High Protein Breakfast Ideas Designed to Keep You Feeling Full

Breakfast is the one meal we can't stop arguing about. No one tries to define the perfect lunch. No one argues about whether or not you should eat dinner. But for some reason, breakfast is controversial:

  • Self-appointed nutrition gurus argue that you should never eat breakfast.
  • Nutrition experts argue that you should always eat breakfast.
  • Everyone argues about the composition of the perfect breakfast, based on the belief that it will make or break your day, ruin your diet, put you to sleep or give you boundless energy. It should be the biggest meal of the day, or it should represent 1/3 of your daily calories.

All of this makes breakfast sound like a lot of work. Who has time for that on a busy morning? We do know this: a decent breakfast can help moderate your appetite throughout the day, and if you're trying to control calories, that's important. Research does show that skipping breakfast, and eating nothing until midday or later, is a bad idea. Hunger will catch up to you, and if you're trying to control your calories, you can end up eating too much, and going for sugary, high fat foods instead of healthier food.

If your hectic morning schedule doesn't leave any time for a traditional, sit-down, cooked breakfast such as eggs, toast and juice, don't despair. Simple foods you can eat or drink on the run can make a fine breakfast.

Breakfast Sandwich

According to the latest consumer research, breakfast sandwiches are growing in popularity. No wonder: they're convenient, tasty and can be made in endless variations. You can make them at home, or purchase them at restaurants, coffee shops, convenience stores and food trucks. You can eat them in the car or at your desk.

What makes a good breakfast sandwich? There are practical considerations:

  • Portable
  • Not drippy or messy
  • Wrapped securely
  • Doesn't fall apart when you try to take a bite

What about the nutrition and calories? Here are some tips for dieters:

  • Modest size: you don't need a foot-long sandwich for breakfast. You don't need a giant bagel piled high with cream cheese or a huge breakfast burrito overloaded with cheese and fried potatoes
  • A high protein ingredient: scrambled eggs, cheese, tofu, lean meat, nut butter or refried beans
  • Vegetables: tomato slices, grilled peppers or onions, lettuce or greens, sprouts, grated carrots, sauteed mushrooms.
  • Whole grain bread when you have that choice.

Lack of choice is one of the main drawbacks to buying breakfast sandwiches. You can't ask for more vegetables or less cheese. And most of them are just egg-cheese-meat, with no vegetables at all and too much fat and calories. If you want to make a breakfast sandwich at home, here's an idea:

  1. Start with a small, single-serve ciabatta-type mini bread, small tortilla or flatbread, or a small bagel. You can make the bagel more manageable and cut a few calories by slicing the bagel into thirds, and setting aside the middle section for another use (hint: when you cut bagels this way, freeze the middle sections, and use those to make breakfast sandwiches another time).

  2. Add a 1-2 high protein ingredient: 1 scrambled egg, 1-2 TB grated cheese, 1/4 cup refried beans, 1/4 cup hummus, 1-2 oz lean meat, tuna salad or smoked salmon.

  3. Top with 2 or more vegetables of choice from the list above.

  4. Season with salt, pepper, herbs or seasoning mixes. Fresh herbs, like basil leaves, would go great with a tomato-mozzarella or scrambled egg-grilled pepper combination.

What about the most classic breakfast food: bacon! It's not as high protein as an egg or smoked salmon. Bacon certainly tastes good and will add a flavor boost, but it's also high sodium. If you made a breakfast sandwich with a small (3-inch) toasted bagel, 1 scrambled egg (non-stick pan), 1 slice of bacon, sliced tomatoes and grilled red pepper, your sandwich would have about 400 calories, not bad for a breakfast sandwich. The key with bacon is portion control. One slice on a small sandwich is sufficient.

Smoothie

For people who like to drink their breakfast, smoothies are the way to go. The only problem is sweetness. If you've got a major sweet tooth, you might end up adding calories with sugar, honey, agave or other sweeteners. And keep in mind: many of the smoothies available commercially are not made with real fruit. They're made with sugar-sweetened fruit puree; some even have added sherbet. If you're purchasing a smoothie for breakfast, stick to the smallest size, made with whole fruit and 100% juice. Add some protein, in the form of yogurt or a protein powder.

If you're making your own smoothie at home, put these basic ingredients in a blender to make one modest serving:

  1. 2/3 - 1 cup of 100% fruit juice or milk or soy milk or a combination of these.

  2. Real fruit: 1/2 to 1 cup.

  3. Yogurt: 1/2 cup - 2/3 cup. Plain yogurt will give you a tangy, less sweet smoothie. Or use a sweetened yogurt, such as vanilla, honey or lemon. For a protein boost, use 1/2 cup Greek style yogurt.

  4. If you don't want to use yogurt you can add a protein powder of your choice (soy or whey-based). Silken tofu also works well in smoothies.

Here's one combination idea: 1/2 cup pineapple juice, 1/2 cup lowfat milk/soy milk, 1/2 cup low-fat lemon yogurt, 1 cup mixed berries.

Lower Carb Breakfast

Sandwiches and smoothies make great breakfasts to eat on the go, but it's difficult to build a breakfast sandwich without bread or a smoothie without fruit or juice. One option is to use sliced deli meats or thin cheese slices for the wrap, and roll them around sliced or chopped vegetables. Salsa or other lower calorie sauces can be used for dipping. Here are some examples:

  • Roast beef slices rolled around chopped cucumber and slices or roasted red pepper
  • Turkey slices rolled around fresh or sun dried tomato pieces and sprouts
  • If you're feeling adventurous, you can make lettuce wraps for breakfast. Romaine lettuce wrapped around cooked chicken, sprouts, chopped tomato, grated carrots and chopped scallions.

If some carbs are OK, you can include chunks of leftover cooked potatoes or sweet potatoes in your rolls.

If cooking isn't a problem, egg breakfasts are a classic low carb option. A 2-egg omelet with sauteed vegetables and 1-2 TB of grated cheese will have about 300 calories. Or try a tofu scramble: 2 oz soft tofu chunks sauteed with 1-2 cups of a variety of vegetables: broccoli, onion, peppers, tomato, mushrooms, sweet potato, sugar snap peas. Season to taste.

Whether convenience or calories or carbs are your concern, you can create endless breakfast variations when these 3 basic themes. But if you need more ideas, here are some other really simple breakfasts for home or office:

  • Cereal and milk
  • Yogurt and fruit
  • Whole grain crackers or flatbread with cheese or hummus
  • Toast and peanut butter

No excuses now for avoiding breakfast.

Originally Published April 28, 2013
Updated August 9, 2019

Donna P Feldman MS RDN is author of Feed Your Vegetarian Teen and Food Wisdom for Women: nutrition for aging with energy, vitality and health. Donna writes about food and nutrition at Radio Nutrition and is co-host of the Walk Talk Nutrition podcast.
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Disclaimer: The information provided here does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit your healthcare provider or medical professional.

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Meal Planning & Diets/Breakfast

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