It's called the most important meal of the day for good reason.
A donut with alarm bells on top
Credit: Getty Images / Assja / Betelgejze

Breakfast is one of the first opportunities you have to take a step toward your health goals each day. And if you're aiming to lose weight, it's the ideal time to fuel your body and brain, so you're ready to tackle the day ahead and make good-for-you choices about the food you eat. However, busy lifestyles, conflicting nutrition advice (hi, fad diets) and a heavy focus on "traditional" breakfast foods can leave you confused about how, what and when to eat. Here's what you need to know to create a healthy breakfast that's tasty and can help you lose weight.

7 Breakfast Mistakes That Can Hinder Weight Loss

1. You're skipping breakfast to save calories.

No, you actually don't have to eat breakfast, especially if you're not hungry, says New York City-based Isabel Smith, M.S., RD, CDN. However, skipping it isn't exactly a surefire way to eat fewer calories during the day, as you may end up eating more snacks later anyway.

"Starting off with a balanced breakfast helps stabilize your blood sugar for the day, keeping you from crashing early on and grabbing sugary midafternoon treats," Smith says. She also adds that, anecdotally, she finds breakfast eaters tend to eat more balanced diets during the day.

2. You're eating too late.

Try to eat within one to two hours after getting up, says Smith. "I find after the two-hour mark, hunger levels significantly increase, leading to overeating, eating too quickly and grabbing on-the-go or convenience foods to get something in immediately," she says. When you're not too hungry, you—not hangry you—get to make the informed choice.

In a rush? Try our quick and easy breakfast recipes like Avocado-Egg Toast, Peanut Butter & Chia Berry Jam English Muffins or Chocolate-Banana Protein Smoothie. They all take under 10 minutes to whip up, and will keep you satisfied all morning.

3. There's not enough protein.

Rather than focusing solely on carbs (like a couple of slices of toast), shift your attention to protein instead. "We lose muscle mass as we age, and this starts in our 30s," explains Lauren Harris-Pincus, M.S., RDN, of Nutrition Starring You. Protein, on the other hand, helps to retain muscle mass because it promotes muscle growth and repair. The more muscle you have, the more calories you'll burn at rest. Plus, a protein-rich meal can help you feel satisfied for longer, which means you'll have an easier time making it to your next meal or snack, without distracting hunger pangs.

Harris-Pincus suggests aiming for 20 to 30 grams of protein at each meal, including breakfast. (Your body can only utilize 25 to 35 grams of protein at once, which is why saving it all for dinner won't optimize this process, she says.) Get that in with breakfast staples like Greek yogurt, cottage cheese or eggs. Other foods, including vegetables and whole grains, also contain smaller amounts of protein, and all count toward your total, Harris-Pincus says.

4. Your breakfast is too small.

It's tough to get in all the nutrients your body needs if you eat a tiny breakfast. Harris-Pincus generally recommends aiming for a minimum of 300 calories. "That's the amount you need to get in all of your macros [protein, fat, carbohydrate]," she says. Go lower than that, and you'll be shortchanging yourself on nutrition and a satisfying amount of food.

Make a Pimiento Cheese & Egg Sandwich, some Peanut Butter Protein Overnight Oats or a Pineapple Green Smoothie. All three recipes take under 10 minutes of prep, clock in right around 300 calories and are packed with nutrients.

5. You're falling short of fiber.

Fiber is a keep-you-full nutrient that's also been correlated with weight loss. However, most of us fall short on it. Harris-Pincus suggests aiming to get in one-third of your fiber needs for the day at breakfast. That's roughly 8 grams of fiber for women and 13 grams of fiber for men. Not sure how to get there? A cup of cooked oatmeal has 4 grams of fiber, a cup of raspberries has 8 grams of fiber, a medium grapefruit has 3 grams of fiber, and a cup of spinach has about 1 gram of fiber.

These high-fiber breakfast recipes can help you meet your daily goals. The best part? With recipes like Everything Bagel Avocado Toast and Blueberry Almond Chia Pudding on the menu, you don't have to sacrifice flavor.

6. There's no color.

Quick: Look at your breakfast bowl or plate. Are there any fruits or vegetables on it? If it's a sea of beige and brown, you're depriving yourself of the perfect opportunity to get an extra dose of produce.

"Increasing fruits and vegetables at breakfast can make a big impact on your metabolism," says Smith. Research in the journal Nutrition & Diabetes found that people who ate a daily diet that included eight servings of vegetables a day, and two to three servings of fruits, lost weight, even without trying to eat fewer calories.

While 10-plus servings of produce may sound like a lofty goal, upping your current amount by one or two servings each day can help. Produce is packed with good-for-you fiber and nutrients that boost overall health and can help you lose weight. Add frozen berries or chopped apple to your cereal or oats, or toss a handful of spinach in your scrambled eggs or smoothie to get in your first serving of the day.

7. You're focused only on calories.

Losing weight means creating a calorie deficit, but it's not all about the calories. Quality counts the most. "The goal is to have a body that's healthy on the inside, regardless of your weight. While you don't necessarily have to lose weight to improve your health, you do need to give it the nutrients it needs for health," says Harris-Pincus.

One of the best ways to do that is by focusing on fiber-rich produce. These healthy breakfast recipes are ready in 15 minutes and all feature good-for-you foods like fruits, veggies, legumes and whole grains.