These days I’m definitely a morning person. It happened gradually – I decided the only place I could squeeze in some guaranteed ‘me’ time was by getting up earlier. At first it was just ten minutes, but that soon turned into an hour including a few simple yoga exercises, maybe some breathing and meditation. This gave me a new found appetite for a proper breakfast. Now I find I love the ritual of cooking breakfast and sitting down to eat it properly rather than on the run, and I want to consider and think about what I eat first thing.
And, to my surprise I feel so much healthier for it. I have more energy, I don’t run out of steam by elevensies, grabbing a coffee and pastry to keep me going until lunch. (Which would usually be the case at the office). Also, my appetite seems on a more even keel for the rest of the day. I’m less likely to over eat at lunch or dinner – which would often happen if I’d not eaten breakfast. It was as if my body was feeling cheated, making up for ‘lost’ food. Many scientific studies seem to back this up – it’s been found that eating first thing helps keep our blood sugar balanced; aids our concentration, and, that those who eat breakfast are less likely to be overweight.
So, what to eat in the morning? Being honest, even as someone who is happy to get up a little earlier in order to eat a good breakfast, I’m no domestic goddess. It has to be delicious, healthy, quick and easy to make, otherwise I lapse into eating the nearest not-so-healthy thing. Luckily having met lots of expert nutritionists and been on many trips, I’ve been able to hone my brekkie menu to a rotation of hot and cold, savoury and sweet specials over the years.
At one boutique hotel in NYC I discovered the best porridge ever – the opposite to the bland sometimes sloppy version, this was deliciously nutty and satisfying and topped with a little banana, maple syrup and cinnamon. I found out the nuttiness came from steel cut oats, which do take longer to cook, but are worth the effort for the flavour and texture. It’s a bit like having brown rice as opposed to white, although apparently nothing is removed in the process of making ‘quick cook’ rolled oats, so it’s a taste thing more than anything else. And now rather than being scared of ‘full fat’ milk, I love the creaminess it gives as well as a lasting feeling of fullness alongside the oats which are renowned for quelling hunger well until lunchtime. I try not to overload on dairy though – so ringing the changes with coconut/goat/almond/cashew (whichever milk suits) is a good way to go.
A trip to the Alps in the 80s gave me a taste for Bircher muesli. This creamy, nutty, fruity, oat-y combo was invented by holistic health pioneer, Dr Bircher-Benner in Zurich for his patients in the 1890s. The secret is the soaking of the oats the night before which means no cooking next day, then you can add your favourite nuts, seeds, dried/fresh fruits to taste so it’s a fast, healthy raw food full of goodness. My latest discovery is a ready prepped Bircher in a box from the British brand, Dorset Cereals. It might seem like the height of laziness, but it definitely saves time and there are no ‘baddies’ in there. You just add your liquid in the form of water or fruit juice (fresh pressed apple or coconut water are my current favourites) plus a little yoghurt, wait for 30 mins (have your shower, better still, go for a short run or walk the dog) then it’s ready to eat. There are a couple of flavours – one with berries, the other honey and almonds – both delicious.
Of course, it makes sense to avoid sugar overload in traditional breakfast foods such as pastries, muffins or overly sweetened cereals which set blood sugar levels off on a roller coaster. But the above two options are great as they satisfy the need for sweetness with natural sugar sources, balanced by the addition of protein and other nutrients. I also like to rotate these with savoury options throughout the week. A delicious one being a two egg omelette with feta cheese, fresh tomatoes and spinach or any other leftover cooked green veg in the fridge (peas, courgette, broccoli). When I’m really hungry I’ll have rye toast with that. Or it could be the hipster’s breakfast of mashed avocado with olive oil on rye, plus soft boiled egg or smoked salmon, cream cheese on rye with lemon and black pepper.
All of the above for me must be accompanied by a strong, fresh coffee – the ritual and the smell of grinding beans and brewing it is a huge part of the enjoyment. And I’ve learned that having a caffeine fix first thing is much better with food rather than on an empty stomach – you get the uplift, but less of the anxious, jangled nerve feeling. So now you see what really gets me out of bed in the morning…….