Breakfast Bowls

What your mother told you is true. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Your body needs to know that you're going to feed it! So don't just grab a piece of toast (even if it is whole grain) as you run out the door - take the time to start your day off right.

There's a reason that cereals take up an entire grocery aisle all by themselves. It's quick, it's easy and corporate America has done a pretty good job convincing us that plain flakes infused with manufactured vitamins are good for you. Unfortunately, one look at the label on many of those boxes and you'll find that they're made from refined grains and that lots of sugar, sodium and fats are also part of the bargain. Don't be fooled by that fancy "Whole Grains" stamp either. Be sure. Read the ingredient list and check for at least 3 grams of fiber per serving.

If your mornings are hectic, and whose aren't, then store bought cereals can have their place (Grape Nuts, Ezekiel's and Shredded Wheat n Bran are my personal favorites) but there's nothing quite as satisfying as a homemade breakfast bowl to power you through your morning. You can choose from a variety of whole grains and get to add your favorite fresh or dried fruits, nuts and seeds. Even plain grains leftover from last night's dinner liked cooked quinoa, brown rice or couscous can easily be transformed into a sweet or savory morning dish. Soaking longer cooking grains ahead of time will also speed up your prep so that with a bit of planning and practice you can hit the snooze button and still have time for a nutritious and delicious meal before you head out the door.

Oatmeal: My fave combo includes the traditional cinnamon and raisins PLUS chopped apples, sweet potato, and pecans... or walnuts, yum! Rolled oats are super easy and cook quickly but steel cut have a great chewy texture, so don't be afraid... one day give them a try. They don't need much extra cooking time if you soak them in the fridge overnight OR try them in a small crock-pot while you sleep!

In a recent experiment I used 1 cup of steel cut oats with 3 1/2 cups water. I added a whole chopped apple, peeled and chopped sweet potato, a few chopped dates and some cinnamon. This was the perfect amount for a 2 quart crock. I set it on LOW and let it go! I wouldn't recommend more than 8 hours cooking time but really how many of us get more sleep than that anyway? In the morning I went ahead and added some blueberries and bananas. Yum and done!

You can even eat your oats cold. Make an overnight Muesli by soaking your oats in orange juice or a mixture of apple juice and lemon (can you tell that I like things ready to go when I wake up in the morning?) The next day just add your favorite nuts, fruits and some soy yogurt or plant milk to create this traditional Swiss favorite.

Quinoa: Well known as an excellent protein source, I keep a batch of cooked quinoa on hand at all times. This is actually a seed but once cooked (15 minutes - quick and easy) it's perfect as a cereal- hot or cold; on its own or combined with another grain. Add in bananas, apricots or dried plums and a handful of nuts for a bit of crunch.

Millet: This ancient grain cooks up beautifully creamy but does need a good half hour on the stove, so not the best choice when you're late for work. Try this on a lazy Sunday morning with coconut milk, golden raisins, dates, toasted coconut and pistachios... mmm. 

Amaranth: Not technically a grain, this teeny tiny seed is a great source or protein, calcium and iron and cooks up to a polenta-like consistency. It also takes a bit of time to reach creaminess, about half and hour, but I often like to pan toast it (puffs up like miniature popcorn!) and use it as an add-in since its crunchiness can be nice combined with other grains.

Need more topping ideas? Try... chia, flaxseed, berries, granola, figs, oat bran, sunflower seeds, wheat germ, nut butter, jam... Believe it or not, I've even added beans to my morning bowl! Canellini and Northern are quite mild tasting and offer an added nutritional boost. Red lentils are also a great choice because they cook up smooth and creamy. They are wonderful blended with chopped apples and some aromatic Indian spices - experiment with cinnamon, cloves, turmeric, cumin and cardamom.

So next time you're at the market - explore these and other healthful whole grains... and maybe grab a mango or some dried cherries to mix into that beautiful breakfast bowl!

Want to learn more about a variety of whole grains - for every meal of the day? Click to visit the Whole Grains Council webpage.