Make brunch a creative experience with new ideas for a tasty and healthy midday meal from a Mass General nutritionist.

Julia Child once said, “Drama is very important in life: you have to come on with a bang. You never want to go out with a whimper. Everything can have drama if it’s done right. Even a pancake.”

Lucky for us, there is more to brunch than pancakes—even if they are dramatic ones. While the meal is sometimes used as an excuse for drinking before noon, there is also balance to be had in matters of health.

With a little forethought, you can make a spread that tastes good and offers up benefits for you and your guests.

An early midday meal is the perfect time to feature foods that will help fuel your day. With a little forethought, you can make a spread that tastes good and offers up benefits for you and your guests.

Don’t Ditch the Yolk

First, forget worrying about the cholesterol in eggs. In fact, the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans no longer include cholesterol as a nutrient of concern (it has not been demonstrated to significantly elevate blood levels).

The yolk, which contains most of an egg’s cholesterol, is an important source of nutrients. The yellow center holds the majority of vitamin D and B12 found in eggs. It is also low in saturated fat—the type thought to increase the cholesterol associated with cardiac complications. So relax and, perhaps, try this spinach strata recipe.

Heart-Healthy Oats

If eggs are not your thing, swap in a heart-healthy staple like oats. This recipe, which sweetens the whole grain with blueberries and maple syrup, offers up a number of benefits. Blueberries have a high antioxidant content, containing phytochemicals like resveratrol—the same compound found in grape skins and, subsequently, wine—and ellagic acid.

In laboratory studies, ellagic acid has been shown to diminish DNA damage that can lead to cancer and has decreased the growth of breast, prostate and digestive tract-related cancers. The oats are also a good source of soluble fiber, which can help to lower cholesterol and foster gut health. And much of the dish can be prepped the night before, so you won’t be scrambling in the morning.

Veggies Belong at Brunch

Asparagus is a good source of vitamin A and folate, both necessary to support cell growth and keep major organs—like your skin—healthy.

Brunch is also a great opportunity to feature vegetables. Asparagus is a sweet-tasting vegetable and an easy way to highlight its flavor is to roast it. (After snapping off the woody bottoms, the spears need little more than a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of salt before being tossed into a 425 degree oven.) You can also shave its raw stalks in a salad. (Try this recipe.)

Asparagus is a good source of vitamin A and folate, both necessary to support cell growth and keep major organs—like your skin—healthy. The plant also contains compounds that help feed healthy bacteria in your gut, which new research suggests may help us ward off sickness from both acute illnesses as well as chronic diseases.

Rhubarb Ranks High for Health

Rhubarb is another noteworthy vegetable for your table, never mind that it is typically sweetened and paired with fruits like strawberries. Interestingly, cooking this vegetable—which is usually how the plant is prepared—seems to augment its antioxidant capacity.

Warm weather is finally here: why not include food that is now in season?

More studies are needed to determine the impact of this increase on human health, but it has been hypothesized the protective chemicals found in rhubarb may provide defense against chronic diseases like heart disease, neurodegenerative disorders, and cancer. As far as vegetables go, rhubarb has some of the highest concentrations of these compounds. For a boost, mix some of the chopped vegetable into your favorite muffin batter.

So at the very least, all of this is cause for some excitement in the brunch arena. The results may be dramatic. Even more than the most theatrical of pancakes.

Emily Gelsomin, MLA, RD, LDN
Emily Gelsomin, MLA, RD, LDN

Emily Gelsomin, MLA, RD, LDN, is a senior clinical nutrition specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital. As a registered dietitian, she counsels on medical nutrition therapy on an outpatient basis and works extensively with Be Fit, the hospital’s employee wellness program.

Jointly sponsored by The Clubs at Charles River Park and MGH Nutrition and Food Services, the 10-week program focuses on helping participants “Be Fit and Eat Right.” Every ten weeks, employees from different departments within the hospital compete with each other as they make a commitment to Be Fit. Through the creation of a social environment at the workplace, participants are supported to make progress in personal lifestyle changes with the help of a unique support system that includes a dedicated nutritionist and personal trainer.

Be Fit strives to create a milieu of wellness that extends beyond the 10-week curriculum by offering features to those who are not part of the intensive program. This includes the creation of Choose Well, Eat Well, a rating system designed to help both employees and patients increase awareness of healthy choices at retail eateries within the hospital. It also includes a monthly e-mail with a timely nutrition tip.