Breakfast on a Fast Break : Health: As Americans cut back on cholesterol, quick, healthy, morning meals have become more convenient.


For years, nutritionists have been telling us to eat good breakfasts, and for years we've had plenty of excuses: no time to cook, no time to eat, no time to clean up.

Now food manufacturers are coming up with quick new foods that reflect an interest in healthy breakfasts. You have only three minutes? There are plenty of options: microwavable breakfast entrees, sandwiches, frozen French toast, pancakes, waffles, light blueberry muffins, cold cereal, hot cereal, soft breakfast tacos. Even cereal and milk to go.

A recent study by MRCA Information Services says that Americans are listening to nutritionists and have cut back, especially during the past five years, on high-cholesterol breakfast items such as meat, eggs and doughnuts. Nowadays, consumers prefer oatmeal, whole-wheat bread and fruit to help them rise and shine in the morning.

"People are eating foods today that are better for them and, with all the convenience foods in the marketplace, it's easier than ever to eat a fast, healthy breakfast," said MRCA's Diane Marpe.

Not that you need to turn to those new products to eat quickly and nutritiously. There is yogurt with fresh fruit and a sprinkling of Grape Nuts on top for crunch; sliced strawberries and fat-reduced ricotta with a dash of cinnamon, cold cereal, skim milk, a sliced banana and a few raisins, crunchy peanut butter and apple slices on rice cakes, low-fat Cheddar cheese with whole-grain crackers, low-fat cream cheese and jelly on toasted raisin bread.

And there are quick ways of getting breakfast with non-traditional morning foods. Rice pudding can be eaten cold; spooning a serving into a dish takes about 10 seconds. And the microwave comes to the rescue for those in a hurry. Reheating a slice of pizza takes 60 seconds; warming soup, either leftover or from a can, takes two to three minutes.

But if you need convenience from the microwave via the freezer case, manufacturers are gearing up for you. Frozen waffles are the largest single frozen breakfast item, with sales of $404.4 million for the year ending July 13, 1990, an increase of 22.8% over the preceding 12-month period. Frozen breakfast sandwiches and entrees are the second-biggest sellers, with sales of $336.5 million for the same period. And sales of pancakes and French toast came to $102.5 million for the period.

In an attempt to bring its brand into every nutritional event, from breakfast to bedtime, Weight Watchers has introduced a line of frozen, microwavable breakfast foods for the calorie-conscious; items range from 150 to 260 calories per serving.

The easiest way to make foods low calorie is to reduce the portion size. Weight Watchers pancakes are 2.5 ounces (150 calories), whereas McDonald's are 6.2 ounces (410 calories). A 3-ounce Weight Watchers' Sausage Biscuit contains 220 calories and 560 milligrams of sodium, versus McDonald's, which is 4.41 ounces, 440 calories and contains 1,080 milligrams of sodium.

Weight Watchers developed these breakfast foods for women 25 to 54 years of age. By their nature, the items are convenient and offer alternatives to similar foods found in fast-food restaurants. "However, we didn't go into the market to take on McDonald's," said Shelly Streeter of Foodways, manufacturers of frozen Weight Watchers products.

Yet, some people like to start the day with something sweet, such as a muffin. Each of Weight Watchers 2.5-ounce blueberry and banana-nut muffins has 5 grams fat, compared with the 32 grams in some 8-ounce commercial muffins. Weight Watchers cheese-sweet rolls contain 180 calories and 5 grams fat.

In the microwave, Aunt Jemima French toast is ready in 60 seconds, a stack of Pillsbury pancakes takes 95 seconds. In 3 minutes, with no pots or dishes to wash, Swanson's Great Starts scrambled eggs, hash brown potatoes and bacon is table-ready.

Jimmy Dean is test-marketing a frozen-microwavable spinoff of the ever-popular corn dog. Called Flapsticks, each breakfast sausage comes on a stick enclosed in blueberry, apple cinnamon or original (regular) pancake batter. Country Selections, another of Jimmy Dean's new breakfast lines--four entrees and three sandwiches--are packaged on blue-speckled serving trays, reminiscent of old-fashioned enameled metal cookware. Heating takes only 2 1/2 minutes.

George A. Hormel has launched a line of microwavable breakfast sandwiches in nine varieties, including a chicken biscuit and a steak biscuit.

Also being test-marketed are soft breakfast tacos containing egg, bacon and cheese or egg and Mexican sausage from Ruiz Food Products, a California company.

If you like hot cereal in the morning but don't have time to stand over a hot stove, you can microwave premeasured oatmeal or cream of wheat and have a hot breakfast in 1 1/2 minutes.

For those who don't own a microwave oven, both Aunt Jemima and Bisquick offer their mixes premeasured in plastic bottles. Merely add water and shake. Instant pancake batter. Aunt Jemima batter also comes in frozen containers, both regular and buttermilk. Watching calories and still want pancakes? Aunt Jemima has "lite" pancake mix--as well as frozen, cooked ones--and you save 100 calories in each serving. No need to eliminate the pancake syrup. This comes "lite" too.

Ralston Purina is test-marketing the ultimate in early-morning convenience. Called Breakfast on the Run, the self-contained package is designed for people who eat breakfast away from home: each contains a 1.25-ounce carton of one of Ralston's cold cereals (raisin bran, frosted flakes or corn chex), an 8-ounce aseptic box of 1% milk, a plastic spoon, a napkin and a packet of sugar. Selling for a suggested 99 cents, this breakfast can be eaten anywhere and does not require refrigeration.

It is even possible for dieters to be virtuous when they resort to fast-food outlets. McDonald's offers fat-free apple-bran muffins and individual boxes of Wheaties and Cheerios with low-fat milk.

One of the biggest breakfast food surprises came in the French-toast category. A two-slice serving of Weight Watchers French toast with cinnamon has 170 calories and 4 grams fat; Aunt Jemima Cinnamon French toast with 230 calories and 7 grams fat is well within recommended fat limits. But a serving of Downyflake French toast with 270 calories contains 14 grams fat. What makes it particularly risky is the fat source listed on the label: either palm oil or hydrogenated palm oil.

Make French toast in a non-stick pan or bake it in a seasoned waffle iron with a spritz of cooking spray. When made in quantity (who wants to make one piece?) allow the slices to cool, stack with a sheet of wax paper between each, wrap well and freeze. Total fat calories in each slice: less than 3.

Swanson's Great Starts scrambled eggs and sausage with hashed brown potatoes contains 420 calories and 34 grams fat; Great Starts scrambled eggs, home-fried potatoes and three slices of bacon add up to 340 calories and 26 grams fat. By skipping the meat and opting for a Great Starts Budget Breakfast of scrambled eggs and home-fried potatoes, the calories drop to 280 and the fat is reduced to 21 grams.

It's difficult to bake a moist muffin without fat. Comparing Weight Watchers blueberry muffins (5 grams fat, 170 calories), Pepperidge Farm oat-bran muffins (8 grams fat, 200 calories) and Sara Lee oat-bran muffins (8 grams fat, 210 calories) it was noted that in the last two muffins, almost one-third the calories came from fat. Considering their small size, there is a temptation to eat two.

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