“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day” is a phrase we’ve all heard again and again, and while it may not be entirely true, a healthy breakfast is important and probably deserves a lot more attention than many of us give it.
With nutrition recommendations often changing, it’s easy to get confused about what a healthy breakfast should include. But it's actually not as confusing as you might think. A healthy breakfast should be balanced and well-rounded, containing whole grains, healthy fats, protein, and fruits or vegetables—a combination that’s likely to deliver plenty of nutrients and keep you full until it’s time for a snack or lunch.
“If you start off your day with a high protein meal, you will feel more energy longer,” says Nicole Avena, assistant professor of neuroscience at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and visiting professor of Health Psychology at Princeton University. “You will also feel fuller longer, and can help set you up for making better food choices throughout the day.”
If you’re someone who tends not to put much thought or energy into breakfast, take a look through the list of foods and recipes that follow and you may find you’re ready to change your ways and hop on the breakfast bandwagon—even just for the taste alone. Ahead, 21 protein-rich breakfast foods to leave you energized, satisfied, and ready to take on the day.
Meet the Expert
Dr. Nicole Avena is a research neuroscientist, as well as the assistant professor of neuroscience at Mount Sinai School of Medicine (and a visiting professor of Health Psychology at Princeton University). She specializes in the intersection of neuroscience and nutrition, and has authored two books on the subject: Hedonic Eating and What to Eat When You're Pregnant.
Cherry Pie Overnight Oats
One of the greatest things about overnight oats is that you make them the night before, leaving you with absolutely zero prep work when the morning comes around. Try this high-protein recipe for Cherry Pie Overnight Oats from Remy Park over at @veggiekins. A half cup of dried oats will provide you with around 13 grams of protein, plus you'll also get some additional protein from the chia seeds, vegan yogurt, flax, and your milk alternative.
Fluffy Chickpea Flour Pancakes
Many pancakes contain minimal amounts of protein, quickly leaving you hungry and ready for another meal. But these simple and easy pancakes from Remy Park at @veggiekins are made with protein-rich chickpea flour and oat flour to keep you full all morning.
They're also vegan and gluten free, and this recipe includes just five ingredients, making these fluffy chickpea flour pancakes an easy go-to meal any morning of the week. Remember, pancakes aren't just for weekends, especially when they're packed with protein.
Green Protein Smoothie Bowl
Smoothie bowls are an easy way to squeeze an extra serving of veggies into your day and maximize other nutritious plant-based foods like banana, pineapple, and spirulina, explains Monica Auslander Moreno, a registered dietitian and founder of Essence Nutrition.
When blended with a whey-based protein powder (or another protein powder of choice), this smoothie bowl will keep you full until it’s time for lunch or a healthy snack. Here’s a green smoothie bowl recipe Moreno recommends that’s full of healthy plant-based carbohydrates and plant-based fats and is loaded with around 27 grams of protein
Strawberry Rhubarb Baked Oatmeal
Packed with protein, fiber, and plenty of other nutrients, oats are one of the healthiest ways to start your day. This protein-rich baked oatmeal from Remy Park at @veggiekins is loaded with flavor thanks to strawberries and rhubarb. Pro tip: Make this during some free time on the weekend so your weekday breakfasts are sorted before Monday even rolls around. It's also a great option for weekend brunch. Seriously though—why wait to get into a restaurant for brunch when you can have this amazing dish without leaving home?
Chewy Superfood Hemp Protein Bars
Packed with nutritious, plant-based proteins, these hemp protein bars from registered dietitian McKel Kooienga of Nutrition Stripped contain hemp seeds, hemp powder, spirulina, and other protein-rich whole foods. The bars are also high in fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, and other important nutrients, making them a great grab-and-go breakfast option for hectic mornings. Kooienga recommends making a huge batch and freezing some for later.
Veggie Egg Bake
If you're on the lookout for a healthy and impressive dish that can easily be transported to brunch at a friend's place, this is your lucky day. This veggie egg bake recipe from registered dietitian McKel Kooienga of Nutrition Stripped is dense in protein and other healthy nutrients. The recipe also makes enough that it can easily be shared. One egg contains around six or seven grams of protein, so you can be sure you're getting a healthy share of protein when you dig into this meal.
“Dairy is a great source of protein,” Avena says. “Wünder Creamery makes quark, a European-style cultured dairy, that is comparable to a Greek or Icelandic style yogurt, but higher in protein and very low in sugar.” One serving of quark contains around 15 grams of protein. Avena says that quark also contains probiotics to help with digestive health.
Granola is a simple way to add an extra dose of protein to your yogurt or smoothie bowl at breakfast, but sometimes you're just not in the mood to turn your oven on. Enter raw-nola, from registered dietitian McKel Kooienga of Nutrition Stripped, which contains heaps of plant-based protein from healthy nuts and seeds like pumpkin seeds, almonds, hemp seeds, and nut butters. No baking required for this one, just some time in the food processor, making it ideal for the steamy summer months.
Scrambled Tofu Breakfast Burrito
If you're trying to stay away from eggs and other animal-based foods, you still have plenty of options for protein-filled breakfast foods, like these scrambled tofu breakfast burritos from Minimalist Baker that you can whip up in just thirty minutes. Tofu is a great source of plant-based protein, with about 10 grams of protein for a half cup of tofu. One serving of this recipe (one burrito) has 16.5 grams of protein, which is enough to keep most people feeling satisfied for at least a few hours.
