Mornings are usually a hectic time, especially during weekdays when most people are rushing to get to office or to send their kids to school. So it’s no big surprise that many people skip breakfast, which truly is the most important meal of the day. It should be the smart way to start your day!
Others may compromise by opting for a basic breakfast or getting into an ‘auto-pilot’ routine with quick ready-to-drink beverage, a slice of bread, or an egg. Some may have breakfast often, but the question remains – how healthy is your typical breakfast?
Malaysians tend to skip breakfast
Unfortunately, many Malaysians are guilty of skipping breakfast and this occurs across different age groups, including children and adolescents. In a recent Ministry of Health Malaysia National Health and Morbidity Survey1, it was found that 7 in 10 adolescents skipped breakfast regularly, while about half reported no appetite and skipped breakfast. The Nutrition Society of Malaysia MyBreakfast study found that 1 in 4 school children skipped breakfast at least 3 times a week.2
In 2019, the Herbalife Nutrition Asia Pacific Healthy Breakfast Survey3 found that a little more than half of Malaysian respondents thought that breakfast was important and had breakfast within 2-3 hours of waking up every day. It was also found that convenience was their top consideration, ahead of health benefits and nutritional value. Around 1 in 3 respondents bought breakfast from an eatery rather than preparing their own breakfast.
Unsurprisingly, coffee and eggs was the most popular breakfast combination among Malaysians, followed by tea and rice, then coffee and rice. Interestingly, the survey revealed that Malaysian respondents perceived tea as a healthier breakfast beverage option. Despite the lack of a proper understanding regarding what constitutes an ideally healthy and nutritious breakfast, over 9 in 10 wanted to consume a healthier breakfast.
What is a healthy breakfast?
Everyone has heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but why is this so? Our body needs a balanced,nutrient-rich breakfast in order to obtain sufficient energy and nutrients after long hours of sleep. So a healthy breakfast will provide your brain and body with the ‘fuel’ to not only start the day off, but will also help keep you energised all day long.
This is especially important for both working adults and children, as a healthy breakfast helps them stay focused during work or while at school, thus optimising their performance. Having a healthy breakfast also helps to prevent overeating or food cravings, and is helpful for maintaining a healthy body weight. The MyBreakfast study indicated that children who skipped breakfast are 1.3 times more likely to become overweight/obese.2
A healthy breakfast should be a balanced meal, with food/beverage combinations high in nutrient density, i.e. it should contain all of our important daily nutrients such as carbohydrate, protein, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals. It’s also important to keep an eye on calorie intake.
Be mindful of breakfast foods that are oily (e.g. roti canai) or high in refined carbohydrates (e.g. bread with jam, teh aiswith sugar). It would be best to include at least three food groups for your breakfast – carbohydrate-containing foods (preferably whole grains or wholegrain products), protein-containing foods (fish, meat, poultry, egg, milk or protein containing beverages), and fruits or vegetables. This combination will help you feel full for a longer time.
Tips to prepare a healthy breakfast
The most common excuse for breakfast skipping is “No time lah!”, so in order to address this, it’s time to up our game. There are many ways you can have a simple yet healthy and balanced breakfast, which takes less than 10 minutes!
Let’s start off with simple strategies for weekdays:
- Set your alarm a little earlier. Just wake up 10-15 minutes earlier and you’ll have that little bit more time to prepare a healthy breakfast.
- Prep the night before. Some ingredients can be prepared the night before for a shorter prep time the next morning, which helps you save time. For example, fillings for sandwiches like sardine or eggs can be prepared the night before. Overnight oats is another example of breakfast foods that can be prepared the night before.
- Cook a larger portion for dinner. Put the extra portion aside for breakfast (refrigerated of course!) and you can have breakfast ready simply by reheating it the following morning.
- Make full use of healthy ready-to-eat breakfast foods to prepare a quick healthy breakfast
These can include:
- toasted bread with peanut butter and banana plus a glass of nutritious beverage
- yoghurt topped with oats, blueberry (or any fruits of your choice), and sprinkled with nuts/seeds
- a glass of nutritious beverage, hard-boiled egg, fruits
- healthy smoothie (fruits blended with milk and some oats)
- a bowl of rolled oats, dried fruit, nuts and with a splash of cold milk or reduced sugar soya milk.
