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There Is No Such Thing as Breakfast Food

Every food is breakfast food. This shouldn’t be a controversial statement and yet, somehow, it is. There are some mornings when I get a hankering for red curry at 9 am. Other days, I want stir-fried veggies, a fish steamed with lemongrass, rice -- cravings that a traditional American breakfast, which subsists of things like bacon, sausage, eggs, pancakes, and toast, could never satisfy. Whatever it is that my stomach’s desiring, I’ve never really felt that there should be a specified time where certain foods are deemed acceptable while others are not. So what if I want spicy seafood spaghetti in the a.m.? Since when it did become inappropriate to devour a plate of fried chicken to start the day?

Breakfast has undergone a lot of changes in its time. In the Middle Ages, breakfast was often skipped and viewed as a sin of gluttony -- to break fast was to disrespect God. During the industrial revolution, breakfast was hearty and filling, necessary for providing fuel to undertake a day’s work (which, in the pre-internet, pre-industrial revolution world often meant actual physical labor). “The Industrial Revolution of the 19th century -- and the rise of factory work and office jobs that accompanied it -- further normalized breakfast,” observed Megan Garber for The Atlantic. We’ve even seen our own fair share of changes from the ‘90s to now, with diet trends promoting low-carb options and low-fat meals to current trendy high-fat keto breakfasts and paleo interpretations.

Despite all the significant evolutions, breakfast is still considered the most important meal of the day. “Breakfast gives you the energy you need to start your day and any time you eat something you are stimulating your metabolism. When people skip breakfast you may end up hungrier come lunchtime and reach for something less healthy than if you were not as hungry,” shares Kassandra Neuendorff, a registered dietitian based out of San Diego. Breakfast is a staple. And though the glorious bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich forever has a spot in my rotation of breakfast delights, we don’t need to limit ourselves to the same 10 options. Even the avocado toast needs a rest sometimes.

“The standard american diet has popularized foods that only make us feel tired, bloated and lacking in essential nutrients. Typical ‘breakfast food,’ such as bagels and coffee, provide little to no nutritious value, thus why I don’t suggest it,” says Talia Vilaplana, a nutritional therapy practitioner practicing out of New York City. “Not to say breakfast shouldn’t be yummy, it completely can and should be, just not in the typical way so many have been socialized to believe -- a.k.a full of sugar.”

In place of our traditional American breakfast fare, I am advocating that we allow -- and accept -- that there is no real thing as "breakfast food," and that frankly, every food is intended to be breakfast food.

The rest of world appears to agree with me. Globally, the “fuel” needed to start the day looks different than it does in the West. In my native country of Thailand, breakfast looks like rice porridge with garlicky pork meatballs, tom luad moo (which translates to boiled pork blood -- and is a protein-rich soup composed of exactly what it sounds like), and lightly sweetened soy milk filled with beans, jellies, and basil seeds. In Japan, breakfast can be grilled salmon, miso soup, fermented soybeans, or simply hot rice with a raw egg cracked over and drizzled with soy sauce. A traditional breakfast in Ecuador may include empanadas stuffed with onions and cheese, plantains, and a variety of tropical fruits. In Turkey, it’s common to have an array of hard cheeses and olive spread with bread, as well as homemade jams. And even though food across the world may look and taste different, we can find commonalities within our breakfasts in terms of what food groups we’re consuming.

Cheesy empanada
Who wouldn't want a cheesy empanada for breakfast? | Topito Birolo/Shutterstock

“I think that a good breakfast includes carbohydrates -- i.e. bread, oatmeal, cereal; lean protein; and some sort of source of fat,” advises Neuendorff. Vilaplana agrees, noting that a proper meal should consist of a balance of protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates "no matter the time of day. I gear towards breakfast being higher in fat, simply to feel satiated until lunch and to avoid that mid-day slump.” I wouldn't say that a stack of doughnuts exactly provides that.

Instead of getting your early dosage of carbs in the morning from waffles and bagels, why not opt for something you haven’t tried -- perhaps a dosa or a bowl of warm pho? In place of bacon and sausage, other proteins may prove beneficial, like fish or tofu. And if you’re struggling to get your daily dose of vegetables, “breakfast can be a great time to slip in a serving or two of vegetables. For some it may be hard to get 2-3 cups of vegetables in each day but starting off with some at breakfast can help,” recommends Neuendorff. May we recommend a "breakfast" salad? Throw on some bacon and a fried egg if you must.

Eating non-traditional breakfast foods can also have great financial benefits. Instead of waking up and having to mix-up batter and flip pancakes or whip up an egg sandwich -- why not just heat-up yesterday's dinner? Yes, even the two last slices of pepperoni pizza. This way nothing goes to waste and you don't have to waste time or precious dollars crafting a breakfast spread. Trust us, it's much faster to microwave leftover lo-mein than it is to make toast, fry bacon, and scramble an egg.

Besides, we have gone on far too long limiting ourselves and our imaginations to maple syrup and tater tots. Do not take this as a call to banish these items, but as an opportunity to expand our horizons. We should be consuming foods that not only nourish our bodies and provide the nutrition necessary to start the day, but enjoying foods that may provide for our souls. And if that means having a non-traditionally-Western meal for breakfast, then so be it. “I think that as long as you have a good carbohydrate source, protein and some good fat you can eat anything you want at breakfast,” Neuendorff confirmed.

At the end of the day, dishes reserved for dinner or lunch or special occasions don’t have to be consumed in their invented time slots. If you can have "breakfast" for dinner, then why can't you have dinner for breakfast? The answer is that you can, and you should.

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Kat Thompson is a staff food writer at Thrillist and a staunch advocate of eating any curry at any time of day. Find her on Twitter @katthompsonn.