Picture a typical American breakfast—does it include pancakes, eggs, bacon, buttered toast, and maybe a side of fruit? We’re guessing yes. So what would you think about starting your morning with so-called “dinner” foods, like a filet of salmon, wild rice pilaf, and steamed broccoli, instead? Before you dismiss the idea, hear us out. Though starting your day this way may sound strange, when you think about it, what’s even stranger is that such a narrow list of menu items qualifies as “breakfast foods” in American culture.
Really, there’s no reason we can’t eat any foods we choose at any time of day—and that includes so-called dinner foods at breakfast time. In fact, starting your day with meat and potatoes (or whatever you put on your plate come evening) could offer some surprising benefits! Not only can eating dinner for breakfast amplify your nutrition, but it could also provide a mental reset about what you’d really like to eat, rather than what’s become habit.
Why Dinner For Breakfast?
Ready to turn the typically carb- and sweetness-filled morning meal tradition on its head? Here are the perks of eating dinner for breakfast.
1. Increased Veggie Consumption
Be honest: how often do you reach for kale or zucchini first thing in the morning? (If you do, we’re impressed!) Breakfast is often a missed opportunity for veggie consumption. By reframing your initial meal of the day as “first dinner” (it’s as easy as reheating last night’s green bean casserole or popping some cauliflower in the steamer), you’ll probably pack in more vegetables than usual.
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Obviously, more veggies is a good, good thing. “By including vegetables first thing in the morning, you have better odds of meeting the recommended daily servings (four to five servings),” says dietitian Patricia Kolesa, M.S., R.D.N. “Vegetables are also mostly water (about 90 percent), so you can help meet some of your hydration needs first thing in the morning, too.” Win-win!
2. Starting the Day with Less Sugar
You only have to stroll down the cereal aisle to realize that lots of breakfast foods contain off-the-charts levels of sugar. (Not exactly an optimal way to start your day.) Dinner foods, on the other hand, are generally savory. Flipping the script on breakfast could mean consuming far less of the sweet stuff overall, which could be a very good thing for your health.
“Minimizing your sugar intake during the morning hours can have a number of benefits,” says dietitian Elysia Cartlidge, M.A.N., R.D., founder of Haute and Healthy Living. “Consuming less added sugar can help prevent spikes and drops in blood sugar levels, resulting in a steadier supply of energy to help power you through your day.” Plus, maintaining even-keel blood sugar levels could have a more far-reaching impact than you might realize. “In the long run, this can help lower your risk of diabetes and heart disease,” Cartlidge adds.
Then, of course, there’s the potential perk of weight loss. “Minimizing sugary foods can also help you better manage your weight, since a decreased intake of added sugar can also reduce your caloric intake,” Cartlidge points out. “This can result in a reduction in body weight, provided proper portion control is practiced throughout the rest of the day.” Talk about starting off on a solid foot, right?
3. Staying Fuller Longer
The whole point of breakfast is to fuel the first part of your day, tiding you over until lunch—but many standard breakfast foods provide little more than refined carbs (lookin’ at you, pancakes and pastries). These carbs may be tasty, but they won’t stick to your ribs like the protein and fiber in many dinnertime foods.
“By eating dinner foods for breakfast, you’ll be more likely to include sufficient protein (think poultry, meat, beans, fish, etc.), which can enhance that feeling of fullness,” Cartlidge says. “Protein reduces your level of the hunger hormone ghrelin, which can help keep your appetite in check, while also boosting the levels of peptide YY, a hormone that makes you feel full.”
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As you load up on higher-protein dinner foods to curb mid-morning cravings, don’t forget to add a veggie side dish, too. “Vegetables add fiber to your meals, meaning you’ll feel fuller for longer periods of time,” says Kolesa. FYI, whole grains like brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, and quinoa can boost fiber content, too.
4. Meeting Your Body’s Protein Needs
Feeling full may be the most immediate benefit of eating more protein at breakfast, but it’s far from the only one. Just like starting the morning with spinach or squash can help you reach your daily fruit and vegetable target, waking up to a chicken breast or steak will add to your total daily protein needs (which range from 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight for sedentary adults to up to two grams per kilogram for active people).
Getting enough protein is also crucial for tons of important bodily functions, from maintaining a robust immune system to creating hormones and enzymes to (of course) building muscle tissue. “Protein can also slow down the blood sugar spike that most of us normally get when we first wake up,” says Kolesa. That’s another plus for steady energy and metabolic health.
Your dinner-for-breakfast protein doesn’t have to come from an animal, either. Foods like tofu, beans, and lentils offer a one-two punch of protein and fiber in a plant-based package.
5. Improved Relationship with Food
In truth, focusing solely on a handful of foods as “breakfast-appropriate” is pretty narrow-minded. Wouldn’t you like to broaden your horizons, both at breakfast and beyond? Expanding your thinking about what “counts” as a suitable meal in the morning could give you a much-needed mental shift toward food in general.
“Our primary goal should be eating to fuel and nourish our bodies and provide it with the necessary nutrients to stay strong, healthy, and energized. If you keep this in mind when planning your breakfasts, it will be easier to recognize that a wide variety of foods can be appropriate for those earlier morning hours,” says Cartlidge. “This can help establish a healthier relationship with food, since you’ll start to adopt a more flexible approach to eating, as well as an understanding that all foods can fit into a balanced and well-rounded diet, regardless of the time of day.”
How to Incorporate Dinner Foods at Breakfast
On board? We know what you might be thinking: This all sounds great—but it’s already hard enough to prep dinner for dinner! How am I supposed to do it at breakfast, too?
Good news: Trying DFB (yes, that’s “dinner for breakfast” and we’re making it a thing) doesn’t have to involve firing up the grill or mastering your sous vide technique at 7 a.m. To get started, you can simply make a larger batch of dinner a few nights a week, then warm up extra portions in the morning. (Just steer clear of anything that can get mushy or unappealing the next day, like green salads). One-pot or pan meals like casseroles, pasta dishes, and hashes all reheat well and can pack protein, veggies, healthy fats, and complex carbs.
Cartlidge also suggests repurposing dinner into a next-day burrito. “A burrito is a perfect way to use up dinner leftovers,” she says. “Toss some protein, like leftover chicken, beef, beans, or eggs, and cheese into a tortilla along with some veggies, like peppers, onions, or zucchini.” Another option that never fails: pizza! Top a whole-grain pita with tomato sauce or pesto, diced or ground chicken, turkey, beef, or ricotta, and some veggies, like spinach, peppers, and mushrooms. Sprinkle on a little cheese and pop it in a toaster oven until melty. It’s a dinner for breakfast that might just add some Friday evening vibes to your Monday morning—and who can argue with that?