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Power up! It’s as easy as eating smart in the A.M.

Would you ever embark on a long car trip without filling your gas tank? Probably not. Yet many of us think nothing of skipping breakfast, depriving our bodies of fuel for as many as 16 hours.

Far from being “skippable,” the morning meal sharpens our early-morning problem-solving ability. And while many bypass breakfast to save calories, studies show that those who start their days on empty are more likely to reach for sugary, high-fat fare later on. It’s no wonder they tend to have higher blood cholesterol levels—and extra pounds.

A.M. ingredients

Look to a combination of carbohydrates, protein and fiber for your morning fuel. That makes cereal (whole grain is best) and skim milk not only convenient but ideal. Add fresh berries, raisins or a sliced apple for some fruity fiber.

Because fat doesn’t figure in a healthful breakfast, there’s little room for bacon, sausage and oil-laden muffins. (If you like breakfast meats, choose Canadian bacon.) Pancakes and waffles are fine once a week—just prepare them in a nonstick pan, limit portions and lay off the butter (top with jam or powdered sugar instead). As for dairy products, make them low fat.

OK to break with convention

Pizza, not pancakes, more your style? As long as it’s not loaded with extra cheese or sausage, indulge! When it comes to your breakfast bowl, anything goes, as long as it’s supplying the necessary nutrients. Try pasta tossed with low-fat ricotta or a piece of leftover chicken breast with a glass of OJ.

Eating on the run

Many breakfast skippers say they simply have no time to eat. Yet it doesn’t take long to toast a slice of bread and top it with jam. Instant oatmeal packets are convenient, as are frozen waffles and pancakes. Or pour some low-fat plain yogurt, skim milk and berries into a blender and make a take-along shake.

Make it a habit

If you’re a longtime breakfast skipper, it will take some work to get into the a.m. habit. Try eating a small breakfast two days this week. Pay attention to how it affects your mood, performance and hunger. If you notice that it gives you a needed charge, keeps your hunger in check and helps you concentrate, you may never skip your morning meal again!