Portion Controlled Breakfast Bowls

We all know that café or bakery meals can be delicious and the best thing of course is that you aren’t left with the dishes! However, as much as you’d like to pretend otherwise – these meals generally provide far more energy than you should be having in a typical breakfast. The total energy, fat or sugar content can often be double or triple what’s appropriate – especially if you’ve decided to go one on one with the ‘Big Breakfast’. Needless to say, this gets seriously problematic for your own muffin top if a cafe meetup or bakery stop on the way to work is a regular feature in your week!

And even seemingly ‘good’ choices such as the Boost ‘Breakie to go’ smoothie has 18 teaspoons worth of sugar in it – about the same as 5 mini magnums to give you a comparison! Yipes …. give me the 5 mini-magnums anyday!

So, how much energy you should be consuming at breakfast is dependent on many factors – your gender, age, height/lean mass, activity level, whether breakfast is consumed first thing or combined with morning tea or any weight loss/gain goals just to name a few. Life Nutrition can certainly work with you to determine your individualised target, (please don’t hesitate to contact us!) – however, a reasonable recommendation for most adults will lie somewhere between 400-600Cal (inclusive of beverages).

In response to a client request for some more information on how she can pre-prep some ‘breakfast bowls’ (as she was very rightly concerned that some of the ‘smoothie’ bowl recipes/café creations are ‘calorie bombs’ and not terribly well balanced) – being a nerdy engineer in my prior life – I’ve developed the below system whereby you can ‘build your own breakfast bowl’. A simple meal that is tailored to your estimated energy needs and preferences and that won’t require a complete overhaul of your pantry or blowing your food budget for the week at some fancy ‘super-food’ store!

It’s probably worth noting at this point, that there are other ‘breakfast bowl’ types which incorporate eggs, steamed veg, salads etc and these warm, nutritious bowls are fabulous!….if you have the time that is! Unfortunately, most of us don’t have the time nor the motivation in the morning to cook quinoa, steam veg and poach eggs for breakfast – instead, reserve your energy and use any extra time in the morning to make a balanced, nutritious lunch to take to work and experiment with these bowls on the weekend when you have more time! So, with that in mind – I’ve focused on the oat/calcium/fruit/nut type of combination for this article as this seems manageable for most.

 

STEP 1 – DETERMINE YOUR ‘BREAKFAST ENERGY TARGET’

Before building your breakfast bowl, determine your estimated total ‘breakfast energy target’, then deduct any typical beverages you’ll consume – eg a café latte, made with 250ml of reduced fat milk and teaspoon of sugar will tend to be around 150Cal.

To illustrate: Consider a woman who is on a 450Cal breakfast target – she’ll be left with 300Cal to build her breakfast bowl after she allows for her latte. If instead she has tea or instant coffee with 1 sugar and 50-80ml of reduced-fat milk (around 50Cal) she will be left with 400Cal to build her breakfast bowl (but she maybe cranky as hell as she’s only had a crappy coffee – so beware!).

 

STEP 2 – PREPREP YOUR BASE

Create your base in just a few minutes – literally! The below recipe serves approximately 4 x 300Cal portions or 6 x 200Cal portions and will generally last around 3-4 days in the fridge

  • 2 cups rolled oats (whole oats, not ‘quick’)
  • 2 tablespoons chia seeds
  • ¼ cup unsweetened, dried shredded/flaked coconut (omit if you don’t like the taste/texture)
  • 1/3 cup of mixed dried fruit
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (Queens squeezie tubes are great!)
  • 2 cups milk or milk alternatives such as calcium-fortified almond or coconut.
  • Add spices if you’d like (eg cinnamon works really well)

Mix all these ingredients in a large container and stir until well combined. If you like to be super-organised, divide evenly between 4-6 containers (depending on your breakie bowl energy target), and chill overnight in the fridge.

Having some quality containers on hand are essential to meal-prepping of any kind and I find that the Sistema range lasts well, doesn’t leak and can go through the dishwasher (nope, no affiliation in case you were wondering). This clever Kiwi brand have developed containers which are perfect for the ‘breakfast bowl’ concept – where you put the ‘wet’ ingredients in one section and the ‘dry’ in the other. Sheer genius.

This is a fabulous way to pre-prep a few breakfasts in advance – though noting that ideally fresh fruit shouldn’t be cut in advance. Kiwi will quickly go mushy, fruits like pear or apple will brown within minutes of cutting it, but berries and mango tend to fare ok in my experience. In any case, beside loss of taste/texture –  the longer the fruit is cut – the more vitamin loss will result as it oxidises. So try to leave a few minutes in the morning to cut the fruit.

So the plastic containers are obviously a very functional solution to packing your breakie to take on the run – but please note that this concept can be very easily tarted up for a fancy weekend breakfast or brunch party by spooning the base/arranging the toppings in some stemless wine glasses/glass bowls – yup, playing with your food is not just fun for the kids, get creative when you have the time!

