Delicious, Wholesome Food For Busy Holidays
I grew up hearing that breakfast was the most important meal of the day. Since I don’t really feel hungry until midmorning, I spent many years eating food I didn’t like when I didn’t want it. Even when my own kids came along, I felt constrained to make them what was assumed to be a healthy breakfast, usually a whole grain cereal with milk and fruit. Neither of them really likes an early breakfast either, but our various doctors all insisted that skipping breakfast put a child at a significant disadvantage. What’s a concerned mom to do?
It’s been interesting to follow the flood of contradictory studies about breakfast (and meals in general) that have appeared in recent years. Few dietary scientists still think that the old fashioned hearty breakfast of bacon and eggs is actually healthy, but quite a few suggest that eating some protein first thing has energy, attention, and health benefits. Others point to studies that indicate that whole grains/oatmeal and milk help moderate blood sugar swings. Trendy advice proposes that “intermittent fasting” (allowing at least 16 hours between the evening and morning meals) is the way to go. Other experts propose that several smaller meals, spaced out over the day, are most helpful.
Best Breakfasts For You
Of course, given the tendencies of Western medicine, most studies focus on adult white men. Presumably those based on mice and other critters apply (or not) equally to all people. In any case, opinions are divided, which I take to mean that we can all do what works best for us. After all, no generation has ever lived the way we do now. Our bodies, our health care, and the pace of our lives are all changing faster than we can easily track. All we can do is try to figure out what feels best for us right here, right now.
For me, smaller meals work better, especially when the spacing is dictated by actual hunger, not the clock. Working at home for many years allowed me the luxury of actually listening to my body most of the time. When taking care of others, from my late husband and parents to my thriving but fast growing grandkids, I’ve had to learn their hunger signals as well. With the kiddos, I just assume that they are always hungry, and indeed, as soon as they come in the door, they head for the fresh fruit on their little table. Their parents are often hungry as well, so when they’re rushing out the door, they can grab some homemade breakfast/power bars.
Start With Good Granola
Over the years, I’ve spent a small fortune trying out new versions of granola bars. from organic and whole-foods types to vegan and sugar- and gluten-free. Since most are either too sweet and gummy or tasteless and dry as sawdust, I decided to make my own. I started with my favorite homemade granola, which is very adaptable. This simple, unsweetened granola is delicious for breakfast or snacks and makes a lovely topping for yogurt or baked fruit crisps. Not surprisingly, it’s also a satisfying base for granola breakfast bars (see below), which also make a yummy snack. Dried fruit tends to get rock hard if mixed into this toasted blend, so just add them when you’re ready to eat.
Sugar-Free Granola Mix
6 cups old fashioned rolled oats
1-2 cups raw almonds
1 cup raw hazelnuts
1 cup raw pumpkin seeds
1 cup raw sesame seeds
1 cup raw hulled sunflower seeds
1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
Preheat oven to 350 F. Place each ingredient in a rimmed baking sheet and bake until lightly toasted: about 20-30 minutes for oats, 12-15 minutes for larger nuts, 6-8 minutes for seeds and coconut flakes. Combine all in a large bowl and toss to mix. Store in tightly sealed jars on the shelf for up to a week or in the fridge for up to a month. Makes about 10 cups (seeds snug in between larger stuff).
Better Breakfast (and Snack) Bars
Slightly sweet, delectably rich, utterly crunchable, these wholesome and deeply satisfying breakfast bars combine homemade granola with the kind of nut butter that has just two ingredients; nuts and salt. Use plain or chunky organic peanut butter, almond butter, or hazelnut butter, or make your own walnut or pecan butter for an unusual treat. (To make nut butter, toast nuts until crisp, then grind in a food processor to desired chunkiness or smoothness.) Puffed millet or rice lighten up the bars, and brown rice syrup is subtly sweet and helps everything stick together nicely. Change up the ingredients freely, trying different combinations of nut butters, nuts, and seeds. Use your favorite kinds of dried fruit (I like dried tart cherries), and add some chocolate chips for extra energy when hiking or biking.
Vegan Breakfast Bars
3/4-1 cup brown rice syrup at room temperature
1-1/2 cup nut butter at room temperature
2-3 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
3 cups granola (mine or your favorite kind)
2 cups puffed rice or millet
1/4 cup flax seeds
1-2 cups optional extras
(nuts, golden raisins, chocolate chips, toasted coconut flakes)
Loosely line a large baking pan (13 x 9 inch) with waxed paper, set aside. Combine brown rice syrup and nut butter in a large glass bowl and microwave over low heat until soft (1-2 minutes), or put in a large saucepan over lowest heat and stir until blended. Remove from heat and adjust syrup amount to taste. Stir in remaining ingredients; mix will be thick and sticky. Dump it in the prepared pan, wet your hands and firmly pat to flatten. Cover with more waxed paper and chill in refrigerator for at least an hour. When cold, cut into squares or bars, wrap each in waxed paper, then bag and freeze. Serves at least one.