5 Breakfast Lessons I Learned from Scandinavia

updated Jul 30, 2020
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For many of us, breakfast is rarely more than a cup of coffee or a piece of fruit while rushing out the door. That’s if we manage to eat anything at all: Over 31 million Americans regularly skip breakfast. There is research to back up both sides of the “To Eat or Not to Eat Breakfast” argument, but I think most of us share a wistfulness for a proper breakfast.

Everything I know about eating a more delicious breakfast I learned from my Swedish heritage and the cultures of Scandinavia. Here are five important lessons Scandinavia has to teach us about breakfast.

Breakfast in Scandinavia

In Scandinavia, breakfast is an honored mealtime. While it might not be long and drawn out every day of the week, people do make time for it. “We’ve always sat down together and shared breakfast as a meal, not an afterthought,” says Bronte Aurell, owner of London’s Scandinavian Kitchen and the author of “The Scandi Kitchen.” “In the summer, we eat it outside in the morning sun; in the dark winter months, by candlelight in the cozy kitchen.”

I can vouch for this personally: Growing up, my Swedish mother insisted on a sit-down breakfast every day and yes, in the winter months, it came with flickering candles. Back then, I would have loved nothing more than the normalcy of a bowl of multicolored, sugar-infused, industrial cereal; today I am happy for my mother’s homemade breakfast policy.

Taking time in the morning to sit down and enjoy a meal is a way to ease into the day—something we can all benefit from in our hectic lives. That’s probably the number-one takeaway from the morning eating habits of the Nordic lands.

What else can we learn from the Scandinavian countries besides making time for our morning meal? Plenty. Here are five more lessons to incorporate into our morning routines.

1. Oatmeal doesn’t have to be oatmeal.

Hot cereals are common on the Scandinavian breakfast table, but they’re often a little more varied than the average American bowl of oatmeal. “Slow-cooked sprouted oatmeal topped with cream and my dad’s Norwegian wild blueberry jam is a current favorite,” says Signe Johansen, Scandinavian food writer and author of the book Scandilicious.

You can also make porridges with all kinds of grains, from pearl barley to rye flakes, so try to branch out beyond oats. And whatever you’re making, be sure to flavor it with lots of spices. “The smell of cinnamon and cardamom makes for a great start to the day,” says Darra Goldstein, author of “Fire + Ice: Classic Nordic Cooking,”another fan of hot cereals made with mixed grains.

2. It’s OK to have beer for breakfast.

In Denmark, you’ll find øllebrød, a dish that’s an excellent way to use up dried pieces of rye bread (and any leftover beer, should you have that problem). Essentially, rye bread is soaked overnight in beer—preferably a darker beer that’s a little sweeter and with some spices, like a holiday ale—and then, the following morning, you cook it into a porridge. You can serve it with whipped cream or milk, and if you want to add in a few more flavors, raisins and orange zest make for a flavorful, hearty breakfast.

3. A sandwich isn’t just for lunch.

An open-faced sandwich is a very common Scandinavian breakfast. It can be as simple as a piece of rye bread with butter and a slice of cheese, or you can spruce it up a bit with toppings like cucumber, apples, sliced egg, or bell pepper. Chopped chives or dill are never a bad idea.

Crispbread is a popular base for an open-faced sandwich. It adds a crunchy texture to your breakfast and is both low-calorie and super-filling. “One slice of crispbread has about 40 calories in it, compared to a slice of normal white bread, which has about 100 to 120 calories,” says Aurell. “This means you can add extra cheese to make up the difference!”

4. Warm bread is just a freezer away.

Home-baked, hearty bread is an essential part of the Scandinavian kitchen. While weekdays might not be the ideal time for baking, it’s easier than you might think to have “fresh” bread on hand in the mornings. “Bake buns on the weekends and then take them straight from the freezer to reheat,” says Goldstein. That way you always have a warm piece of bread to spread some butter on and top with a slice of cheese—the perfect morning smörgås.

5. Mix savory with sweet for extra protein.

Scandinavian breakfasts have a much larger variety of foods than we are used to finding on the American table. “The traditional Scandinavian breakfast that I grew up with was quite a spread,” says Johansen. “You’d typically see my grandmother’s home-baked poppyseed rundstykker (little buns) in a basket; lots of homemade jams and honeys; a platter of cold cuts, smoked fish, cheese, soft-boiled eggs, and some smoked salmon if it was a special occasion; pink grapefruits sliced in half; assorted mueslis and drinking yogurts; and sometimes pastries, but more often than not really delicious bread would supplant the need for any sweeter pastries.”

Of course, it’s hard to justify this kind of spread on a daily basis, but you can mimic the mix of sweet and savory. “We usually eat soured milk or a similar dairy product, topped with seeds or oats and maybe some berries. Simple–and good for your system,” says Aurell. “Then we follow it with some rye crispbread or rye bread with a bit of cheese or butter on it.”

Do you have any breakfast traditions? Share with us in the comments!

This post originally ran on Kitchn. See it there: 5 Breakfast Lessons I Learned from Scandinavia