How’d This Get on My Plate: Breakfast

Good ol’ breakfast—it’s the meal many of us eat to start off our days in a healthy way. There are many great options for our first meal of the day: bagels with cream cheese, hot or cold cereals, fresh fruit, yogurt, eggs, French toast and pancakes. If you like variety, the list can go on and on. Whether you like to have a big breakfast or a small one, you may not stop to think about how some of our favorite breakfast foods reach store shelves or restaurant menus. I’ll give you a hint: It all starts on the farm.

Let’s talk about some of our popular breakfast foods and highlight some of the farming and production aspects that bring them from the field to your fork.

Culture Craze (Yogurt)

Yogurt provides a wide variety of nutrients, including protein and vitamin D. Like ice cream, butter and cheese, yogurt is a dairy product, meaning that it originates from milk. Yogurt is basically fermented milk. The fermentation of the milk is done by two fundamental bacterial cultures—Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus.

These bacteria will ferment the lactose sugar (“milk sugar”) within the milk to produce lactic acid. The rise in lactic acid production in the milk decreases pH and causes the milk to change from a liquid state to the more solid state that is characteristic of yogurt’s texture. This fermentation also produces the tart flavor profile we associate with yogurt as well. Other bacterial cultures, such as Lactobacillus acidophilusLactobacillus subsp. casei and Bifidobacteria may be added to yogurt as probiotic cultures, boosting the health benefits of yogurt even further.

To learn more about yogurt production steps in depth, here is a great resource.

All About the Oats (Oatmeal)

If you like a warm, cozy meal in a bowl for breakfast, you might choose oatmeal. Oatmeal provides us with fiber, iron, and other nutrients. Whether you choose steel-cut oats, rolled oats or quick oats, you can thank an oat farmer who is likely from South Dakota, North Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin or Nebraska (the major oat farming states).

The differences in these three types of oatmeal are the processing techniques used for the oats. Interestingly, their nutrition profiles are quite similar. Steel-cut oats are produced by simply cutting the whole groats into smaller pieces – this is the “least processed” and simpler form of oatmeal. Rolled oats (or oat flakes) basically are produced by flattening either whole or steel-cut groats with two rotating rollers. Lastly, quick oats contain oat flakes that are thinner than regular (e.g., “old fashioned”) oatmeal, so their starch can absorb water more quickly and cook faster as well.

Oats, also called Avena sativa, are used to feed both humans and animals. They are often used to produce animal feed. Farmers also often use oats as a cover crop, which can help protect fields from weed growth, absorb soil nutrients such as nitrogen and can help decrease the need for fertilizer on companion crops (crops grown in proximity).

Two Oinks and a Cluck (Bacon and Eggs)

Of course we know that eggs come from chickens or another type of bird (unless you fancy an egg substitute) and bacon comes from pigs (unless you have a preference for turkey bacon instead). However, you may not know much about the farmers who raise these animals and work to provide us with this long-time breakfast dish favorite. Both pig farmers/pork producers and chicken farmers abide by the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) regulations put in place to ensure the safety of our meat and egg supply.

Bacon provides a significant amount of protein and fat, and choosing leaner cuts of bacon helps to avoid higher levels of saturated fat. If you enjoy bacon or other cuts of pork, you are not alone. More than 65,000 pig farms in the United States help produce more than 20 billion pounds of pork each year. To responsibly care for all those pigs at every stage of their lives and to meet the demands of our food supply, farmers use modern techniques based on scientific advances and agricultural resources. Farmers establish animal care practices in barns including sow (female pig) gestation methods, and they track the impact that the animals have on the environment.

Scrambled, Sunny Side Up, or hard-boiled? Any way you like your eggs, you can help yourself to a nice serving of protein, vitamins and choline, which is an important nutrient for cognitive function, infant growth and development. Some brands of eggs also may be enriched with vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids.

While all chicken farms are expected to uphold animal welfare and food safety guidance, not all chicken farms are the same. Some chickens are raised to lay eggs (layers), and other chickens are raised to be used for their meat (broilers). Some farms raise both layers and broilers. Over the years, farmers have continued to select birds that have naturally grown better, laid better eggs, and produced better meat, then used them to produce future generations of chickens.

Loving Breakfast and Appreciating Farmers

Remember, after you enjoy your next breakfast, a farmer just helped you start your day off in a healthy and satisfied way. Stay tuned to our “How’d That Get on My Plate?” series to learn more about farming and food processing techniques that help make our meals.