The holiday season is a uniquely challenging time to maintain a balanced nutrition routine. Holiday parties, family gatherings, and other festive occasions often include an abundance of indulgent holiday treats. Throughout this season of events, many people regularly skip breakfast to counterbalance the increase in sugary treats, large meals, and excessive grazing. However, skipping breakfast may not be the best approach to maintain a balanced and moderate nutrition routine throughout the holiday season. In this month’s Fueling Facts, our registered dietitians uncover the advantages of eating breakfast during the holidays, outline the components of a balanced breakfast, and provide five recipes for easy holiday breakfasts.
BENEFITS OF EATING A HOLIDAY BREAKFAST
The human body signals hunger and satiety to the brain by releasing hormones, including leptin, ghrelin, GLP-1, cholecystokinin (CCK) and PYY, from the GI tract.1 When the body is not given adequate fuel (i.e., if meals are skipped), it increases the release of hunger hormones, contributing to the sensation of a craving. Excess hunger can be problematic, particularly on days with holiday events, because it can lead to eating quickly and eating past the point of fullness. A balanced breakfast serves to get ahead of hunger and moderates hormonal signals by providing satiating fuel early in the day.
Increased Nutrient Density
Holiday meals and treats often abound in caloric density but lack nutrient density. This means that holiday foods tend to contain higher amounts of sugar, fat, and calories without an equivalent abundance of micronutrients (e.g., vitamins and minerals). Therefore, prioritizing nutrient-dense foods at non-holiday-event meals is necessary to maintain a balanced fueling routine throughout the holiday season. The morning is an optimal time to add a nutrient-dense meal into your day since breakfast is a meal often unaffected by holiday parties and events. Healthful breakfast ingredients, including whole grains, fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, and lean proteins, add quality nutrients to your day before facing the indulgent treats that may come later.
Blood Sugar Regulation
Blood sugar affects energy and hunger, making it important to regulate even for people without diabetes. Eating in regular, consistent intervals, rather than consuming an entire day of calories in one sitting, helps stabilize blood sugar throughout the day. Studies identify greater insulin sensitivity in the morning,2 meaning our bodies are primed to absorb and use blood glucose more efficiently when eating a breakfast meal. We recommend incorporating high-quality carbohydrates at breakfast to moderate carbohydrate portions later in the day. This also ensures blood sugar does not rise too high or drop too low on days when sugary foods will be consumed later in the afternoon or evening.
The holiday season often makes us feel out of control and makes it difficult to follow a routine. The choice to eat a balanced breakfast presents an opportunity to maintain consistency. Planning a few balanced, easy breakfast options allows for flexibility (i.e., meals you can bring on-the-go) and a sense of control. While the remainder of your days may be spent running around with family, shopping for last-minute gifts, or attending a holiday party, enjoying a consistent, balanced breakfast can ground you to your routine and remind you of your health goals.
COMPONENTS OF A BALANCED BREAKFAST
An optimal breakfast should moderate hunger, add nutrient density, and stabilize blood sugar. We recommend incorporating the following components to capitalize on these benefits:
- Lean Protein promotes fullness and allows for slower digestion and absorption of the breakfast meal, resulting in greater, sustained energy throughout the day. Examples of lean proteins to include in a balanced breakfast are eggs, Greek yogurt, milk, smoked salmon, or lean breakfast meats (e.g., turkey sausage or chicken sausage).
- Fruits and vegetables are notably nutrient-dense and provide helpful fiber and bulk to breakfast meals.
- High-quality complex carbohydrates contribute energy, fiber, and a small amount of protein to breakfast meals. One example of an easy breakfast carbohydrate is oats.
Benefits of Oats
Oats are a source of complex carbohydrates that are both versatile and packed with nutrients. Specifically due to their soluble fiber content, oats promote fullness, feed gut microbiota (i.e., improve gut health), lower cholesterol, and contribute to digestive regularity. In addition, oats are easy to cook and lend themselves to a variety of cooking methods. Try these five breakfast recipes to incorporate oats into your holiday breakfast routine this year!
FIVE HOLIDAY BREAKFAST RECIPES WITH OATS
- Spiced Apple Cranberry Oatmeal. If you prefer to eat oats in the traditional way, try this holiday spiced oatmeal recipe. Use 1 cup of ultrafiltered milk (e.g., Fairlife®) with 1 cup of water to balance the recipe with more lean protein.
- Apple Cinnamon Baked Oatmeal. If you are looking for a recipe that feeds a group or are wanting to prepare your breakfast ahead of time, try baked oatmeal. This recipe makes nine servings and includes many healthful sources of lean protein and healthy fats, such as chia seeds, walnuts, and eggs.
- Winter Oatmeal Smoothie. If you are celebrating the holidays in a warmer climate or want to try a more unique use of oats, make a smoothie. Blended with a banana and nut butter, oats make this smoothie creamy and filling. To balance this smoothie with a lean protein, swap the almond milk for ½ cup Greek yogurt or add 1 scoop of unflavored protein powder (e.g., Garden of Life® Raw Unflavored Protein).
- Sweet Potato Blueberry Protein Muffins. If you need a balanced, on-the-go option for breakfast, bake these protein muffins. No additional protein is needed with this recipe, as it contains Greek yogurt, protein powder, and eggs.
- Oatmeal Pancakes. If you want an alternative to the traditional pancake breakfast, try oatmeal pancakes. Drizzle warmed frozen fruit on top in place of syrup and add a strip of turkey bacon on the side to balance the meal with a fruit and lean protein.
If you have questions about how to incorporate a consistent, balanced breakfast into your holiday routine, reach out to your SHIFT registered dietitian for more individualized recommendations.
In Real Health,
Rachel Klomstad & Lauren Munson
SHIFT Registered Dietitians
- Amin T, Mercer JG. Hunger and Satiety Mechanisms and Their Potential Exploitation in the Regulation of Food Intake. Curr Obes Rep. 2016;5(1):106-112. doi:10.1007/s13679-015-0184-5
- Paoli A, Tinsley G, Bianco A, Moro T. The Influence of Meal Frequency and Timing on Health in Humans: The Role of Fasting. Nutrients. 2019;11(4):719. Published 2019 Mar 28. doi:10.3390/nu11040719