Shavonne Morrison, MS, RD, LD, shares nutrition-minded tips for building a healthy brunch plate. Plus: five healthy brunch ideas to order or whip up yourself.
I think I speak for most when I say brunch is always a good idea. However, it can be so full of fun and good conversation (over mimosas, naturally) that you may wonder if it’s getting you off track with your healthy eating goals.
In this article, we’ll discuss how to choose healthy, delicious options for your brunch meal that you’ll actually look forward to eating.
How to Order Healthy Food at Brunch
At any meal, it’s important to have a good proportion of:
- healthy fats
From there, it’s best to stick to a simple truth: Balance is about portion control and variety. Of course, this fact is no different when it comes to brunch foods.
When you think of creating balance on your plate, it’s common to overthink things. But instead, skip the stress and keep these simple healthy brunch tips in mind.
Pile on the Protein
It’s easy to reach for sweets and carb-heavy items at brunch. After all, pretty fruits and baked goods draw your eye and can be so tasty. While these are perfectly fine to eat, it’s best to pair them with a good serving of protein.
How come? Carbohydrates digest much more quickly than proteins, so combining them helps slow digestion to keep blood sugar levels balanced. Balanced blood sugar levels are important to give you steady energy, focus, and a balanced mood.
Tip: Aim to make about a quarter of your plate protein.
On a typical brunch menu, good protein options may include the likes of:
- low-sodium breakfast sausages
- deli meats on a charcuterie board
- turkey bacon
- Greek yogurt
Then, for our plant-based friends, tofu and tempeh are excellent protein sources, too.
Make Your Plate Colorful
A variety of colors not only makes for a more enjoyable meal (really—there’s science to back it up), but also creates a more balanced meal as well. Research shows that a plate that has a variety of colors tends to be healthier.
There are a few reasons for this. When it comes to fruits and veggies in particular, different vitamins and phytochemicals correspond to specific colors. For example, foods high in vitamin A (like carrots) are typically orange or red. Further, foods high in anthocyanins (such as blueberries) are found in blue or purple foods.
Tip: Aim to eat the rainbow or start by trying to incorporate at least three colors on your plate. However, know that this isn’t a hard and fast rule, but rather a helpful way to diversify your nutrient intake.
Above all, prioritize getting food from each of the five food groups on your plate first:
- whole grains
Fill Up on Fiber + Healthy Fats
Similar to protein, fiber and healthy fats slow digestion and keep you full longer. As a result, they aid weight management and blood sugar balance. They can also help you kick cravings by helping you feel satisfied longer than a carb-heavy meal.
Fiber also promotes gut health, which helps keep your immune system strong and your bowel movements regular.
Additionally, excess cholesterol can be taken up by fiber and excreted from the body rather than circulated in the blood. Simply put, fiber can help keep your heart healthy by managing cholesterol levels.
Tip: When possible, swap white bread for whole-wheat varieties to boost your fiber intake. From there, healthy foods to order that pack healthy fats include the likes of salmon and eggs. Bonus: These two foods are also excellent sources of protein!
Don’t overdo it with Alcohol
When it comes to items you should limit at brunch, you probably aren’t surprised to know that alcohol ranks high on this list. After all, many popular brunch drinks include juices or added syrups, making them high in sugar.
One serving of wine such as champagne is five ounces. It’s recommended that women stick to one serving of alcohol per day and men stick to two per day at most. Essentially, keeping it to a minimum or skipping it altogether is ideal. However, I understand that alcohol is often one of the main attractions on many brunch menus.
That said, mixed drinks such as mimosas—ideally made with fresh-squeezed orange juice—are fine in moderation.
Tip: If you do opt for a brunch cocktail, it’s best to sip it along with your meal rather than on an empty stomach. Drinking alcohol alongside food will help keep your blood sugar from spiking. It’ll also help prevent the discomfort that too much alcohol can elicit.
Keep Sugar at a Minimum
Lastly, when it comes to sweets, you don’t need to ditch them completely. Instead, just be sure that you indulge only in addition to your healthy brunch food—not in lieu of it.
Tip: While there are many schools of thought surrounding when to eat dessert, eating your (modestly portioned) sugary treat along with your balanced plate will be better for your blood sugar and energy levels.
Even better, share dessert with your brunch companions.
5 Healthy Brunch Ideas
Finally, whether you’re going out to brunch or hosting it in your own home, here are some healthy brunch ideas that are balanced, beautiful, and delicious.
1. Veggie-Rich Frittata
A frittata consists of eggs and whichever finely chopped add-ins you like, such as:
- sauteed spinach
- bell peppers
- black olives
- diced ham or sausage
Since just one large egg contains about six grams of protein, it’s a super simple option to get protein in.
You can make a traditional frittata in one large pan or pie plate, or switch it up and make individual portions by dividing the mixture into a muffin tin.
2. Sweet Potato Hash
While their carbohydrate content doesn’t significantly differ from that of regular potatoes, sweet potatoes are a healthier option since they’re high in vitamin A and contain plenty of fiber.
Plus, their bright orange coloring adds a good bit of color to your brunch menu and on your guests’ plates.
Simply dice up a sweet potato and roast it in the oven with olive oil and your favorite seasonings.
3. Baked Oatmeal
Oats provide fiber and B vitamins, making them stand out as a healthy brunch idea.
Baked oatmeal is an easy dish to make that you can dress up with lots of pretty toppings. You can also sneak extra protein and healthy fats into it by adding:
- nut butter
- chia or ground flax seeds
- protein powder
Top with fresh fruit, a drizzle of nut butter, or a dollop of Greek yogurt for extra nutrition and color.
It’s easy to add seasonal twists to it, as well. For instance, you can make lighter, sweeter oatmeal with lemon zest and blueberries in the spring or summer. Then, to make it festive for fall, you may want to prepare spiced baked oatmeal with nutmeg and cinnamon.
4. Brunch Charcuterie Board
Here’s your chance to get creative with a fun and picturesque assortment of brunch items.
Try constructing a board with some of the following:
- fresh fruit
- high-protein waffles or pancakes
- an assortment of cheeses
- slices of summer sausage or breakfast sausage links
- turkey or plant-based bacon
- deviled eggs
The possibilities are endless, and it’s easy to make something colorful and with lots of variety.
Again, just be sure to create a balanced board that incorporates plenty of healthy fats, proteins, and colorful produce.
5. avocado toast
Last but not least, we have a crowd-favorite healthy brunch food: avocado toast!
Avocados are full of healthy fats to keep you full and satisfied longer. Plus, there are countless ways to jazz up avocado toast, such as adding a poached egg and smoked salmon or fresh tomato.
To make your brunch menu extra special, you could try creating an avocado toast bar that lays out:
- toasted bread
- lightly mashed avocado (with freshly squeezed lemon or lime to keep it from browning)
- chopped veggies like bell pepper + red onion
- seasonings (salt, pepper, crushed red pepper flakes, garlic powder, etc.)
Brunch makes for a perfect time to catch up with loved ones over some of your favorite light foods. That said, it can be easy to get off track since many brunch foods are high in sugar. Plus, protein options aren’t always plentiful.
However, by following these healthy brunch ideas and tips for ordering, you’re better equipped to build a balanced plate that’s beautiful, filling, and enjoyable.
Above all, when it comes to what to eat for brunch (as well as other meals), remember that moderation is key. After all, your mindset will largely influence your experience and relationship with food.
All things considered, rest assured that it’s entirely possible to enjoy brunch while still honoring your health and wellness goals.