How you can cut calories and save cash just by having breakfast at home
Porridge-lover, fry-up fan or muffin and latte grabber? Whatever you do for breakfast, just make sure you don't skip it, writes Lisa Salmon.
Grabbing breakfast on the go, or missing it completely in the mad morning rush, is a common feature of today's hectic lifestyles.
After all, why waste precious time sitting down to a good healthy meal, when you can just munch on a breakfast bar on the way to work?
The answer is simple - eating breakfast on the go, or skipping it altogether, means missing out on vital nutrients.
It could also mean you're spending more money on your morning sustenance than you realise, and setting yourself up for mid-morning sugar cravings and possible weight gain.
Despite all this, nearly a third of adults admit they struggle to find time to eat breakfast at home, according to new research by the Breakfast Cereal Information Service (BCIS).
If health and nutrition aren't enough to convince you about the benefits of preparing your own breakfast, let the money do the talking instead.
Allowing yourself an extra five minutes every morning to eat a bowl of cereal, rather than grabbing a muffin and latte on the way to work, could save more than £800 a year.
According to BCIS research, cereals are the best value breakfast buy, with an average cost of 22p per portion, compared to £3.88 for a muffin and latte, or £3.48 for croissant and cappuccino. For someone buying a takeaway breakfast daily on their way to work, this could add up to a whopping £853.60 annually (which could pay for a very nice holiday).
Porridge oats are also extremely good value. A kilogram of oats can cost as little as 58p, and will make numerous bowls of healthy porridge. "It's probably less than 5p a serving, and one of the healthiest breakfasts you can have," says dietician Dr Carrie Ruxton, an advisor to the BCIS.
Indeed, oats contain a wide variety of nutrients including protein, magnesium, potassium, iron, calcium, vitamins E and B, as well as plenty of soluble fibre with cholesterol-lowering properties.
They're also famed for their ability to keep you feeling full for longer, meaning you'll be less tempted to reach for that biscuit tin come 11 o'clock. And if cooking porridge sounds a little too time-consuming, how about trying 'overnight porridge', where oats are soaked in milk in the fridge overnight, ready to eat in the morning? They're even tastier - and nutrient-packed - with added fruit and seeds, says Ruxton.
She believes humble bowls of cereal are a very good choice, pointing out that they often provide a significant amount of fibre.
"On average, cereal breakfasts give you more nutritional bang for your buck and are a very affordable, healthy way to start the day, particularly if you're watching the pennies," she says.
Some are fortified with extra nutrients too.
"If you eat a fortified breakfast cereal, you can get loads of nutrients, including iron, B vitamins and vitamin D," says Clark, pointing out that for people who spend most of their day indoors and therefore might not be getting enough daylight, leading to possible vitamin D deficiency, a fortified cereal is a great way to help address that.
BEWARE THE SUGAR TRAP
Of course, many cereals, particularly those aimed at children, contain lots of added sugar, and research by the campaign group Action on Sugar earlier this year found that, although some manufacturers had reduced the amount of sugar in their cereals in recent years, a fifth had increased it.
Even a small bowl of some popular brands can contain three teaspoons of the white stuff - the same as two-and-a-half chocolate biscuits - which may contribute to unhealthy weight gain, raising the risk of lifestyle-related illnesses like type 2 diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers.
But many cereals have reduced or no added sugar.
"You'll get some cereals that are really high in sugar, and others that are better for you. You've just got to be label-savvy and choose the healthier ones," advises British Dietetic Association spokesperson Alison Clark.
Breakfasts don't have to be repetitive and boring, and if you don't fancy cereal, there are plenty of other healthy options to choose from.
"There are loads of other healthy breakfasts you can go for - there's porridge, toast and nut butter, boiled or scrambled egg and toast, and even leftovers from the night before, like boiled rice in a stir fry," says Clark.
Even cooked breakfasts can be made in a healthy way, scrambling or poaching eggs instead of frying them, grilling mushrooms and tomatoes, which are a great source of the antioxidant compound lycopene, which helps protect against prostate cancer. You can also add baked beans for soluble fibre, and wholemeal toast.
"Just avoid processed red meat, like bacon," advises Clark, pointing out that limiting your intake of processed red meat is recommended, due to its links with certain cancers.
TAKING THE BISCUIT
Breakfast biscuits are a popular takeaway option these days, although many contain just as much fat and sugar as ordinary biscuits. Muffins and pastries, perhaps more obviously, can also be high in fat and sugar, and might lack nutrients.
Again, Clark advises people to read the labels before buying, and warns: "Obviously, if you're going to drop into a coffee shop and buy a croissant or an American muffin, that's not going to be healthy."
ANYTHING'S BETTER THAN NOTHING
Whatever you choose, eating something is always better than skipping breakfast entirely.