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NUTRITIONAL INFO ON THE BASE:

In case you wanted a bit more nutritional information for this ‘breakfast bowl base’, the following are the approximate values when it’s made up with reduced fat cows milk:

  • 200Cal serve: Carbs: 31g, Fat: 6.7g, Protein: 2g, Fibre: 5.5g, Sodium: 57mg, Added sugar (ie excl natural milk sugar): 6.5g
  • 300Cal serve: Carbs: 47g, Fat: 10g, Protein: 3g, Fibre: 8.3, Sodium: 86mg, Added sugar (ie excl natural milk sugar): 9.8g

Note that if you make this up with Rice, Oat or Soy milk – the energy value will be similar but protein will slightly decrease (especially Rice milk which is very low in protein)

Other milks such as almond or coconut can be considerably lower in energy than traditional dairy and are very low in protein (note: when referring to ‘coconut milk’, this is not the cans which you may use for curries – but the tetra packs in the ‘milk’ section). Brand-dependent, using coconut/almond milk may lower the energy content by around 30-50 Cal/serve depending on whether you are portioning this batch for 4 or 6 serves.

When choosing which milk you’d like to use in your base – weigh up what is right for you in terms of taste, any issues you may have with dairy, and desired protein content vs energy content – you maybe tempted to choose a milk that has less energy so that you can put on more toppings, but this needs to be weighed against the loss of protein (and fat) which is influential on the satiation of a meal and the overall nutritional balance may suffer. More about milk alternatives here.

 

STEP 3 – ADD-ONS

In the morning, top your base with the appropriate amount of add-ons’ (depending on your breakfast energy target). For ideal balance and to keep changing it up, mix up fresh fruit, nuts, yoghurt or a few sprinkles of granola. In minutes – you’re ready to eat a lovely, nutritious, balanced and appropriately sized breakfast!

To make it easy for you to compare options and estimate the energy in your add-ons – I’ve created the following list of typical additional toppings that have been portioned to each be roughly 50Cal – mix them up/combine as required.

50 Cal portions of Fruit and nuts – note that these are just estimates as size/season can change these values

  • Nuts – Watch the quantity of this topping carefully – nuts are fabulous for you and should definitely be a regular feature in your diet (assuming lack of allergy here – please don’t head down the anaphylaxis path on my account!) But 50 Cal is generally only 2/3-1 tablespoon of cut nuts, 4-5 cashews/almonds/hazelnuts or just 3 whole macadamias (plain, unsalted).
  • Half a cup of mixed fruit or blueberries – frozen berries are great to have on hand
  • Strawberries or de-pipped cherries – 8
  • Half a medium banana (or one small lady-finger banana)
  • Half a small mango
  • Apricots – 3 fresh or dried
  • Nectarine or small peach
  • Small apple or pear
  • Kiwi x 2,
  • Passionfruit – 3
  • Sultanas – 20g (though the 25g kids snack boxes are close enough!)
  • Half a baked or stewed small apple/pear/nectarine or peach

Random 50Cal add-ons

  • 90ml or about 3 heaped Tablespoons of no-fat Chobani greek yoghurt
  • Approx 30-50ml of most flavoured yoghurts (about 1-2 heaped tablespoons). Measure this out with your favourite yoghurt if unsure as there’s wide variations between brands/lines.
  • 3 level tablespoons of chia-seed jam 
  • Granola or toasted muesli – crunchies on top of breakfast bowls are the bomb! Just watch that your brand is not too high in fat/sugar and that you portion out 50Cal worth correctly – this will typically be only 1 tablespoon of storebought granola or around 2 tablespoons of our recipe.
  • 2.5 teaspoons of honey (yummy, but not a terribly nutritious topping!)

 

VISUAL EXAMPLES

  • 250Cal bowls:

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  • 300Cal Bowls

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  • 350Cal Bowls

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  • 400Cal Bowls

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OTHER OPTIONS

Option 1: If you forgot to prep up and you need to create something in 5 minutes – or if you simply would like a change, substitute the oat base with 200Cal of yoghurt. Generally, this will be around 130-150g of full-fat/flavoured options or up to a huge 340g portion of unflavoured, no-fat greek yoghurt (eg Chobani) – the choice is yours, just check your brand as these values can differ considerably and choose a yoghurt with a sugar content that is no higher than 5-10g/100ml.

Option 2: If you don’t have time for cutlery or energy to bring the spoon to your mouth this morning – whizz a portion of this base up in a blender with an additional 200ml of milk or milk alternative and an appropriate quantity of fresh or frozen fruit as suited to your energy target (eg bananas, mango, berries). Drink your breakfast ‘smoothie-style’! A few drops of stevia or xylitol are a good way to bring out the sweetness of the fruit without adding extra energy.

I hope this article has given you a few good ideas about how you can build your own balanced, reasonably sized breakfast bowl with only a few minutes of prep and referring to my quick list of portioned toppings. Not heading past the cafe every morning will save you $ and time but most importantly, taking more ownership of and prioritising your nutrition will improve your health and energy both now and into the future. Happy eating!

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