Learning to love breakfast

Posted on April 8, 2016 by Eleanor McKenzie
Mature couple enjoying breakfast together

National Breakfast Week was in January but like many other breakfast avoiders, I failed to spot it. Regardless of age, the majority of us now tend to see breakfast as a ‘non-meal,’ something that you might or might not have, and a meal that is given little thought. It has long been said that it is the most important meal of the day, and it is even more important as we get older according to leading nutritionists.

When I was growing up my mother laid the breakfast table the night before, ready for the morning. She liked to keep ahead of things and rushing around in the morning looking for cups or cutlery was not part of her modus operandi. Cooked breakfast was reserved for the weekend, and mostly for my father. He liked porridge, grapefruit, yogurt and other stewed fruits during the week. There was always toast and marmalade of course, often homemade, and a small selection of cereals because there hadn’t yet been the explosion of brands available today. Leaving home without breakfast was unthinkable for most people then, because it felt like something awful would happen to you if you didn’t have at least a piece of toast.

No time for breakfast

How times have changed. During my brief phase as a teacher I recall that the first two lessons were filled with teenagers groaning because they were starving. How about eating breakfast at home, I’d ask. Looks of shock, horror and disbelief were my answer, and they’d race out at break time to the nearest bread shop, or McDonalds, for something sugar-filled to keep them going. But it is not just the terrible teens who have abandoned the first meal of the day; we’re all at it.

Would it surprise you to know that over 60% of the British population spend less than eight minutes on breakfast during the week, and that 1 in 5 people eat leftover takeaways for breakfast? I admit that I love cold Indian takeaway the day after and that there are others like me, but I don’t have that for breakfast on a regular basis, I hasten to add.

Added to this, although we regularly change what we eat for lunch and dinner, we can’t be bothered about ringing the changes when it comes to breakfast. To paraphrase Alice (as in Wonderland) “It’s toast and jam tomorrow and toast and jam yesterday – but never toast and jam today.” We have very little imagination when it comes to the morning meal, despite there being plenty of recipe books with suggestions. I guess we just can’t be bothered. It’s too early to think about preparing food and a lot of people I meet claim not to have an appetite first thing. They head for the Nespresso maker instead and a caffeine-fuelled breakfast is more common than not, if anecdotal evidence is to be believed.


Woman eating breakfast

Shake up your wake up

So, according to a survey carried out for Breakfast Week, rather than plan breakfast the night before, some 50% of us would prefer to check our emails, and 25% go on social media. Dietician Nichola Whitehead has published Mission Breakfast on her ‘Shake up Your Wake up’ website with support from celebrity chef Rachel Allen. Nichola says we all need to have a rethink about breakfast, and she is not alone – Chef Andrew Mussett joined the chorus spoke out about the need for older people to take more care with what they eat in the morning.

He explains, “During the night glucose levels fall. This affects the brain, which needs glucose to function effectively and low levels lead to loss of cognitive function and thus to falls and mistakes being made.” The problem for the elderly is exacerbated by the fact that the appetite decreases with age and there may be a temptation to make do with a cup of tea and a biscuit on waking up.

Providing older family members with glucose supplements and vitamins to take in the morning is one way to boost an elderly person’s nutrition. Mussett also suggests that the elderly have fortified milk and making a supply of smoothies for the fridge means there is something nutritious easily available on waking.

Make a friend of breakfast

For those of us who are in our 50s and 60s, we need to give the first meal of the day more serious thought. Porridge may be too time-consuming if you’re dashing out to work, but yogurt, granola and fruit is easy to throw together. And those smoothies are an option for us as well, especially if you can make some up in advance. Learning to love breakfast will make us healthier and happier say nutritionists, and if you breakfast like a King you’ll need fewer calories for the rest of the day. So, for those health-conscious readers, breakfast is your best friend – don’t make it your enemy.

Learning to Love Breakfast

by Eleanor McKenzie

Eleanor McKenzie is a Northern Irish writer with a passion for art, literature, and red wine. She's worked at advertising agency JWT, edited a journal for a European social policy think tank and tried to teach teenagers the difference between "there" and "their". Being 50+ has not significantly changed Eleanor's life, although she finds it a handy excuse when she wants to avoid anything too energetic.