Chocolate Protein Shake
You may find it hard to believe that this chocolate protein shake from Minimalist Baker is plant-based and healthy, but it is actually good for you. In just one smoothie you'll get around 23 grams of protein thanks to ingredients like hemp seeds, oats, peanut butter, and chia seeds. There's no protein powder in this one, which appeals to many, and the recipe uses just eight ingredients. High in calories, this protein shake is a great way to fuel up before work following an intense morning workout.
Eggs are a great source of protein, and while they are delicious on their own, they often taste even better when combined with healthy veggies to make a nutrient-packed veggie omelette.
Brittany Michels, a registered dietitian at The Vitamin Shoppe recommends the following recipe, which provides nearly 23 grams of protein.
3 large eggs
1 tsp coconut oil
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 cup spinach
½ cup tomatoes, chopped
1oz of cheese
Instructions: Sauté mushrooms and spinach in coconut oil. Season with salt and pepper. When soft, add egg and cook through. Top with tomatoes and cheese.
Cinnamon and Banana Oat Bowl
Gluten-free rolled oats get a boost of flavor and healthy nutrients from pea protein, banana, butternut squash, reishi, and other ingredients in this fast and easy cinnamon and banana oat bowl from Daily Harvest. Breakfast here is as simple as adding your milk of choice and heating (microwave or stovetop will do the trick) for somewhere between three and six minutes.
Daily Harvest Cold Brew and Cacao Smoothie
This Daily Harvest smoothie brings your breakfast and your daily jolt of caffeine together into one, saving some much-needed time during the morning rush. On top of healthy veggies high in vitamins C and K, this plant-based smoothie contains almond butter, giving you 11 grams of protein per serving, explains Daily Harvest nutritionist and registered dietitian DJ Blatner.
Chocolate Protein and Almond Chia Bowl
“Chia pudding—chia seeds and plant milk— is a great plant-based swap for yogurt,” says registered dietitian and Daily Harvest nutritionist DJ Blatner. This chocolate and almond chia bowl from Daily Harvest contains protein-rich hemp seeds alongside chia, almond butter, pea protein, and cacao, giving you 12 grams of protein per serving, or 24 grams of protein per container.
Banana Split Smoothie
Catherine McCord, author of the recently released book The Smoothie Project and food website Weelicious shared a recipe for a protein-dense banana split smoothie.
Combine 1 frozen banana, 1 tablespoon almond or peanut butter, 1 tablespoon cacao powder, 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract or 1/8 teaspoon vanilla paste, 1 dried and pitted date, and 1/2 cup of your favorite milk. Blend all the ingredients until smooth. Pour into a serving glass lined with slices of fresh banana, if using, and then add the toppings of your choice (such as cherries, grated coconut, or coconut whipped cream).
"Cookies might not seem like the best idea for breakfast, but they can be when they are packed with protein," Avena says. "Munk Pack makes protein cookies that are great for when you are on-the-go and want to make sure you are fueling your morning right." Each of these cookies is loaded with 18 grams of plant-based protein.
Pumpkin Spice Protein Pancakes
Brittany Michels, a registered dietitian at The Vitamin Shoppe, shared her recipe for healthy pumpkin spice pancakes that are high in fiber and protein, keeping you full far longer than your standard flapjacks.
In a bowl, blend 1 can pumpkin puree, 2 scoops Plnt vanilla plant-based protein powder (or another type you love), ½ cup gluten free rolled oats, ½ cup egg whites, ½ cup coconut milk, 3 tablespoons coconut flour, 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice. Heat a non-stick pan, add 1 tablespoon coconut oil, and spoon small amounts of batter onto pan, flipping when the batter becomes firm.
Tofu Breakfast Bowl
Quinoa, tofu, and spices come together to make this flavorful, high-protein tofu breakfast bowl. Here's the recipe, courtesy of Michels:
Ingredients: 12 ounces organic extra firm tofu, 2 tsp olive oil, 1/8 tsp cayenne, 1/8 tsp chili flakes, 1 tsp turmeric powder, ¼ tsp paprika, ¼ tsp chipotle powder, ¼ tsp sea salt, 1 cup quinoa (dry).
Instructions: Cook quinoa according to package directions. While quinoa cooks, drain tofu, remove excess liquid, and cut into small blocks. In skillet, heat oil and add small blocks of tofu. Add seasonings and cook for 8-10 minutes, until all tofu is hot. Scoop tofu into bowls and add quinoa. For an added boost of flavor and nutrients, add toppings like black beans, avocado, tomato, cilantro, cheese, and hot sauce.
Smoothie Bowl Sprinkle
There's no denying that adding some crunch on top of a smoothie bowl is absolutely divine, but this smoothie bowl topping from registered dietitian McKel Kooienga of Nutrition Stripped isn't just about the texture. Tossing this mix of nuts and seeds on top of your favorite smoothie bowl will boost its nutrient density, making your breakfast even healthier than before.
5-Ingredient Protein Balls
Preparing a batch of these Minimalist Baker protein balls on the weekend (in just 20 minutes!) means you'll have an easy grab-and-go breakfast on busy mornings before work or class. With six grams of protein per ball, they'll keep you full and satisfied until you have time to grab another meal.
Blueberry Maple Protein Shake
If a filling smoothie is your go-to breakfast of choice, you're going to want to stock up on frozen blueberries and try this blueberry maple protein shake from Minimalist Baker. Each serving contains nearly 28 grams of protein from cottage cheese, protein powder, and flaxseed meal.