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Try a savory breakfast, instead of sweet

Posted Jan 19 2010 12:00am

When breakfast time rolls around, many of us automatically reach for something sweet-tasting. As kids, we grew up on sugary breakfasts: Lucky Charms, Cap’n Crunch, Pop-tarts. As health-conscious adults, we switch to granola with fruit, toast with jam, or oatmeal with raisins and maple syrup, but those breakfast choices are still primarily made up of carbohydrates.

Might that be causing problems for you? Carbohydrates are quickly converted to sugar in your bloodstream. In response, your body releases a flood of insulin to drive your blood sugar back down. That’s why, a couple of hours after eating your healthy cereal with fruit, you may find yourself hungry, low on energy, and thinking wistfully about the box of doughnuts in the break room.

Although Americans are accustomed to sweet breakfasts, in some countries people lean toward savory and protein-rich morning meals. In parts of Asia, breakfast might be noodle soup with beef or tofu, fish with pickled vegetables, or a bowl of fermented soybeans and rice. In India, it might be lentil curry. In Turkey, boiled eggs with tomatoes and olives. In Scandinavian countries, smoked herring and crackers, or a ham sandwich on rye.

What these breakfast choices have in common is a good portion of protein and healthy fat.

We Americans have our own traditional protein-rich breakfast: eggs and bacon. But it comes from an era when people spent their days doing hard physical labor. Today, most of us need a morning meal suited to a more sedentary lifestyle, yet still sustaining enough to carry us through mid-day.

A better breakfast
Instead of having carbohydrates as the main part of your breakfast, think of something closer to what you’d eat for lunch or brunch. Try a bowl of chicken vegetable soup, an omelet with mushrooms and peppers, or a tuna sandwich. If that seems too weird, simply add some protein to your usual breakfast: for instance, sprinkle a couple tablespoons of chopped nuts on your oatmeal, eat a hard-boiled egg along with your toast, or spread peanut butter on the toast, rather than sugary jam.

You’ll notice that the addition of protein and healthy fat to your morning meal helps it “stick” with you better throughout the morning. Don’t be afraid to try different foods until you figure out what breakfast works best for you.

Experimenting in my kitchen last week, I came up with this distinctly un-sweet French toast casserole that works equally well for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

Savory Baked French Toast

6-8 slices of whole-grain bread, depending on the size of bread and pan
cooking spray
1/2 lb. mild turkey sausage, in bulk or removed from casings
1 Tb. olive oil
1 small onion
8 oz. fresh mushrooms
1 10-oz. package frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
4 oz. gruyere or Swiss cheese, grated
4 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk or soy milk
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
dash Tabasco
2 Tb. minced parsley, dill, tarragon, or your favorite fresh herb
1/2 tsp. salt

Spray a skillet with cooking spray and cook sausage, stirring to crumble, until brown. Transfer sausage to a bowl and set aside to cool slightly.

Add olive oil to the skillet and saute onions and mushrooms until they’re soft and the liquid has cooked off. Turn off heat and add the thawed, drained spinach, tossing to mix.

In a large bowl, beat eggs. Add milk or soy milk, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, minced herbs, salt, and pepper. Mix thoroughly.

Spritz a 9-inch square pan or 2-quart casserole dish with cooking spray. Cover bottom with a layer of bread slices (it’s fine to cut them to fit). Add the spinach mixture in an even layer, then the cooked sausage. Sprinkle with most of the cheese, reserving a small amount. Top with another layer of bread slices. Sprinkle with reserved cheese.

Pour the egg mixture slowly over all, then press down on the top of the casserole with a spatula to make sure everything is thoroughly soaked.

Cover dish and refrigerate anywhere from one hour to overnight.

Bake in a 325 degree oven for 45-60 min., or until casserole is puffed and top is brown. Let sit for ten minutes before slicing.

Serves six. Leftovers reheat well the next day.
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