- For parents with kids, you can also prepare breakfast-on-the-go for them to eat while on the way to school, or before their class starts.
For weekends, these are some strategies you can adopt:
- Plan ahead of time. Do some advance planning by creating a breakfast menu for the following week.
- Prep for weekdays. Prepare and cook larger portions during weekends – you can apportion and refrigerate them for a quick and easy breakfast on weekdays.
- Take your time. Don’t rush breakfast on weekends. Try to turn it into a way of spending quality family time. You can prepare freshly made, healthier and more balanced breakfast on weekends while enjoying the company of your family members, which can be refreshing after five days of rushed mornings!
- Select healthy ready-to-eat items when grocery shopping. Stock your pantry with healthy ready-to-eat breakfast food items for weekday mornings that can help you achieve a simple yet balanced breakfast. Some examples include:
- breakfast cereals (choose products with lower sugar content), nutritious beverages (e.g. low sugar cereal beverages, oat drinks, fresh juice), oats, wholegrain bread with healthy spreads (such as peanut butter, fruit jam), and healthy tubers such as sweet potato.
- milk or other nutritious protein-containing drinks, yoghurt, canned products such as canned sardine or tuna as a healthy source of breakfast protein.
- vegetables such as cherry tomatoes, cucumber, baby carrots, pre-packed salads, corn, ulam or any vegetables that just needs a simple wash (or pre-washed the night before).
- fruits such as banana, apple, orange, blueberries, strawberries. You can also opt for local fruits such as mangoes, papaya, dragon fruits or any fruits that are in season.
- nuts and seeds such as unsalted & non-sugar coated pumpkin seeds, cashew, almond & walnut
Most of these examples can be your handy go-to breakfast of choice when you are short on time, and the best part is, they can be easily mixed and matched to form a balanced and healthy breakfast combo. Remember to always check the Nutrition Information Panel (NIP) before buying as it will list the product’s nutritional content. Select products with fewer calories, sugar, salt and fat.
Now, what happens if you want to have outside food for breakfast? Well, the good news is that depending on your choice of food, you can still have a healthy breakfast. These are the main points you will need to consider:
- Choose ‘light’ meals that are less oily, such as steamed pau or kuih apam.
- If you need a more filling breakfast, opt for healthier options such as plain noodle soup or fish porridge. Try to incorporate some protein sources and vegetables to up its level of nutrients and make it a more balanced meal.
- Go for milk/malted beverage, or soya bean milk. Order your drink with less sugar and minimise your intake of sugary drinks such as teh tarikand soft drinks.
- Opt for food with less oil, fat or sugar, e.g. eat less kuih, nasilemak, fried noodles/rice, fast food etc.
- Be mindful of the portion size of your breakfast.We must always be mindful not to overeat, be it breakfast, lunch or dinner or any snack food.
It’s all about balance
Now that you know how important breakfast is, and how you can easily make it a part of your daily routine, make it a point to inculcate the habit of having a healthy breakfast for yourself and your loved ones. Take the effort to have a balanced and healthy breakfast, especially if you have kids. Start them from young, and they will form the habit of eating a healthy breakfast too.
1Institute for Public Health (IPH) 2017. National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS): Adolescent Health Survey 2017. Malaysia.
2E Siong Tee, Abdul Razak Nurliyana, A Karim Norimah, Hamid Jan B Jan Mohamed, Sue Yee Tan, Mahenderan Appukutty, Sinead Hopkins, Frank Thielecke, Moi Kim Ong, Celia Ning& Mohd Taib Mohd Nasir (2018). Breakfast consumption among Malaysian primary and secondary school children and relationship with body weight status – Findings from the MyBreakfast Study. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr 27(2):421-432
3Herbalife Nutrition (2019). Asia Pacific Healthy Breakfast Survey
This article is contributed by Dr Tan Sue Yee, Nutritionist, Nutrition Society of Malaysia.