Remember back in the good old days when breakfast was a proper meal eaten around a kitchen table adorned with a pitcher brimming with OJ and a vase full of fresh flowers? Sausage links glistened under the rays of sunlight that streamed in, and butter was smeared all over pancakes without fear of clogging one's arteries. Yeah, well, eventually modern life intervened, and we entered the era of breakfast on the run—cereal poured hurriedly down one's throat on the way out the door. Now, it seems, we've crossed over some new, invisible line into the land of the "second breakfast."
On first glance, this sounds like a glorious development, because who wouldn't want two heaping plates full of fluffy eggs and flavorful bacon (or its soy-based equivalent)? But, sadly, breakfast in this case is far less indulgent. Really, it'd be better to call it "snackfast," because that's what people seem to be eating in the morning: granola bars, yogurts, smoothies, instant cereals. Things that our ancestors would never have recognized as a meal.
So, how did we get to this depressing, snack-on-the-run existence? It's not too hard to figure out: We're busy and not home that much. Plus, there's now a common belief that it's better to eat several small meals throughout the day instead of really loading up three times a day. Liz Sloan, president of Sloan Trends, a food industry consulting group, describes our new habit:
It's breakfast in stages. They'll eat something at home, then stop at Starbucks or a convenience store for coffee and maybe a little snack.
Ugh. What are we doing to ourselves? We deserve better! Anyway, we may have arrived at this sad state of affairs organically, but food companies are more than happy to encourage us down this treacherous path. According to the AP,
General Mills, Quaker Oats and others are adding to their lineup of breakfast bars and yogurts. Sara Lee's Jimmy Dean this summer introduced mini-breakfast sandwiches. And fast-food chains like McDonald's in recent years have expanded their breakfast menus to include morning snacks like smoothies and a fruit-and-walnut pack.
Unlike the more "fun" convenience foods (aka junk) that companies market for later in the day, pushing breakfast snacks at us requires emphasizing the healthy aspects of the product—even if they're no healthier than a candy bar. People, for some cuckoo for cocoa puffs reason, feel they should eat less crap and more beneficial foods in the morning.
So now companies are in a race to make the most nutritious-sounding morning snack on the market. These breakfasts-in-a-wrapper are mostly under 200 calories, tout their high fiber, whole grains, and/or excellent levels of whatever vitamin or mineral is in fashion this instant. Take Kraft's MilkBite granola bar, which they say has as much calcium as a glass of milk. Or General Mills Fiber One bars that come in 140-calorie and 90-calorie versions. Quaker Oat's is launching instant oatmeal cups with fruit and nuts soon, and they're already selling a banana nut bar that has "the taste of your favorite baked goods with healthy ingredients." Well, that sounds like a wonderful dream wrapped in crinkly foil...
Supposedly, all of these items will make you feel energized and satisfied for hours, but if you've ever tried to last until lunch on one of those little jobbies, you probably know better. For some people, one square of nut-studded cardboard is enough. But for a lot of us, 90 calories just won't get us through a morning, and what ends up happening is that we then must eat multiple snacks throughout the morning to keep from gnawing off our own limbs in hunger.
The jury is still out on whether this continuous snacking really matters one way or another, but if you're constantly hungry because you're not eating anything that really fills you up, that's definitely no good. For one thing, it's irritating to always be hungry, but if you end up eating far more calories than you would if you were eating three meals a day, that's certainly not going to help you lose weight—if that was your goal in eating a bunch of tiny "meals" in the first place. Plus, there's the question of how nutritious any of these snacks really are.
In the end convenience foods are what they are: convenient and not much more. The real problem is that we, as a society, have gotten ourselves into a position where we're scrambling around so much in the morning that we often don't have time to eat a proper meal, much less linger over the paper with a nice cup of coffee. It's un-American! Maybe President Obama should run for re-election on the promise that he and Michelle will personally serve every American a home-cooked breakfast each morning? Though that be too much government control of our eggs for anyone in the GOP to swallow. (Rimshot!) Other than that, it looks like we're just going to have to suck it up and live in a world where second breakfasts—and probably eventually first lunches and third dinners—are a thing.
Image via Josh Resnick/Shutterstock.