The American breakfast table has changed dramatically since the Pilgrims landed and settled in Massachusetts in 1620. Rising early to begin their chores, our forefathers began the day with a spartan meal of cider and corn meal mush cooked over the embers all night, topped with maple sugar or molasses, according to the Oxford Encylopedia of Food and Drink in America.
Today we have a striking selection of breakfast choices, but most Americans pressed for time in the morning do not take advantage of this largesse. Many eat no breakfast at all, and others choose a quick breakfast of cereal, coffee and some fruit, according to one of the largest surveys ever conducted on breakfast and morning mealtime routine. Kellogg Co. (www.kelloggs.com), Battle Creek, Mich., surveyed more than 14,000 Americans of varying ethnicities, income levels, geographic regions and ages earlier this year and found that while the vast majority of Americans feel breakfast is important, the reality of hectic mornings makes it difficult to fit the meal in every day.
While more than half (54 percent) of all adults would like to eat breakfast every day, only one-third (34 percent) actually do; Nearly all moms (89 percent) want their kids to eat breakfast every day. However, 40 percent of moms report their children don't eat breakfast daily.
Nearly all toddlers and preschool-age children are eating breakfast; however, consumption of breakfast dips as American children grow older. 77 percent of young children eat breakfast every day, but the number falls to 50 percent in the middle-school years and 36 percent among high school students. Although moms report a desire to see their kids relax in the morning and concentrate on eating breakfast, many kids are too busy watching television, getting their homework done or getting ready for school to do so.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack marked National School Breakfast Week (March 7-12) by emphasizing the administration's commitment to provide school children with healthy, well-balanced meals to prepare them for a productive school day. Working with First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! initiative, USDA is enhancing programs that will help to raise a healthier generation of students who will enter the classroom ready to concentrate, engage and learn.
"A nutritious breakfast will help our children learn better and have the energy needed for academic success," said Vilsack. "By ensuring all children have access to a healthy breakfast, we help lay the groundwork for a successful day and build a foundation for achievement that will help our kids win the future."
The USDA says a good breakfast — including protein, plenty of fiber, fruit, nuts and dairy — boosts metabolism and benefits the brain. Studies show a morning meal enhances memory and cognitive function, ensuring you will have a clear head and maintain focus at work or at school.
Many studies demonstrate that dieters who eat breakfast are less hungry throughout the day, so they take in fewer calories. The majority of people who eat breakfast are less likely to be overweight, and over 90 percent of successful dieters usually eat breakfast, according to data from the National Weight Control Registry.
Over the next decade, consumption of heat-and-eat breakfast foods, such as bagels and frozen pancakes, will grow in the U.S., according to market research firm NPD Group Inc.
Healthy changes already are under way. Bread, bagels, English muffins, tortillas, pancakes and waffles now come in healthy multi-grain options. Many of these traditional baked items now have gluten-free options.
Healthy carbohydrates found in nuts and legumes are always an excellent way of adding energy in the morning. Eating these carbs with soluble fiber will help slow down the rate of digestion and keep you full longer.
Added sugars are under the microscope, yet honey seems to maintain a healthy halo.
"Honey has become the go-to ingredient for breakfast foods not only for its sweet flavor, but because it's completely natural and serves as an energy booster," says Emily Manelius, communications specialist at the National Honey Board (www.honey.com), Firestone, Colo. "Honey is composed primarily of carbohydrates [natural sugars] and water, as well as trace enzymes, minerals, vitamins and amino acids, which provide a natural energy boost without any added ingredients."
Honey already is one of the most popular and versatile ingredients for breakfast foods. "There are literally hundreds of cereal combinations that incorporate honey," says Manelius. "In addition, many large scale bakeries that offer bagels, English muffins, bread and biscuits have launched a honey variety."
In the breakfast bar category, honey oat is a common flavor, and many other varieties incorporate honey for its natural sweetness, texture and moisture preserving capabilities. "Honey is an ingredient that can be incorporated into all breakfast foods ranging from sweet or savory to crunchy or chewy," she says.
"The expansion of honey in breakfast products can be attributed to the fact that consumers are looking for cleaner labels when shopping for products," Manelius continues. "They want to be able to recognize the ingredients on the label when making a purchase, and honey eliminates the need for added sweeteners and flavorings because of its naturally sweet and distinctive flavor."
If you want to add sweetness without calories, a favored non-nutritive sweetener from the beverage world is starting to make inroads into baked goods and other categories.
"Manufacturers are increasingly trying to create healthier breakfast bars by reducing sugar and adding proteins and other functional ingredients like fiber, vitamins and minerals," says Diana Peninger, general manager of Nutrinova Inc. (www.celanese.com), Dallas, a Celanese Corp. business unit. "So Sunett is the ideal sugar replacer for manufacturers looking to create healthier breakfast foods."