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Labour Day: Changing Gears At A Culinary Watershed

It’s Labour Day. A time when families try their damnedest to get back in gear for the lifestyle that most of their year demands: The 5-day work and school routine. I humbly offer a few observations and suggestions that might help…

Breakfast Burritos - © The Food NetworkClassic Breakfast Burritos: Hold the sugar and carbs; add protein and veggies!

Breakfast is crucial

The official line, for some time now, has been that Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. I heartily agree. And the right kind of breakfast is also crucial.

Late-morning slump

I think we all have suffered 11 o’clock letdown at some time or other. When out systems poop out mid-morning, before we can make it to lunch. That’s the effect of excess sugar and other carbs we had for breakfast, to give us a boost to start the day, tapering off. Sugary stuff just can’t do the whole job. And the caffeine we consume at coffee break is just a shot of stimulant that wears off quickly.

Mom got it right – mostly

When I was a kid, breakfast usually consisted of a bowl of cereal and a glass of milk. Bravo, milk! Not so much, the cereal.

When I was little, we always ate whole grain cereals: Quaker Muffets or Nabisco Shredded Wheat, Bran Buds (then branded ‘Grape Nuts’, for some obscure reason), or old fashioned oatmeal. My Mom often recalls that she had oatmeal for breakfast every day when she was a little girl on the farm. And she’s just a few months short of her 99th birthday today!

Most breakfast cereals that kids will tolerate these days are largely sugar, and are among the most highly processed of foods. Not a great nutrition choice.

We often (but not always) had fresh fruit – strawberries and blueberries were favourites – to go with our cereal when I was a kid. If we knew then what we know now, dietarily, we probably would have piled on the fruit more generously. Note: Fresh fruit was a lot less expensive then than it is now.

Also, Mom insisted on serving Cracked Wheat Bread toast at breakfast. More beneficial whole grains, but almost always slathered with butter, sugary jams or jellies, or peanut butter. The positives and negatives of that combo pretty much cancelled each other out.

One of Dad’s favourite breakfast foods was stewed tomatoes. Nutritious, with a flavour to really wake up your mouth! Dad loved his with lots of black pepper, a pinch of sugar and a pinch of salt.

The issue of protein

Inevitably we come to the issue of protein for breakfast. That usually meat eggs for my family, and then usually only on weekends. We now know that carbs and protein are both important at breakfast, to get us through a busy morning at work or school. Note: The experts now say that an egg a day isn’t too much. And eggs are crammed with vitamins, minerals and protein.

Bacon was often on the breakfast menu on weekends. But we now know that cured meats can be just as bad for us as highly-processed foods. It sounds a little crazy, based on our collective dietary experience, but I think we need to think about incorporating foods such as lean chicken in breakfast burritos, or liberally dosing thin omelets with a medley of veg (such as onions and peppers) and some cheese.

Lunch should be light

For most of us, lunch should be light, but healthy. However, if you’re a construction worker, a farm hand or an athlete, you’ll want something more substantial.

For much of my life, my concept of lunch was based on classics like Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup, SPAM sandwiches, Hot Dogs and last night’s leftovers. Not the greatest or most balanced midday repast.

I now know I should have insisted on whole grain bread, and added a piece of fruit. And, at the very least, Mom should have added a leaf of lettuce to the SPAM sammy.

As for the leftovers

I vividly recall a lifestyle feature on TV in which the reporter quizzed a professional nutritionist about what to have for each meal of the day. The reporter was proposing a half grapefruit and toast for breakfast. “Grapefruit is supposed to be slimming,” he explained. But the nutritionist said he’d be better off with a slice of leftover pizza. Lots more, and varied nutrients – plus the carbs you’re craving. And you’re not going to smother it with sugar!

I’d say that’s also just the kind of thing the average person needs to power them through a busy afternoon! But not so heavy as to slow them down.

An example of a great lunch

Your best lunch might just be something like a spinach salad with apples, tomatoes and whatever leftover lean meat you have in the fridge. Considering that spinach ranks number 5 out of 47 on the CDC list of Powerhouse Fruits and Veggies, it’s by far your best readily available choice for salad greens. Tomatoes took the number 1 spot for fruits. (Yes, the tomato is technically a fruit.) And don’t forget sweet and hot peppers. Red peppers claimed the top spot among non-leafy veggies on the CDC list.

All are great additions to a hearty, filling fall salad.

Supper is sacred

Make supper a special occasion. Make an effort to get all members of family together for the meal that ends their the formal day. It may be the only time you all get together in the same place at the same time all day.

While supper is traditionally a big, heavy meal here in North America, and across Europe, nutritionists say it’s better to make it light and interesting. You don’t want to go to bed bloated or too amped up on carbs.

The current recommendation for your supper plate’s composition (per.- Canada’s Food Guide) is simple. Half the plate should be covered with fruits and veggies. One quarter should contain protein foods. Think lean meats, tofu, beans (with rice), or an all-in one veggie protein such as Quinoa. And the remaining quarter should be made up of whole grain foods.

Following that general rule, you should be able to dream up an almost infinite number of great suppers!

Go light on the protein

One important rule of supper is, go light on the protein. We westerners often think of supper as a time to tank up on rich, heavy foods. And that usually means a big slab of meat. Not a great idea, say nutritionists. All you really need is a piece about the size of the palm of your hand. Go for quality proteins that deliver all 9 of the essential amino acids your body needs to function properly.

And that’s about it…

I urge you to follow a sensible eating pattern, supercharging your body in the morning and tapering off as the day progresses. You’ll be healthier for it. And you may even sleep better as a result!

~ Maggie J.