Healthy Outlook: Breakfast can be the most awesome meal of the day

Waking up on the bright side starts tonight.

“It’s the most important meal of the day,” they say.

“You can’t start your day right without a big, healthy breakfast!” they exclaim, with big cheery grins, as the well-meaningness radiates from their wide-awake faces.

Yes, these morning glories may have a point, but for natural night owls, the thought of waking up in time to do anything more than swap out the K-cup and push a button or two is daunting and horrid.

It doesn’t have to be this way, though. You, too, can enjoy a healthy and delicious breakfast each morning, with no cooking involved — before noon, anyway.

I understand how real the struggle is. For years, I convinced myself I’m “not a breakfast person” or I “didn’t have time” for breakfast. As I slowly began my transformation into a health nut, however, I realized how important food is to starting your day the right way.

Steel-cut oats don't need to be cooked — simply soak them overnight with milk or Greek yogurt and your choice of other toppings to wake up to a nutrient-packed breakfast.

Believe it or not, the fabulous, well-oiled machine that is your body — much like any other machine — runs on fuel. Without it, you’re not going to feel as good or perform as well in anything you attempt. Beyond that, breakfast jumpstarts your metabolism, so it’s essential to any healthy diet. Some people say that if they eat breakfast, they’re starving by lunchtime — that’s a good thing, because it means your body is processing food the way it should be.

Another issue I stumbled upon as I started breakfasting, though, was that I’d struggle far too long trying to come up with a reasonably balanced meal, and once I did, I still had to cook it … so maybe I really didn’t have time for breakfast.

Then I discovered the beautiful phenomenon that is the make-ahead breakfast, and my world turned upside down.

I’ve started making two or three days’ worth of breakfasts at a time. Some have evolved into afternoon snacks or components of the lunches I bring to work. Making these balanced meals and minimeals ahead of time has revolutionized the way I think about food, and it’s even given me peace of mind to sleep in a bit longer on some days.

Here’s how: My standard choice is some variation of cold, make-ahead oatmeal. For that, you’ll need a small storage container that holds about 1.25 cups (if you’re “cooking” for one, that is). Many of the shallow, square containers for food storage are just the right size.

Here’s my variation on a recipe that originally got me hooked on this concept; all ingredients are given in rough measurements, followed by specific weights for those who prep on a scale:

• Roughly ¼ cup of steel-cut oats, uncooked (30 g; they soften overnight)

• 1 tablespoon chia seeds (12 g)

• ½ to ? scoop vanilla whey protein isolate (25 g)

• 1 tablespoon peanut butter (6 g; I use the lower-fat, lower-calorie powdered kind; your favorite is fine)

• ½ cup milk

• ½ banana, sliced (52 g)

Combine the first five ingredients, pop the lid on and shake the container really well to mix it all together; then add the banana slices and shake it again. Simply leave this in your refrigerator overnight — roughly 8 hours — and wake up to a delicious, well-balanced breakfast that will make you feel fantastic (and so energetic).

There are myriad ways to customize this concept. Another one of my favorites uses walnuts and raisins, and it’s basically like a little cookie. Try adding your favorite fruits, some Greek yogurt, almonds, honey or cinnamon; I’ve also heard of mixing in a little bit of brewed coffee for that extra caffeine pick-me-up.

Another option for those who don’t share my passion for oats is to make and freeze breakfast sandwiches or sausage patties. There are plenty of frozen breakfast foods you can buy, but you can make them so much healthier yourself.

If you make some biscuits and cook up some sausage patties — I prefer to use super-lean turkey, but it’s your choice — you can easily make them into little sandwiches and place them on a cookie sheet to freeze. Add some egg by making a little frittata and cutting pieces to fit — it will freeze just fine, too. Once they’re frozen solid, you can wrap the sandwiches individually for a quick grab-and-go breakfast; throw on a slice of cheese, if you’d like, and microwave for a delicious meal that’s practically effortless the morning of.

Yet another option is an easy breakfast casserole: put your slow cooker to work overnight. You can use any combination of eggs, ham, cheese, hashbrowns and whatever else strikes your fancy (quinoa, anyone?); just remember the nonstick spray. Wake up to a warm, delicious breakfast that’s easy to serve, clean up and save as leftovers.

Even if none of these meal ideas are for you, you can find ways to expedite a morning routine and make a daily breakfast feasible, even if it’s as simple as cutting up some fruit ahead of time. Experiment a little bit and find a way to make it work for you; when simplified, breakfast truly can be the most awesome meal of the day.