"We need to encourage people to eat breakfast, because it's a really good source of nutrients, and eating something first thing in the morning is better than going without," stresses Clark. "It breaks the fast and gets your metabolism going."
People often ditch breakfast in a bid to lose weight, too. However, research repeatedly shows that people who eat breakfast tend to be more likely to maintain a healthy weight.
"People might think they're going to save calories by not eating breakfast, but by mid-morning they're starving, and often the only thing that's available is the work biscuit barrel, so you end up eating more calories than you would have done with, say, a 160-calorie bowl of cereal," says Clark.
"If you can get yourself into the habit of eating something in the morning, it will pay dividends for your health. Make the time - it's five minutes very well spent."
What do celebs have in the morning?
John Kearns (48), Cool FM Drive Time DJ and UTV presenter, lives in south Belfast. He says:
I am always on the go as I divide my time between here and America where I produce and write music, both for myself and stars such as Enrique Iglesias.
Whether I am busy in the studio presenting the radio show or flying to the States, I never miss breakfast - I swear by it, it is the most important meal of the day.
No matter how early in the morning or late at night I have to get a flight, breakfast is always on the menu for me.
The best preparation for a long-haul flight is a good bowl of porridge in the morning as those slow-release carbohydrates really do fill you up for longer.
I could be on a flight for over seven hours en route to America, so traditional-style porridge followed by fruit and lots of black coffee to combat jet-lag are essential.
When I'm here, though, it has to be Nutty Crust bread toasted, and with lots of butter.
I don't think toast tastes as good without butter.
Breakfast wouldn't be breakfast for me, though, without black coffee - skip the milk and sugar, just pour me out a coffee and that is me ready for the day."
Boxer Carl Frampton (28), lives in Banbridge with his wife Christine and their children Carla (3) and Rossa (6 months). He says:
When I'm training I usually have some form of protein. I don't take any supplements so usually breakfast will be something like steak with a side of green vegetables such as kale, spinach or broccoli. Otherwise, I might have smoked salmon and eggs instead.
When I'm out of training camp and in between fights, I might have a bacon, sausage and egg soda, but I can't really get away with that otherwise.
I used to stay away from carbohydrates when I'm in training, but I'm having more than ever now and managing to lose weight. If I'm having more carbs in a day then I will stick to lean meat only in the morning such as salmon or chicken breast. I can have steak, though, on low carb days."
Rebecca McKinney (28) is the co-host of Cool FM's breakfast show each weekday morning and lives in Belfast. She says:
In the mornings I try and be good and have porridge. It's all about easiness for me so I have porridge in a pot that I can just pour hot water into. That's usually what I have in the winter, but in summer I like to have a bit of Greek yogurt and fruit. Sometimes if I've been really unprepared, I'll have something bad like a cereal bar at about 11am.
I'm up at 4.30 in the morning and in the studio by 5.30am and we all eat between 5.30 and 6am.
You really do need brain food at that time of the morning so I always try to have something at work. It's a strange timetable to stick to and I find that I have lunch and dinner earlier now because of it."
Former Miss Northern Ireland Meagan Green (25) lives with her boyfriend Craig Peacock (26) who plays for the Belfast Giants. They have just moved into a home in Dundonald. She says:
Skipping breakfast is something I'd never do as I am always on the go - it is vital to getting a good start to the day. It was always easy for me to enjoy a hearty breakfast as I grew up on a farm just outside Hillsborough and we had our own hens, so I love eating eggs. I nearly always start the day with an omelette, and add some spinach. It's a healthy option as it is full of protein and is one of your five-a-day portions of vegetables.
Omelettes are easy to cook as it all goes in the pan and there is very little washing up afterwards, as most of us are rushing out the door in the morning.
If I don't have an omelette, then I have porridge made according to my grandmother and mother's recipe which involves soaking the oats overnight, then heating it up in the morning. Throw in some blueberries and it is delicious - it tastes a lot better if you soak the oats overnight. Many of my friends who previously didn't like porridge use this recipe and now they love it. It's just porridge and semi-skimmed milk or almond milk if you are trying to cut down on your dairy."
Jane Burnside, award-winning architect and author, lives in Kells with her husband David and two sons Ryan (19) and Chris (17). She says:
My breakfast everyday is granola with milk and black coffee. I would never miss breakfast, otherwise I would feel quite weak by 10am. While I work from my home office, I am always out and about at site meetings - if you time those right, for about 10am, someone will always make you a cup of tea and a bun.
I started drinking black coffee when I was in the sixth form as the milk was always off. I do love espresso and have a Nespresso machine at home - which sadly did not come with George Clooney."
- Interviews by Kerry McKittrick and Helen Carson