Common wisdom says many breakfast foods aren't all that good for you — but how bad are they, really? Here's the scoop on 7 morning favorites, plus simple ways to healthy them up.

By Laurie Herr
Alexander Spatari/Getty Images

Maybe it's coffee and toast out the door, or a quick bowl of cereal washed down with juice. Or even a sit-down meal of pancakes and eggs, at least on weekends now and then.

Whatever your breakfast style is, you want to make sure it's healthy. Unfortunately, common wisdom says many breakfast foods aren't all that good for you. Here's the truth on seven morning favorites, along with simple cooking tricks to make them healthier — and more enticing (hello, chocolate chips!) for your family.

1. Eggs

Common wisdom: Eggs are high in cholesterol, so they'll raise your cholesterol, too.

Our expert's take: "The science shows it's not the cholesterol from food that bumps up our cholesterol levels — it's lack of exercise and genetics," says Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, author of Eating in Color: Delicious, Healthy Recipes for You and Your Family. "Of course, you don't want a five-egg omelet every day, but there's no reason you can't enjoy eggs within reason." You'll get protein, vitamins, and other important nutrients that many of us don't get enough of.

Healthier spin: Pair a fried egg with a light salad or side of veggies to balance the protein and fat, Largeman-Roth suggests. Or use a muffin pan to make mini frittatas. "They're easy and great for portion control," she says.

Recipe to try: Mini Frittatas

Linda T

2. Bacon and Sausage

Common wisdom: Too much fat, sodium, and calories. Plus, all that grease!

Our expert's take: Not long ago, everything was bacon-flavored — even cupcakes. Since then, studies have linked bacon, sausage, and other processed meats to an increased risk of heart disease and colorectal cancer. While you don't want to eat bacon or sausage every day, you can satisfy an occasional craving while still watching out for your health, Largeman-Roth says.

Healthier spin: Choose turkey bacon that's uncured and nitrite free — it's lower in fat and calories than pork bacon. Bake it on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. "It comes out really crispy," says Largeman-Roth. "Plus, you'll save calories by not letting it sit in grease."

If it's sausage you miss, try cutting it up into small bits and adding them to a quiche or frittata. "You'll still get the flavor impact, but only a fraction of the calories and fat," Largeman-Roth says.

Recipes to try: Oven-Baked Bacon and Omelet Muffins With Sausage and Cheese

Pancakes and Waffles

Common wisdom: Vehicles for syrup.

Our expert's take: Pancakes and waffles are usually made with refined flour, sugar, eggs, and milk. But it's easy to up their nutrition with better ingredients and toppings, Largeman-Roth says.

Healthier spin: Swap in whole-wheat or buckwheat flour for part of the flour, and add nuts or seeds for more fiber and healthy fats. Mix in cooked squash or pumpkin for a healthy dose of vitamins and other nutrients.

Top with fresh fruit, almond butter, or a drizzle of real maple syrup — not the watered-down, high-fructose stuff, Largeman-Roth says. She likes to warm maple syrup on the stove with fresh or frozen berries. "It stretches the syrup and gives you some fruit," she says.

Recipe to try: Healthy Pumpkin Banana Pancakes

RainbowJewels

Juice

Common wisdom: Too much sugar!

Our expert's take: Fruit juice is loaded with sugar — one 8-ounce glass of orange juice has more than double the amount in an orange. "But 100 percent juice has natural sugar, not added," says Largeman-Roth. "It's also high in vitamin C, potassium, and phytonutrients."

Healthier spin: Practice portion control and stick to a 4-ounce glass. Or add 100% juice to smoothies for a nutrient boost and natural sweetness.

Recipe to try: Fruit and Yogurt Smoothie

Muffins

Common wisdom: They're like having dessert for breakfast. Plus, store-bought muffins are often the size of small planets.

Our expert's take: Muffins can be a smart breakfast option when you make them yourself. "They're an easy way to use up leftovers and sneak in healthy ingredients," says Largeman-Roth.

Healthier spin: Use 50 percent whole-wheat flour and add nuts, chia seeds, hemp seeds, or flax seeds for fiber and healthy fats, Largeman-Roth suggests. Add moisture and nutrients with cooked squash, pumpkin, applesauce, or overripe bananas. Got picky little eaters? Try Largeman-Roth's secret: Add chocolate chips, but sprinkle just a few on top rather than dumping them in.

Recipe to try: Morning Glory Muffins

Holiday Baker

Sweetened Yogurt

Common wisdom: It's often a super-sweet treat disguised as health food.

Our expert's take: Nonfat yogurt sounds slimming, but it's not — some kinds have more sugar and calories than a serving of ice cream or pudding. But unsweetened, whole milk yogurt is a different story. "Studies show whole-fat dairy actually provides satiety, so it may help with weight loss," Largeman-Roth says.

Healthier spin: Buy plain or vanilla yogurt made with whole milk, and choose your own healthy toppings. "It's so much more satisfying to add in your own fresh fruit, chia seeds, or nuts," says Largeman-Roth. "Plus, the larger yogurt sizes will save you money."

Recipe to try: Breakfast Parfait with Granola, Yogurt, and Fruit

Cereal

Common wisdom: Mostly fluff with no stuff.

Our expert's take: OK, so many cereals are mostly over-processed, refined grains, and sugar. But whole-grain, fortified cereals provide fiber and other important nutrients, including iron and folate. "Fortification is a great thing, especially for women in their child-bearing years," Largeman-Roth says. "For the first time in years, women are falling short on folate."

Healthier spin: Top a yogurt bowl with whole-grain cereal and fruit, or use whole-grain cereal in no-cook energy bites. And you don't have to swear off the sweet stuff completely, Largeman-Roth says. Just mix in a little with another, whole-grain type.

Recipe: Camp Trail Mix

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