When you think of breakfast, do you picture a bowl of cereal drenched in milk? This sweet treat wasn’t always a staple of Americans’ first meal.
During the Civil War era, a group of Seventh Day Adventists invented the first ready-to-eat cereal—a combination of graham flour and water that had to be soaked overnight in milk—as an answer to the growing dyspepsia epidemic in America (a chronic digestion problem thanks to the day’s unhealthy diets). John Harvey Kellogg caught wind of the invention and ran with it, rolling out the wheat cereal into a flaky sheet that was the precursor to today’s cornflakes.
Clean Plates founder Jared Koch believes that even “healthier” cereals are highly processed, but “we’re culturally conditioned to think they are the ideal breakfast food. The reality is, you can eat any food for breakfast.”
Take an international trip through four tempting alternatives to processed cereal:
1. Switzerland: Bircher Muesli
This is a cross between our oatmeal and parfait, minus most of the sugar. Introduced in 1900 by the father of the raw food movement, Maximilian Bircher-Brenner, Bircher muesli is an all-raw mixture of whole grains, nuts and dried fruits, soaked in a combination of juice, grated apples and yogurt and refrigerated overnight. When you’re muesli shopping, look for more traditional options that don’t contain added sugars and preservatives, or make your own with rolled oats, nuts, seeds, and fruits.
2. China: Congee
The consistency of China’s basic breakfast food is somewhere between porridge and grits. Although the recipe is nearly the same across the country—rice slow-cooked in water—there are endless options for topping and customization. Think vegetables, herbs, and even fish or hard-boiled or fried eggs. For a yet healthier version, try making it with brown rice.
3. Israel: Shakshuka
The New England Journal of Medicine’s famous study about the advantages of the Mediterranean diet is reason enough to try shakshuka (shock-SHOO-ka), the typical Israeli breakfast dish of eggs poached in spicy tomato sauce. In Israel, it’s often served alongside a cooling green salad and spreads of low-fat yet flavorful white cheeses.
4. Japan: Miso soup with natto and fish
The typical sushi side dish in America is Japan’s power breakfast. Loaded with minerals and amino acids, it’s often eaten with rice, fish, or natto (protein-packed fermented soybeans), and green tea to wash it all down. Although the combination may be unfamiliar to the Western palate, it’s a soothing, nutritious start to the day.