My grandfather’s Eastern European breakfast was simple. We can learn a lot from how he ate

I never met my maternal grandfather. He emigrated from Poland to New York City for a position with The Forward, a Yiddish newspaper. So when I saw that The Forward was offering a webinar on what our great grandparents ate for breakfast in Eastern Europe I signed right up.

Here are a few things I learned:

My ancestors’ breakfast was a simple meal. A typical breakfast was dark crusty bread with butter. One presenter suggested that spreading the butter to the very edges of the bread was a way for a parent to show love. Another common breakfast was a porridge made with millet or buckwheat groats.

And a favorite beverage in Eastern Europe was brown milk. Leaving boiled milk in an oven overnight causes a reaction between the milk’s protein and sugars. The result is a brownish liquid with a sweet caramel flavor. This process also kills bacteria and enzymes, which would be a plus when refrigeration is limited.

My ancestors drank a lot of tea. It was common to hold a sugar cube between the front teeth so the tea would be sweetened passing through the sugar. That seems like a lot more trouble than stirring a teaspoon into the cup.

Breakfast is the first meal of the day, not a specific food. That said, the most common breakfast foods are eggs, cereal, toast, oatmeal, bacon, sausage, fruit and yogurt. Nutritious dinner leftovers are also a good choice.

Breakfast is the opportunity to refuel the body after a night of sleep. I always suggest a meal with a mix of nutrients — protein, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats. Dark crusty bread, butter and brown milk fits that description. A study of 30,000 adults, published in 2021, showed that people who skipped breakfast often fell short on their intake of folate, calcium, iron, vitamin A and B vitamins.

Steer clear of the empty calories for your first meal of the day. I’m talking to you, donuts!

Sheah Rarback
Sheah Rarback

Sheah Rarback MS, RDN is a registered dietitian nutritionist in private practice in Miami.