How to ditch cold cereal, for a more tasty, nutritious breakfast: Andrew Coppolino

Food columnist Andrew Coppolino shares some easy recipes for breakfast time — ones that don't involve cereal.

'Start your morning with something other than traditional breakfast cereal'

Andrew Coppolino says people can swap out traditional breakfasts for easy, nutritious alternatives like overnight oats or quiches.

Stroll down the cereal aisle at your local supermarket, and you'll pass dozens of breakfast cereals, from Quaker Harvest Crunch to Cinnamon Toast Crunch. And while breakfast cereal sales have declined, the crispy sweet morning start-up is still a go-to favourite for people of all ages.

There's a debate about the old saying, "eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper." Is breakfast the most important meal of the day, or is that a myth?

If it is the most important, then an awful lot of people are starting their day with a bowl of artificially flaked, shredded, popped or extruded grain that's coated with sugar so it stays crisp in the milk—and loaded with sweeteners, preservatives and marginal amounts of fibre that don't offer a lot of nutrition.

While one study says that skipping breakfast can result in weight gain, another disagrees. Some research indicates that empty stomachs early in the day can cause blood-sugar problems that can lead to type-2 diabetes; other research says that's wrong. Apple Jacks and Honey Crisp are part of a conflicted food field, to say the least, and they have been so for a long time. 

Kellogg's Corn Flakes started off as a treatment for sanitarium patients in 1906. Today the favourite cereal is merely corn, salt, sugar, malt and a battery of added vitamins and minerals because there is nothing particularly nutritious about the cereal itself. Yet, the brand has recorded sales of about US $14 billion around the world.

Andrew Coppolino says cereals are a quick, easy option, but there are ways to be creative with breakfast foods. (Garnet)

Breakfast cereals are popular because they are easy and convenient. People perhaps wake up sleep-deprived and not interested in eating and throw on a pot of coffee and throw down a bowl of Special K. 

But don't get me wrong, breakfast cereal can be tasty.

We're practically addicted to it. However, we've also been social-engineered and marketed to eat cereal or even bacon and eggs first thing in the morning. We rarely have the latter at any other time than breakfast, and we would never have a pork chop with apple sauce as we're reading the morning news over coffee.

But there are ways to eat well and eat healthy, by "breaking your night's fast" with something other than traditional breakfast cereal. And you can do it conveniently and easily.

Try something new

  • Food in jars is a popular food trend, so adapt it for morning as overnight oats or "puddings." The night before, put some yogurt, uncooked rolled oats, milk, honey and a pinch of salt into a mixing bowl and stir it up. Pour the lot into a jar, seal it, and put it in the fridge overnight. In the morning, top it with some fruit, and it's a good way to start your day.

  • A 1897 recipe for muesli that I came across re-introduced an old Swiss custom of essentially marinating spelt or oatmeal, apples, nuts and dried fruits in sweetened milk overnight. The recipe strictly states, "must sit for 12 hours before serving."
Oatmeal marinated overnight with dried fruit and nuts makes for a great start to the morning, says Copploino. (Julie Van Rosendaal/CBC)

  • If you have a blender or Vitamix-type kitchen appliance, make yourself a protein smoothie. It's a simple process of combining vegetables, a few fruits (watch the sugar) and protein. It takes minutes to prepare, and it tastes like a milkshake.

  • Make mini-frittatas or mini-quiches: bake off a dozen egg "cups" with bacon, cheddar and broccoli or feta and spinach, or other ingredients in a muffin tin. Store them in the fridge and grab a couple for a quick bite as you head out the door the next morning.

Ultimately, this is about re-imagining breakfast, despite what Big Food pushes at us and our kids. In China and Vietnam, people eat noodles for breakfast; in Malaysia, it's rice; in El Salvador, it's a pupusa and refried beans; in Sri Lanka, it could be rotis.

Eat something that's not a breakfast familiar. Break the tradition of simple cold cereal, and perhaps try scrounge around the fridge for last night's dinner leftovers to fry up quickly. You'll get more value for your grocery dollars than if you tossed the food, and you'll more than likely be getting a healthier start to your day.

Overnight oats recipe
1/3 cup of yogurt (Greek-style has good protein content)
½ cup heaping cup rolled oats
1 tablespoon chia seeds, flaxmeal or quinoa (I used quinoa)
2/3 cup milk (your choice)
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
dash of nutmeg
pinch of salt
drizzle of honey (your preference; I added a tablespoon)

In a mixing bowl, combine the ingredients and whisk them together thoroughly. Pour the mixture into a mason-style jar, seal it, and place it in the fridge overnight. The next morning, add a garnish of fruit and enjoy.

Protein, fruit and veg smoothie recipe
2 loosely packed cups of spinach
¼ cup protein powder (there are lots; I use Vega)
1/3 cup frozen blueberries
¼ cup yogurt, Greek or otherwise
vegetable juice (optional and if you have a juicer)

Add the ingredients to your blender cup in layers like a parfait, starting with the spinach. Seal and store in the fridge overnight. In the morning, add a bit of fluid if needed, blitz and enjoy your drive to work listening to CBC's Morning Edition while you sip!

About the Author

Andrew Coppolino

Food columnist, CBC Kitchener-Waterloo

Andrew Coppolino is a food columnist for CBC Radio in Waterloo Region. He was formerly restaurant reviewer with The Waterloo Region Record. He also contributes to Culinary Trends and Restaurant Report magazines in the U.S. and is the co-author of Cooking with Shakespeare. A couple of years of cooking as an apprentice chef in a restaurant kitchen helped him decide he wanted to work with food from the other side of the stove.