Our European tour is in full swing. We spent a week in Reykjavik, Iceland (presenting a Whole9 nutrition seminar at CrossFit Reykjavik), four days tramping across Sweden (culminating in a meet-and-greet with Whole9 Nutrition Partner Reebok CrossFit Karlstad), and five days in Denmark (hosting a Paleo Q&A session for Danish journalists at Kong Hans Kælder, and an abbreviated Whole9 seminar at Copenhagen’s famous Butcher’s Lab).
The cities have been gorgeous, and the people bright and friendly. But most important for this article, the food has been delicious, and breakfast (the meal most likely to be voted “bland and boring” while traveling) has been a surprising delight. We’ve enjoyed a generous breakfast buffet nearly every morning, either compliments of our hotel or while venturing out to a local restaurant—but these buffets are vastly different than what you find in North America.
Breakfast, American Style
A typical U.S. breakfast buffet at a nice hotel consists of bread, bread, and more bread. You’ve got toast, English muffins, regular muffins, Danish, croissants, pancakes, waffles, and French toast. (They typically serve five different kinds of cereal, too, just in case you haven’t had your fill of grains.)
If you’re lucky, they may have some low-fat yogurts, a tray of scrambled eggs, or some bacon or sausage. And if you’re very lucky, you’ll get a sad looking bowl of fruit (or a few bananas) added as an afterthought, at the very end of the line.
And at almost all breakfast buffets in America, you’ll find one thing in common… nary a vegetable in sight. No wonder one of the most common questions we get from people switching to a Paleo-style diet is, “What the heck am I supposed to eat for breakfast?”
Breakfast, Scandinavian Style
So when our hotels or the local restaurants we visited offered a breakfast buffet, we shrugged our shoulders and said, “meh,” imagining the typical buffet of home. But then we realized that Scandinavian countries think about breakfast very differently.
We were introduced to our overseas buffet lines not by bread, bread, and more bread, but by salads. Three different kinds of salads, with fresh greens, vegetables, dressings, and herbs. In fact, you started your buffet line by filling your plate with salad. (“Fill your plate with vegetables…” Sound familiar?) Many places also offered grilled or fresh vegetables in addition to the salads—grilled zucchini, roasted tomatoes, and raw carrots, peppers, and celery.
Next up were the cold cuts—large plates with ham, salami, turkey, smoked salmon, and several varieties of pickled herring. These were often paired with cold cheeses as well, either sliced or in large blocks. Many restaurants, including the all-organic BioMio in the Vesterbro neighborhood of Copenhagen, had a wide range of spreads for dipping or spreading—olive tapenade, pesto, and aioli were favorites. Vegetable-based soups were also popular fare, ranging from a chunky tomato to a split pea soup with ham.
Eggs were generally not the star of our breakfast show, with most buffets serving just hard and soft-boiled eggs. (Although Mother, also in Copenhagen, served a delicious egg frittata loaded with grilled peppers, onions, eggplant, and sundried tomatoes.) Bacon and various kinds of sausage were a staple, however, as were several varieties of yogurts, soured milks, and skyr with fresh berries and dried fruits.
And yes, of course, there was bread, generally in the form of various freshly-baked loaves and rolls. Pastries were at a minimum—and we observed only one buffet that offered very small, thin pancakes. (Certainly not thick cakes the size of your head like you’d find at home.) We mostly passed on the bread, although for “dessert” at Mother in Copenhagen, Melissa couldn’t resist a slice of freshly baked, still-warm white loaf smothered in Nutella.
When it’s worth it, it’s worth it.
Breakfast in Translation
So what does this mean for you? It means that “breakfast food” is merely learned behavior, and not a cemented prescription. It means that, with a little creativity, you can bust out of your breakfast rut, whether from a standard American diet (toast, oatmeal, cereal, orange juice) or Paleo diet (eggs, bacon, avocado) and pick up some delicious tricks from other countries.
- Start your day with a big, fresh salad. Crisp greens and a balsamic and oil-based dressing are the perfect palate-cleanser first thing in the morning, and a tasty, nutrient-dense way to contribute to your “eat more veggies” venture.
- Experiment with breakfast veggies. Most of us don’t wake up craving a big pile of steamed spinach, but what about pepper and carrot slices dipped in Dreamy Avocado dressing, or some grilled eggplant and zucchini drizzled with balsamic?
- Many people worldwide start their day with soup, so try a hearty butternut squash bisque, tomato soup, or sip on a cup of bone broth to get your day off to a warm start.
- Breakfast meat isn’t limited to eggs, bacon, or sausage. How about smoked salmon? All-natural salami or other forms of high-quality charcuterie? Leftover chicken, turkey, or even an egg-topped burger makes for hearty, satisfying breakfast fare. (And if you do choose eggs, mix them up! Try hard-boiled one day, a frittata from It Starts With Food the next, and an Asian-inspired veggie stir-fry with eggs the following morning.
- Enjoy fruit as part of your breakfast meal, but don’t make it the star of the show. Too much sweet stuff right after waking can promote cravings and hunger throughout the day, so skip the juices and smoothies.
- Finally, stop thinking about it in terms of traditional breakfast! You can eat steak at 8 am just as easily as you can eat eggs and bacon at 8 pm – how liberating!
So take some cues from Scandinavia, and start thinking about your “meal number one” in a different (and refreshing) way. Want some additional “breakfast without eggs” ideas? Check this thread on the Whole9 Facebook page. Looking for some breakfast-that’s-not-breakfast inspiration? Check out the Whole30® section on Chowstalker, with 26 pages (!) of Whole30 Approved meals.
Ready to share your best non-traditional breakfast idea or recipe? Drop it in comments.