sugar. Avoid varieties with added salts since seeds are already high in sodium. If you’re snacking on them, be careful since a few handfuls add up quickly—100 grams of mixed seeds is about 580 calories.
Healthy Breakfast Meal Ideas
Our 10 healthy foods are easy to grab and go as a convenient snack. However, to make a full and balanced meal, you’ll need to combine them in recipes you enjoy.
Now that you know the best breakfast foods, it’s time to put them together. Whether you enjoy something savory first thing or if you have a morning sweet tooth, here are four healthy breakfast on-the-go ideas.
Learn more about how to make time for breakfast in the morning.
Easy healthy breakfast recipes are endless when it comes to omelets because you can add in other ingredients. For example, you can fold in a handful of spinach to get some greens, or some ham or cheese to further bump up your protein. Omelets also taste great when paired with half a sliced avocado.
Smoothies can be customized to your taste, but for the healthiest version, consider combining your fruit or greens with seeds or nut butter to amp up your protein and healthy fats. If you’re rushed in the morning, you can prepare freezer packs and quickly blend with milk or Greek yogurt in the morning.
Fruit salad is a great way to fulfill your sweet tooth without a muffin or donut. For quick assembly, prepare some ingredients beforehand and add in the more perishable ones before you eat. You can also choose to sprinkle in seeds or dollop in some nut butter. To make it a balanced meal, you can also pair it with some cottage cheese or make it into a parfait with Greek yogurt.
Oatmeal is another quick option that’s customizable to your tastes. For example, you could make a healthy, savory oatmeal with greens, yogurt and seeds. Another option is to go sweet and rich with nut butter and banana slices mixed in. If you’re pressed for time in the morning, look for “overnight oats” recipes.
Time for Healthier Breakfasts
Eating breakfast in the morning is essential if you work out and is also helpful if you need brainpower for work or school. However, some popular options can lead to carb crashes and don’t provide much nutritional value.
With a little planning, you can develop your own list of ideas for healthy breakfasts on-the-go. Many of the foods we’ve listed can be prepared the night before, leaving you no reason to choose that pastry over your delicious, health-packed meal.