Diet, food, recipe, Traditional Chinese Medicine

How to do breakfast well in winter

Eggs on lentils with potatoes breakfast
Poached eggs on leftover lentils and baked potatoes

There’s a few old sayings that suggest many people over the years may have thought that breakfast was quite an important meal of the day* including:

Eat a hearty breakfast, a moderate lunch and a small supper

Breakfast like a king, lunch like a merchant and sup like a pauper

Eat your breakfast alone, share your lunch with a friend and give your supper to your enemy

So what are you eating for breakfast now that (in the southern hemisphere) we have hit winter? 

Here are some important ideas to factor in when choosing your breakfast (like a monarch of course!):

  1. Does your breakfast nourish you and provide energy to start your day?
  2. Does your breakfast make you feel good? (Does your tummy like it?)
  3. Have you warmed your breakfast up for the cooler weather?
  4. Is it convenient for the time pressures you may have in the morning?
  5. Is it tasty? Do you like it?

Let’s start with 1. Does it nourish you and provide energy to start your day?

Think about the quality of the food here. Is it a highly processed cereal out of a box? Or white toast with jam/butter etc? For the calories you are eating you can probably do a lot better nutrient wise by eating whole foods – think of it as ‘bang’ (nutrients) for your ‘buck’ (calorie intake). Are you eating enough food? If you’re having a single slice of toast, just a piece of fruit or a cup of coffee, well you just might not be getting enough food in to start your day well. And for those dieting, a good rule of thumb is ‘eat to move‘ so it makes sense to eat more for breakfast as you’ll be on the move for the day and less later in the day when you’ve finished moving around.

2. Does your breakfast make you feel good? (Does your tummy like it?)

If you are eating food that leaves you feeling bloated, running to the loo or alternatively backed up, tired or with indigestion, then it may not be the right food for you, even if it is supposedly ‘healthy’! It may be that wheat/gluten/eggs/dairy/beans/dried fruit/excessive fruit doesn’t agree with you, or that you’re not eating enough fibre, or there’s too much sugar in it. Experiment with the types of foods you have for breakfast so your belly feels happy, leaving you with the energy and mind set you need to have a great start to the day.

3. Have you warmed your breakfast up for the cooler weather?

In Chinese Medicine it is almost non-negotiable to eat a cooked, warm breakfast in winter. And here in Tassie, well it wouldn’t hurt to eat a warm breakfast almost all year round. Why is it? Well in Chinese Medicine we consider that your digestive system works a bit like a cooking pot. You need a fire under the cooking pot to help break down the food and to pull out the nutrients (gu qi or food qi in our terms). Food that is already warm and cooked requires less from your body to provide the internal cooking fire and the warmth going in adds to keeping you warm too. Think of eating a warm pumpkin soup versus a watermelon. The pumpkin soup likely makes you feel warm from within, whereas the watermelon is refreshing and helps to cool you down – this is not what most of us need in winter, especially first thing in the morning.

So, ditch the smoothies, cold muesli, fruit salads and juices for breakfast especially in winter. Replace them with: porridges (made on any grain), eggs (any sort or even vegan alternatives) and baked beans (tinned or if you can, homemade baked beans are amazing).

To add additional warmth to your food you can add cinnamon, ginger or other spices (eggs go very well with any of the curry spices). Stew your fruit to make them warmer, stone fruit are naturally warmer so they are even better.

This point is really essential if you have a tendency to feel cold. Don’t even think about drinking the smoothie.

4. Is it convenient for the time pressures you may have in the morning?

All the above is great, but what if you just don’t have time in the morning to make much fuss? Well here are some time saver ideas I have personally used in the past:

  • Soak your oats or muesli the night before so you can cook/warm them in the morning.
  • Meal prep. Make your congee (rice porridge) or baked beans in a big batch and then freeze them in portion sizes so all you need to do is warm them up. Some people love a fritatta made in advance warmed up for a quick breakfast.
  • Put on a rice cooker/saucepan while you’re doing something else in the morning.
  • Scrambled eggs, boiled eggs, poached eggs and even omelettes (or vegan alternatives) don’t take that much longer than making toast so don’t rule them out either if you were already having toast for breakfast.
  • Leftovers! Leftover bolognaise, curry, stew or dal could be delicious on wholemeal toast. And they’re quick to reheat. You can even plan to have leftovers.

When we’re time poor we just have to do the best we can. So if you can at least eat some whole foods, some fibre and it’s warm, then that’s a great start.

5. Is it tasty? Do you like it?

This one is key. Life is too short to eat food that you don’t like. Actually, make sure that you have taken the time to smell the food, chew it and taste it – have you thought if you like it? Put down the phone, turn off the telly, stop reading while you’re eating. Have you noticed the tastes, textures and aroma?

If you’re eating something because it’s ‘healthy’ but you just don’t like it that much, then change to something you do like, and really enjoy it each morning.

