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Breakfast on a Fast Break : Health: As Americans cut back on cholesterol, quick, healthy, morning meals have become more convenient.


For years, nutritionists have been telling us to eat good breakfasts, and for years we've had plenty of excuses: no time to cook, no time to eat, no time to clean up.

Now food manufacturers are coming up with quick new foods that reflect an interest in healthy breakfasts. You have only three minutes? There are plenty of options: microwavable breakfast entrees, sandwiches, frozen French toast, pancakes, waffles, light blueberry muffins, cold cereal, hot cereal, soft breakfast tacos. Even cereal and milk to go.

A recent study by MRCA Information Services says that Americans are listening to nutritionists and have cut back, especially during the past five years, on high-cholesterol breakfast items such as meat, eggs and doughnuts. Nowadays, consumers prefer oatmeal, whole-wheat bread and fruit to help them rise and shine in the morning.

"People are eating foods today that are better for them and, with all the convenience foods in the marketplace, it's easier than ever to eat a fast, healthy breakfast," said MRCA's Diane Marpe.

Not that you need to turn to those new products to eat quickly and nutritiously. There is yogurt with fresh fruit and a sprinkling of Grape Nuts on top for crunch; sliced strawberries and fat-reduced ricotta with a dash of cinnamon, cold cereal, skim milk, a sliced banana and a few raisins, crunchy peanut butter and apple slices on rice cakes, low-fat Cheddar cheese with whole-grain crackers, low-fat cream cheese and jelly on toasted raisin bread.

And there are quick ways of getting breakfast with non-traditional morning foods. Rice pudding can be eaten cold; spooning a serving into a dish takes about 10 seconds. And the microwave comes to the rescue for those in a hurry. Reheating a slice of pizza takes 60 seconds; warming soup, either leftover or from a can, takes two to three minutes.

But if you need convenience from the microwave via the freezer case, manufacturers are gearing up for you. Frozen waffles are the largest single frozen breakfast item, with sales of $404.4 million for the year ending July 13, 1990, an increase of 22.8% over the preceding 12-month period. Frozen breakfast sandwiches and entrees are the second-biggest sellers, with sales of $336.5 million for the same period. And sales of pancakes and French toast came to $102.5 million for the period.

In an attempt to bring its brand into every nutritional event, from breakfast to bedtime, Weight Watchers has introduced a line of frozen, microwavable breakfast foods for the calorie-conscious; items range from 150 to 260 calories per serving.

The easiest way to make foods low calorie is to reduce the portion size. Weight Watchers pancakes are 2.5 ounces (150 calories), whereas McDonald's are 6.2 ounces (410 calories). A 3-ounce Weight Watchers' Sausage Biscuit contains 220 calories and 560 milligrams of sodium, versus McDonald's, which is 4.41 ounces, 440 calories and contains 1,080 milligrams of sodium.

Weight Watchers developed these breakfast foods for women 25 to 54 years of age. By their nature, the items are convenient and offer alternatives to similar foods found in fast-food restaurants. "However, we didn't go into the market to take on McDonald's," said Shelly Streeter of Foodways, manufacturers of frozen Weight Watchers products.

Yet, some people like to start the day with something sweet, such as a muffin. Each of Weight Watchers 2.5-ounce blueberry and banana-nut muffins has 5 grams fat, compared with the 32 grams in some 8-ounce commercial muffins. Weight Watchers cheese-sweet rolls contain 180 calories and 5 grams fat.

In the microwave, Aunt Jemima French toast is ready in 60 seconds, a stack of Pillsbury pancakes takes 95 seconds. In 3 minutes, with no pots or dishes to wash, Swanson's Great Starts scrambled eggs, hash brown potatoes and bacon is table-ready.

Jimmy Dean is test-marketing a frozen-microwavable spinoff of the ever-popular corn dog. Called Flapsticks, each breakfast sausage comes on a stick enclosed in blueberry, apple cinnamon or original (regular) pancake batter. Country Selections, another of Jimmy Dean's new breakfast lines--four entrees and three sandwiches--are packaged on blue-speckled serving trays, reminiscent of old-fashioned enameled metal cookware. Heating takes only 2 1/2 minutes.

George A. Hormel has launched a line of microwavable breakfast sandwiches in nine varieties, including a chicken biscuit and a steak biscuit.

Also being test-marketed are soft breakfast tacos containing egg, bacon and cheese or egg and Mexican sausage from Ruiz Food Products, a California company.

If you like hot cereal in the morning but don't have time to stand over a hot stove, you can microwave premeasured oatmeal or cream of wheat and have a hot breakfast in 1 1/2 minutes.

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