Home / Leisure / My big, not-so-fat Indian breakfast

The same old breakfast again? Scrambled eggs on toast, or cereal in milk. And if particularly rushed, maybe just a sandwich. “What to do? Where’s the time to dish out a proper meal early on in the day. Cereals are so convenient. I end up alternating between toast and cereals on weekdays, and gorge on parathas on the weekends," says Arun Khanna, a Noida-based travel professional.

Meal from Maharashtra: Shewaya upma is a high-energy breakfast with complex carbohydrates from vermicelli. Photograph by Pradeep Gaur / Mint; Food and Location Courtesy: Shangri-La’s Eros Hotel, New Delhi

Which is not as big a nutritional disaster as skipping breakfast is. But it’s not the healthiest thing about your morning routine either. “We have become very mechanical as far as our breakfast choices are concerned," says Jyoti Arora, team leader, nutrition and dietetics, Artemis Health Institute, Gurgaon. “Even though this is the most important meal of the day, this is the one we compromise on the most. Most urban breakfasts are just one or the other variant of carbohydrates and very low on other essential nutrients like protein and minerals."

Many of us have quite forgotten traditional Indian options, “unfortunately, because of market conditioning and also because of lack of time", says Jyothi Prasad, chief dietician, Manipal Hospital, Bangalore, “whereas a lot of these options are equally easy to prepare and definitely a notch higher on the nutrition quotient."

Choose one of these easy breakfast dishes from across the country this week, or try a new one every day—your body and palate will both thank you.

Phal-ahaar from West Bengal

This is a localized version of muesli. Simply wash a handful of chivda (flaked rice, 50g), drain, leaving a scant few teaspoons of water and set aside while you peel and chop a fruit or two and throw in some nuts (any kind you prefer, though almonds are traditional). Then mix it all up with a cup (250g) of plain yogurt and a healthy breakfast is ready. You can also add jaggery for flavour, but yogurt and fruits are delicious on their own.

Why it’s good: Easy to make, quick to eat and portable. Nutritionally, it is an almost complete meal, with calcium from yogurt; some fibre, vitamins and minerals from fruits; carbohydrates from chivda; and protein from nuts and yogurt.

Nutritional profile: Around 300 calories per serving. Very low fat content (only from nuts, and those are good fats), high in calcium (around 400mg, or 40% of your daily requirement). Plus, it yields around 15g protein and 5g of fibre or more, depending on the fruits you choose.

Good to know: A good bet for people with mild lactose intolerance, as the naturally occurring sugar in milk is usually converted in yogurt (choose “live and active culture", which contains the live and active bacteria believed to give yogurt many desirable healthy properties).

Shewaya upma from Maharashtra

Heat oil and add a teaspoon each of chana dal (Bengal gram), urad dal (skinned black gram) and mustard seeds, and a few curry leaves. As they crackle, add 2 teaspoons of peanuts or cashew nuts, and fry until golden. Then add diced slices of a potato and a carrot, sauté for 4-5 minutes, add a chopped green chilli, grated ginger to taste, half an onion, a handful of peas, a diced tomato and cook—covered, till the vegetables are tender. Add 1 cup of water and salt to taste, and when the water comes to a boil, add half a cup (50g) of vermicelli (shewaya). Stir to mix, and cook covered for 5-6 minutes.

Why it’s good: A high-energy breakfast with complex carbohydrates from vermicelli. It is filling and almost as quick to cook as eggs and toast or porridge.

Nutritional profile: Around 300 calories per serving. The fibre comes from vermicelli, vegetables and peanuts. Vermicelli gives you around 10% of your daily requirement of iron as well.

Good to know: Cook in olive oil to begin the day with good fats. To add calcium and protein, serve with yogurt.

Sattu paratha (makuni roti) from Bihar

Take a handful (25g) of sattu (roasted chickpea flour). Mix half a teaspoon of mustard oil, a finely chopped onion, some grated ginger, a pinch each of amchoor (dried mango powder), salt and red chilli powder. Add enough water so that the mixture holds together, like a dry dough, and shape into lime-sized balls. Now roll a thin wholewheat chapatti, place the sattu ball in the centre, gather the edges together and seal in the sattu. Press the lump back gently into a thick disc and roll out again. Cook on a hot griddle and serve with yogurt.

Why it’s good: This one is good for both weight watchers as well as muscle builders. Sattu is a high-energy, very nutritious food and this dish has very little fat.

Nutritional profile: Around 320 calories per serving. Apart from energizing carbohydrates, sattu is also a high-protein food, with iron, calcium and vitamins. Added protein and calcium come from yogurt.