To stop you getting bored, rotate around a few different breakfasts or do something different on weekends. Take advantage of seasonal produce to vary your staple breakfast recipes.

Winter breakfast inspiration!

I hope that the following recipes give you some inspiration but feel to use it as just that and change the ingredients around to suit you.

*NOTE: Now, I’m not here to convince the intermittent fasters among you to eat breakfast (I know intermittent fasting suits many people and evidence supports it), although if you look at the above, combined with the Chinese Medicine idea of not eating a big dinner or eating dinner late, you can see that by following this advice the length of time you’re eating in a day is naturally reduced anyway – just from the end of the day, instead of the start.

To book an appointment at the Launceston acupuncture clinic or for further information on Chinese Medicine contact Dr Sarah George (Acupuncture).  Sarah is a practitioner of acupuncture (AHPRA registered), Chinese Medicine and natural health.

Diet, food, health, Traditional Chinese Medicine

How to have breakfast like an Emperor (or Empress) every day

Brown rice congee

There is an old saying that goes “Eat breakfast like an emperor, lunch like a king and dinner like a pauper”.  That is, make breakfast a larger, nutritious meal, lunch as a moderate meal and dinner, well something light so as not to distract you from a sound slumber.

So, breakfast as an Emperor, what does that mean?  The Emperor (or Empress) needs breakfast to provide him (or her) with energy for the day, both physically and mentally.  And so do you.

To enjoy a good breakfast, firstly you need to wake with a good appetite.  If you don’t, this needs attention and should be brought up with your acupuncturist, herbalist or naturopath.

Secondly, breakfast, where possible, should be consumed around 7-9am.  This is when your digestive system is at its strongest according to the Traditional Chinese Medicine Clock (a system that had similarities to the circadian rhythms, at different times of the day, different systems in the body will function more predominately). For the majority of people, this time is a logical time to take their first meal of the day.  For some people, to eat breakfast around this time takes planning.  (For example, take your food to work if you leave home early.)

Thirdly, this meal needs to be fit for an Emperor.  I don’t mean you should stuff yourself silly, but rather go to town with good quality and nutritious foods.  Now, would an Emperor possibly think that tea and toast or cornflakes for breakfast will allow him the energy to get through a day?  Definitely not.  So think:

  • Keep it interesting.  Eat as many different foods in your meal as is reasonably possible and heightens the taste and enjoyment factor.  Choose different colours and textures.  Make sure to include a mix of protein, high quality carbohydrates and good fats.  Think: wholegrains, nuts, seeds, fruits and spices.
  • Warm is best.  Stoke your digestive fire for your first meal of the day with a warm, cooked meal.
  • Portion size.  Usually the rule of eating until you are 80% full is a useful way to judge the size of your breakfast.  There is no need to skimp as this meal should keep you satisfied until your mid-morning snack.

Some of my favourite Breakfast as an Empress recipes:

  • Millet porridge with the works – Great to cook up while you get showered and ready for the day
    • Add 1/4 cup hulled millet (or brown rice), 1 grated apple, a handful of almonds and your choice of seeds (eg. sunflower, linseed) to a saucepan with 1 cup water.  Boil, then reduce heat to a simmer until no water remains and millet/rice is cooked through.  Serve with a dessert spoon of tahini, a sprinkle of LSA and some fresh berries.
  • Congee with ginger and shallots (and chicken or tofu or egg) – make this one in advance and freeze in portions.
    • Add to a large saucepan: 1 cup of brown rice, 6 cups of water, 1 tablespoon of grated ginger, 6 sliced shallots (white part only), 1 tablespoon soy sauce and optional: 1 whole organic chicken (skinned).  Bring to the boil then simmer covered for 3 hours or until rice is mushy, resembling porridge.  If using chicken, remove bones from the soup.  For the vegetarian version, omit the chicken, now add 1 cup of mashed silken tofu and stir through rice mixture until warmed through or poach an egg and serve on top of the congee.  Top with chopped coriander and sliced green shallots.  I find this recipe is best made in advance and frozen in single serve portions to be quickly reheated as needed.  This is a good winter breakfast to fire up the furnaces.
  • Poached eggs with avocado, tomato and greens – for when you can take your time
    • Poach some eggs, toast some gluten-free or your favourite wholemeal bread.  Top the toast with avocado, a few slices of tomato and some baby spinach.  Garnish with a few basil leaves.
  • Organic muesli with rice, nut or soy milk – A quick fix
    • When you are in a hurry, having some good quality organic muesli on hand can be your saviour.  I like Therapeutic Gourmet’s ‘Get up and Goji’ available from health food stores and the West End Markets.  Serve with warm rice, nut or soy milk.

To book an appointment at the clinic or further information on Chinese Medicine contact Dr Sarah George (Acupuncture).  Sarah is a practitioner of acupuncture (AHPRA registered), massage therapy and natural health.