They say the way you start the morning often sets the stage for the rest of the day.
Here’s how I used to start my day: with a bowl of nutri-grain cereal.
In my naivety, I believed the marketing messages that this was the food of iron men and women. I believed it would help me power through the school day like a champion.
Then one day it hit me: This sugary cereal wasn’t making me stronger or sharper like a disciplined athlete.
At 32 grams of sugar per 100 gram serve (that’s a staggering 32% sugar), it was creating a fog in my brain, messing with my mood and predisposing me to type 2 diabetes and obesity.
So a few years ago, I decided to make a small change to my breakfast routine. I started to make my own muesli.
What struck me was just how easy and cheap homemade muesli was to make. It was also surprisingly delicious.
Powered by homemade muesli, I noticed that my thinking sharpened. My mood became steadier. The quality of my whole day improved.
And here’s the thing: you can have this too if you start the day with a wholesome breakfast.
“But breakfast is a waste of time!”
I hear students say this all the time. “Why eat breakfast when you can sleep in for another 30 minutes?” they say.
But as the authors of the book “Thug Kitchen” state:
“You’ve heard this a million times but it’s true: breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Consider the fact that when you wake up, you haven’t had anything for 6 – 8 hours…so you really think it’s OK to coast along on nothing until lunch?”
Studies have also found students who skip breakfast don’t do as well on tests and exams as other students. Why? For the simple reason that their brains aren’t functioning particularly well.
Here’s the good news…
You don’t have to be a fantastic cook to prepare healthy, quality breakfasts. Once I mastered muesli making (and it’s pretty easy to master!) I started to experiment with other homemade breakfasts.
The breakfasts I routinely make are quick and easy and require beginner level cooking skills.
I don’t make beautiful looking meals that you’ll find in glossy food magazines. I don’t have the time, energy or patience for that. What matters most is that my meals taste good, are packed full of nutrients and leave me with a clear mind.
Here are my favourite brain boosting breakfasts:
1. Homemade muesli
My basic muesli recipe is as follows:
400 grams of oats
50 – 100 grams bran flakes and/or rice puffs
80 grams of pepitas
80 grams of sunflower seeds
150 grams of nuts (almonds and macadamias are good)
50 – 80 grams of dried fruit (I use currents)
50 grams of coconut
50 grams of sesame seeds
Half a teaspoon of cinnamon
Throw these ingredients in a bowl and stir around. Store in a container.
If you buy these ingredients in bulk it will save you time and money.
But a word of warning about buying in bulk: store your ingredients in the freezer for 2 – 3 days before making your muesli. Often moths can get into bulk bags so you want to make sure you eliminate them (unless of course you want some extra protein!)
2. Basic cooked breakfast
You don’t have to spend $20 at a café to enjoy a delicious cooked breakfast. For very little money, you can make your own.
I like to keep things simple by scrambling some free-range eggs. I then add any of the following sides:
half an avocado
some fresh cherry tomatoes (halved)
cooked mushrooms and spinach
nitrate free bacon
a few slices of halloumi
a hash brown
homemade baked beans
You may have noticed that I don’t have any toasted bread with my cooked breakfast. The reason is bread makes me sleepy.
You want to start to tune into your body and notice how certain foods make you feel. Tailor-make your breakfasts accordingly.
3. Simple smoothie
If you don’t like the idea of breakfast or you’re in a rush, then start with a simple smoothie.
Here’s what you need to do:
Take your smoothie ingredients. Place in blender. Press button. Done.
I find the key to making a good smoothie is to adhere to the basic principle of less is more. If you use a few quality ingredients, it usually tastes pretty good.
Throw in too many different fruits and vegetables and you may end up with a grey looking sludge of a smoothie. So keep things simple!
Here are my two favourite smoothies:
The Kermit: Green smoothie (created by the Margaret river bakery)
Ingredients: 1 cup of freshly squeezed orange juice, 1 apple, 1 lime, half an avocado, 10cm piece of cucumber, small bunch of spinach, handful of mint leaves and some ice-cubes.
Ingredients: a handful of almonds, 200 grams of water, 1 tablespoon of cacao powder, 1 frozen banana (cut into chunks) and 1 tablespoon of chia seeds. Top with cacao nibs (optional).
Note: If you are hungry after school, smoothies are a great study snack!
4. Overnight oat parfait with fruit and yoghurt
This one sounds fancy and looks like a lot of fuss, but it’s actually really easy to make.
It requires 5 minutes of preparation the night before. Here’s what you do:
Mix the oats (1 cup), seeds (1 tablespoon of chia seeds, 1 tablespoon of pepitas and 1 tablespoon of sunflower seeds), spices (1.5 teaspoon of cinnamon and half a teaspoon of nutmeg), maple syrup (1 tablespoon), vanilla extract (half a teaspoon) and milk (1 cup). Cover and let it sit in the fridge while you sleep.
In the morning, grab a jar and create layers of goodness: a layer of oat mix, followed by some natural yoghurt, a layer of chopped up fruit (whatever is in season), a layer of oats, some more yoghurt and some more fruit.
Note: This makes 2 serves.
So why should you bother making your own breakfasts?
Because it’s an investment in your mind and body. With a clear mind, you’ll be able to operate at your full potential. You’ll be more present. You’ll feel calmer. You’ll look better and feel healthier and happier.
Often it’s the little changes we make to our lives that have the biggest impact.
When I cut out nutri-grain and started eating my homemade muesli, I experienced an immediate difference in the way I felt.
So why not experiment and see what kind of difference having a wholesome breakfast has on your life?