Good to know: Being high in fibre, sattu helps fight constipation.

Note: To make sattu at home, take a handful of roasted chickpea (channa) and grind to a powder.

Ragi porridge from Kerala

Bring 2 litres of water to a boil. Gradually add 150g of ragi (finger millet or red millet) powder, stirring continuously. Keep boiling until you have a thick porridge. Add salt to taste. Squeeze in a little bit of lemon juice. Then add a pinch of salt to 200ml buttermilk, and stir into the porridge. You can serve lime pickle or fried dried saltfish on the side.

Why it’s good: An extremely hearty, filling and healthy breakfast. You aren’t likely to be hungry for the next 8 hours.

Nutritional profile: Around 50 calories per serving. Ragi is very high in calcium (100g of ragi contains 344mg calcium; the same quantity of rice has only 9mg), virtually fat-free, rich in iron and protein (unlike most cereals) and a bit of fibre as well. It is also sodium-free.

Good to know: To add some good fats to the meal, munch a handful of assorted nuts while the porridge cooks. Ragi is gluten-free, so it is perfect for those who can’t digest wheat gluten (in most breakfast foods, including bread).

Pointabhat from Assam

This is a traditional breakfast of leftovers, yet very tasty, quite different from dinner flavours. Add 1 cup of water to a cup of cooked rice, cover and leave to ferment overnight. Next morning, add chopped onions and green chillies, salt and lime juice. Serve with a little roasted brinjal or mashed potato, some fish and maybe sour yogurt.

Why it’s good: A no-cook yet substantial meal, very low in calories if you keep your side dishes few and simple.

Nutritional profile: Around 200 calories, not including accompaniments. The rice provides carbohydrates, fibre comes from the boiled vegetables (if you add some), roasted brinjal gives you a little iron, fish provides high-quality protein plus omega-3 fats.

Variation: In Chhattisgarh, this is known as pakhal. There, cooked rice is allowed to cool and mixed with ground roasted cumin seeds, plain yogurt, coriander leaves and salt, and served with fried fish and leafy greens.

NOTE: All recipes make an average adult portion. Recipes may vary according to region. Nutritional counts are approximate and may vary with the exact recipe.

Experts: Jyoti Arora, team leader, nutrition and dietetics, Artemis Health Institute, Gurgaon; Jyothi Prasad, chief dietician, Manipal Hospital, Bangalore; Meghna Nanda Dasgupta, nutrition consultant, Bangalore; Ritika Samaddar, head, dietetics, Max Hospital, Saket, Delhi; and Swati Srivastava, nutritionist, Health Today, New Delhi and Noida.


Everyone likes a bit of variety. Here are some extra-special dishes for your calorie-conscious palate

Pesarattu (rice and lentil pancakes), Andhra Pradesh

The combination of rice and ‘moong dal’ (green gram) improves the bio-availability of vegetarian protein. Around 200 calories per serving.

Bajre ki khichri with chhach, Haryana

‘Bajra’ (pearl millet) is relatively richer in protein than most cereals, and it is better quality protein (easier to assimilate). This dish is also rich in B and E vitamins, fibre and includes some iron too. Around 150 calories per serving.

Bhutte ki kees, Madhya Pradesh

This milk- and corn-based light breakfast is tastier than most cornflakes, and as good a weight-loss option, with a satisfying 12g protein. Around 170 calories per serving.

Khandvi, dhokla, shrikhand, Gujarat

A little bit of sweet, a little bit of spice, this Gujarati meal has plenty of protein (‘besan’, or gram flour, and yogurt are the key ingredients) and is fat-free as well. A fruit ‘shrikhand’ also adds vitamins and a little fibre. Around 120 calories for a ‘dhokla’ and 2-3 ‘khandvis’; around 260 calories for 100g mango ‘shrikhand’.

Gatte ki subzi with missi roti, Rajasthan

Another high-protein (28g) breakfast, as both the ‘subzi’ and the ‘roti’ are made with ‘besan’, which is also high in fibre (14g). Around 320 calories per serving.

Kahwah, Kashmir

This green tea is garnished with saffron strands, cinnamon and cardamom, and sliced almonds. Sugar or honey may be used to sweeten it. There are n o calories in kahwah, until you sweeten it (don’t). The spices contain disease-fighting micronutrients, and are especially warming on a cold day. Cardamom stimulates appetite and sweetens bad breath; cinnamon improves insulin metabolism (which has a protective effect against Type 2 diabetes).

Variation: ‘Nun chai’, or salt tea, is made with black tea, milk and a pinch of baking soda.

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