When I was growing up, we didn’t get sugary cereals. We had Cheerios. Cheerios, Shredded Wheat, and Honey Nut Cheerios if we were lucky. One of the things I do remember about the breakfast table is that on the side panel of each box, and at the end of each commercial, they’d show a picture of a completed table, saying that my cereal was part of a complete and balanced breakfast when served with juice, toast, and milk.

Of course it is. They said the same thing about Froot Loops. If you have anything with whole grain toast, fresh squeezed orange juice, and fresh milk, you have most of your bases covered. What nutritive value could you possibly get from a bowl of Froot Loops? Remember how they also said that they had up to eleven essential vitamins and minerals? Yeah, they don’t make that claim any more.

I wanted to put some kind of picture in this post, but I can’t even find a picture of the 1980’s balanced breakfast if I google it. This is what you get when you look for ‘balanced breakfast’:

THIS is what you get. Look at all that fruit!

A bowl of breakfast cereal, properly measured out, does not yield a single serving. We are always so amazed why we remain unhealthy, sluggish, tired, unready or willing to face the day. We forego a banana or an orange, the glass of orange juice, and end up putting milk and a hell of a lot of sugar into our coffee in the morning. Our best modern day attempt at a balanced breakfast looks like this:

Five servings of cereal

3 servings of 2% or whole milk (not skim, as the recommended daily allowance suggests)

3 cups of coffee in a travel mug

five tablespoons of sugar

No toast

No fruit

Don’t get me started on Pop Tarts. If we go to a coffeeshop, a Panera, a Starbucks, anyplace where we can grab a pastry and a coffee on the go, our health rapidly declines with each visit. Muffins have chocolate chips. There’s smoothies and blended coffee drinks with whipped cream toppings and bits of toffee that are not smoothies at all, but milkshakes.

You are having a cupcake and a hideous milkshake for breakfast.

They have something called a Double Chocolaty Chip Frappuccino® Blended Beverage at Starbucks. Most people figure that for the money, the largest size gives the best value. It also has 670 calories. That is more than an entire head of lettuce, and with an amazing 129 grams of carbs (1/4 lb of what? Sugar?), it gives you more than just a caffeine buzz.

Everything now comes with garnish. Chocolate shavings and whipped cream appear on your drinks. There is cheese and meat on your salad, not to mention way more creamy salad dressing than you’d ever need to make something taste good. If you order something with skim milk, you get a funny look at the counter. Most people, when asked what they look for in a coffee, respond with the same basic answer: a Rich, full bodied dark roast.

Really, what they want is a weak, watered down coffee essence with a lot of milk, a lot of sugar, and a lot of froth to make it seem light. That’s not a coffee drink. That’s a dessert.

What can we do? If you’ve got to have your coffee fix, make it yourself. Coffee has caffeine, and if that’s your thing, just do it straight. Don’t have a coffee with fancy frills. Dumb it down with skim or 2%, pouring it into your cup, along with a metered amount of sugar, before you pour your coffee in. That way, you know exactly how much you’re getting. The trick that a lot of coffee bars use is offering the milk and sugar for free, knowing that we will taste and adjust the flavor with as much milk and sugar as it takes to dull it down and make it palatable for our delicate, yet refined coffee drinking sensibilities. What we end up with is normally a half a cup of half and half, and at least 3 to 4 tablespoons of sugar, if it’s coming from a free flowing sugar jar. At that point, does it really even matter what the coffee itself tastes like? For however long they spend procuring the beans from just the right bush in Ecuador, roasting them to just the right degree for optimal flavor, don’t you think you owe it to yourself to taste the subtle, nuanced hints of your ridiculously expensive cup of sugarmilk?

Don’t get decaffeinated coffee. If you want something decaffeinated, drink water. Drink something else. Same thing with cola. If you want something without calories, don’t drink diet soda. Drink water. Don’t drink a Hazelnut coffee for breakfast- That is just gross. Treat yourself right. Remember that our country is one of convenience, but convenience often, and in fact almost always replaces our need to treat ourselves and our bodies right when it comes to nourishment. Don’t just grab and go with your food. Take the time to sit and savor, even if it means just relaxing in your car on your lunch break with a pasta salad you brought from home.

Here’s an easy recipe, one that incorporates a bunch of different food groups, that you can make a big batch of and eat at your leisure.

Pasta Salad

1 box (16 oz) RotiniTri-colored if it makes you feel healthy. Generally, a more colorful meal means a healthier one. Colors to enjoy on a regular basis? Green, Red, Yellow, Orange. Colors to avoid? Brown (unless it’s whole wheat), white. Let’s see what else we can put in the salad…

1 Red Pepper, diced

1 Tomato, diced

1 Green pepper, diced

4 oz. sandwich cheese (cheddar, perhaps. Maybe provolone), cut into small pieces.

Fresh basil, torn, however much you want.

Fresh spinach, handful or two, rinsed and patted dry

one light swirl of Olive oil

Fresh lemon juice

Boil the pasta in salted water for the recommended allotment of time. Drain and put in a bowl to chill tossed with olive oil to make sure it doesn’t stick together. Add vegetables, cheese, basil, and finish with a dash of lemon juice and a couple grinds of black pepper.

The big thing here is not to put it in big containers. Get yourself a bunch of small, portion sized containers, and portion them out for a week or so. A good rule is this: Take out a lunchbag or purse. If you can’t fit your container and a sandwich comfortably in there and close the top, it’s too much food. While saving the environment with reusable packaging, save your stomach by recognizing that having a giant tub of food is not going to make you feel good in the long run. Yes, some people can stuff their gullets full of hot dogs, but your stomach is not designed for anything more than what you can fit in a lunchbag. Trust me, it’s enough food, and there are nutrients in there that will sustain you throughout the day.

I don't care what you think. All those hot dogs do not go in your belly.