Thank you all for your kind feedback regarding the new series I’ve started here at Healthy Green Kitchen: One Simple Change. In case you missed my announcement last Friday, here’s the deal: in 2012, I’m going to do a post every Friday about a simple change you can make in your life to improve your health and well-being. My recommendations will be all-natural and holistic, focused and do-able… the types of changes I used to ask my naturopathic medicine patients to make in their lives.

Please know that my goal here is not to practice medicine on my blog; it’s just that I’ve always wanted to have a way here to discuss health topics that aren’t necessarily connected to food and recipes, and this seems to be a good way to do that. It’s my sincere hope that at the end of the year, as a result of this series, we’ll all have learned something (or a bunch of things), and we’ll all be healthier. I hope you come along for the ride.

This week want to talk about the importance of eating breakfast. I am not talking about eating a donut…I am talking about eating a proper breakfast.

What does this mean, exactly? Well to me, a proper breakfast is one that you eat within 45 minutes- 1 hour of waking up. In addition, a proper breakfast is composed of whole foods, and should preferably include some protein.

Why eat a proper breakfast? Well, what you’ve always heard about breakfast being the most important meal of the day really is true. A proper breakfast is vital for optimizing your metabolism and keeping your blood sugar balanced. If you don’t eat a proper breakfast, you are likely to suffer bouts of low blood sugar later in the day, as well as strong sugar cravings, and even habitual binge eating. Note that if you exercise in the morning on an empty stomach, it is ok to wait a little longer to eat.

Some people who skip breakfast do so because they truly aren’t hungry, but it’s really not a good habit to drink coffee and have nothing else before lunch. It’s really important to eat a balanced meal, even if it’s a small one. What about grabbing a bagel or having a bowl of cereal? Well, I really don’t advice those because eating a meal made up solely of carbohydrates in the morning isn’t a good plan, either.

I’ve featured variations on the dish you see above- ochazuke- on my blog not once, not twice, but three times before. That’s because I personally struggle with eating a proper breakfast everyday (it’s not that I eat donuts; rather, I fall into the camp of those who don’t always wake up hungry, so therefore sometimes I skip it). Ochazuke is where I turn whenever I need to get back in the habit of eating a proper breakfast on a regular basis.

At it’s most basic, ochazuke is a combination of leftover rice and green tea. I was first introduced to it when I lived with a family in Japan more than twenty years ago. It’s usually made with white sushi rice and it can be topped with just about anything: typical Japanese inclusions are cooked fish, strips of toasted nori seaweed, and bites of pickled vegetables.

Brown rice is more nutritious than white, so whenever I’ve got some leftover brown rice from the previous night’s dinner, I make ochazuke. Instead of nori, I generally use wakame seaweed (or sometimes I use both): amazing for you because it’s full of detoxifying minerals. If you don’t have (or don’t want to use the seaweed), you could use some shredded kale (or another dark leafy green). I love the flavor and the anti-oxidant boost of the green tea in ochazuke: give it a try! And for the protein in the ochazuke you see here, I used sardines.

Now I know what you are thinking. Sardines? For breakfast? Is she freaking kidding?

No. I am not.

Why not eat sardines for breakfast? They’re so terrific for you! They’re high in protein and omega-3 fatty acids, and well as calcium and vitamin D. And they’re inexpensive and sustainable to boot: I love me my sardines. Whoever said breakfast has to be sweet anyway? I almost always eat savory breakfasts like this because this is what works for me. This is the type of breakfast that sustains my mind and body for hours before lunch.

I am not saying I never eat a bagel. Sometimes I do: I’ll eat half a whole grain one piled high with wild smoked salmon and greens. And I bake muffins and other treats sometimes, but I eat just small amounts of them with hard-boiled or scrambled eggs and maybe some fruit. And some days I’ll eat my homemade granola…I sprinkle it into a bowl of organic, plain yogurt. And some mornings, I’ll have a smoothie to which I’ve added some yogurt or egg for protein. See the pattern here? I always make sure to eat some protein and I try to minimize carbs/sweets in the morning.

Another breakfast I eat a lot is leftovers from the night before. I happily eat leftover soups and salads in the morning…why the heck not? In fact, chances are pretty good that I’ve eaten any and every recipe I’ve ever posted for breakfast at some point.

If you absolutely positively don’t/won’t eat sardines, you could try this with cooked eggs, tempeh, or another type of cooked fish, like wild salmon.

Brown Rice Ochazuke with Wakame Seaweed and Sardines

Yield: Serves 1

Ingredients:

* 1/2-3/4 cup cooked short-grain brown rice
* 2-4 tablespoons dried wakame seaweed rehydrated for a few minutes in 1 1/2 cups of very hot green tea (sencha, hojicha or genmaicha are best; matcha is not generally used for ochazuke, but I've used it when I don't have the others)
*1/2 tin sardines
*1/2-1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
*pinch of red pepper flakes or a drizzle of Sriracha or other hot sauce- optional

Directions:

1. Place cooked brown rice in serving bowl. Pour the green tea (along with the rehydrated wakame) over the brown rice. Allow to steep for a minute.

2. Top the rice/green tea/seaweed with the sardines. Sprinkle on the sesame seeds and add red pepper flakes (or optional hot sauce) before serving.

So what do you eat for breakfast? Or do you skip it? Are you “in” to this week’s simple change?

Previous Ochazuke Recipes:
New Year’s Resolution Ochazuke
Black Rice Ochazuke with Crispy Salmon Skin
Ochazuke with Caramelized Shallots and Fried Egg

The archives of all of my Healthy Breakfast Recipes can be found here.