Are you psyched for Stampede breakfasts? As a born and raised Calgarian who moved to the US for university and didn’t return for 16 years, I unapologetically love Stampede breakfasts, not because of pancakes and sausages, but rather for our famous Western hospitality. Where else in the world do communities and businesses all over town welcome their neighbours with free breakfast parties for 11 days straight?
But starting day after day with a pile of white flour and processed meat isn’t exactly a recipe for great health, is it? If you hit just one or two breakfasts during Stampede and eat well the rest of the week, no big deal. But here’s the good news: If you prefer more nutritious, energizing food, it’s out there.
Just watch that you don’t confuse health with hype. As fellow dietitian Vincci Tsui, RD, commented, “I find a lot of these ‘healthy’ Stampede breakfasts are more ‘health halo’ than health.” She’s referring to labels like “natural” and “organic” that may blind people to excessive sugar, refined grains, or a lack of nutrition, which have a much more tangible impact on well-being. Health halos can trick people into paying more or eating more, so I like to call them out. Have them if you like, but know when it’s just for enjoyment or personal preference.
Caveats aside, here are six breakfasts that go above and beyond, offering perks like whole fruit (vs juice), eggs or other protein-rich foods that aren’t processed meat, whole grain pancakes, or gluten-free options, for those who need it. (Click the titles for more details.)
Thursday, July 13, 8-11am. Free.
- Whole fruit! Actual blueberries, reheated from frozen, with no sugar or anything else added.
- Whole-grain barley pancakes! Whole grains are consistently linked to better heart health, thanks to additional nutrients like blood-pressure-friendly potassium and fiber. And, it’s mostly soluble fiber, which can help lower your cholesterol. And yes, they taste great.
- Omega-3 eggs, boosted with (a small amount of) DHA, the type of omega-3 fat found in fish. No, they don’t taste fishy.
Health halo alert: These other menu items aren’t perfect, but they’re still an upgrade from your typical Stampede breakfast:
- Smoothies: You’re better off having whole fruit, but at least smoothies have a bit more fiber than juice, and the portion size is small.
- Chicken apple sausage. It’s lower in saturated fat and sodium than typical breakfast sausages, but it’s still processed meat. Frequent consumption is associated with cancer, diabetes, and heart disease, but having it about once a week (or less) appears to be fine.
- Fat-free yogurt that is low in sugar, but sweetened with sucralose (Splenda). It’s safe enough to be approved by Health Canada, but some well-respected experts are still wary. Yogurt can be a nice protein boost, but this meal already has plenty of that.
- Lite syrup, which has about half the calories and sugar, but with a pretty hairy ingredients list, as is typical for any pancake syrup that’s not costly 100% maple. It’s not clear that actually makes a difference to health outcomes (sugar is sugar), but you can probably skip it and use the blueberries as a topping instead.
I’d go wholeheartedly for the first three items and then pick and choose your favourites from the rest.
(Their exclamation marks. I like vegan food, but I’m not quite that enthusiastic.)
Saturday, July 8, 9-11am. Bridgeland Riverside Community Association. Free.
A vegan Stampede breakfast! Surprised? As of today, there are nearly 700 people planning to attend. Is vegan necessarily healthier, or is this another halo? It depends on what replaces the bacon, sausage, and other animal foods. If it’s mostly whole, minimally processed plant foods, like fruit, vegetables, whole grains, or legumes, you’re in good shape, and they’ve got ’em. Highlights:
- Fresh fruit! Always better than juice.
- Tofu scramble, which is often much tastier than you might think, depending on the seasonings used. Give it a try! You might be pleasantly surprised.
- Whole grain pancakes, made with Bobs Red Mill Brown Rice Flour, which is also gluten-free.
- Breakfast potatoes. Go for either these or pancakes, unless you’re looking to get lots of extra calories. Most people don’t need both.
Here come the health halos:
Vegan bacon and sausage – it’s not clear that these are healthier than regular bacon. They’re highly processed, with next to no protein and quite a bit of sodium. But it’s not really a Stampede breakfast without bacon and sausage, is it? Include them for fun, if want to experiment, or if you’re a committed vegan and want to do breakfast Stampede-style.
- Real maple syrup. It’s natural, it’s Canadian, and it tastes better. All good, but still, just two tablespoons give you about a whole day’s worth of sugar, according to the Heart & Stroke Foundation’s sugar position statement, which specifically recommends limiting the sugar naturally found in syrups, even the good stuff. Have a drizzle if you like, but go easy.
- “Gluten-friendly” pancakes and other items. This is basically saying “It’s probably gluten-free, but cross-contamination may occur,” which can happen when foods are prepared in the same kitchen. If you have celiac disease, look for truly gluten-free food, prepared to avoid cross-contamination, like you’ll find at the Calgary Celiac or Amber Approved breakfasts (below). If you don’t have another (rare) medical reason to avoid gluten or wheat, this isn’t really a benefit.
Saturday, July 8, 9-11am. Marda Loop Community Centre. Free to CCA members, $5 for others, $10/family.
- Gluten-free pancakes, available either with or without dairy. Either way, they’ll contain eggs, but no nuts, for those with other allergies and intolerances.
- Gluten-free breakfast sausages
- Maple syrup (see comments above)
- Omegalicious flavored fish oils, which are come in flavours like peach mango or tangerine zest, sweetened with xylitol, a natural lower calorie/carbohydrate sweetener. I’ve never heard of using them as a pancake topping, but Cindy from CCA says “they’re SO delicious,” so it might be fun to try.
Sunday, July 9, 8-11am. Minimum $3 donation, with funds going to support cancer research.
Random, I know, but I mention this one because their breakfast is rounded out with fruit salad and eggs, done how you like them. There are also breakfast potatoes, a live band, chair massages, as well as games and mini-manicures for the kids. This event has been organized and staffed by salon employees for 18 years now, and last year they raised $3812 to support cancer research.
Wednesday, July 12, 9-11am. $2 or a non-perishable food item, with all proceeds to the Calgary Food Bank.
This might be the only time I recommend a Brazilian steakhouse, but I like that you have the option to get protein from three foods that are not processed meat: Roast pork loin, eggs, and beans (with rice). Yay for fiber-rich beans! There will also be fresh fruit, as well as some items you won’t mistake for healthy (mini-donuts, sausage). Take what you like, leave what you don’t. And I bet it will be fun, because Brazil.
Wednesday, July 12, 7-10am. Hotel Arts. $50, supporting Meals on Wheels.
This event serves up a hefty side of hype, but there’s some health as well. It’s another good option for people who need to follow a gluten or dairy-free diet. There will be fresh fruit, eggs, and smoothies.
Otherwise, there are so many health halos I don’t know where to start. The feast is described as being “sugar-free.” Funny, because there’s maple syrup, juice (at least partly fruit juice, I’m assuming), and coconut cinnamon sugar dusted mini-donuts. The distinction is “no ‘refined’ sugars.” Sorry, they might be slightly different, but not in any way that will impact your health. However, getting tricked into overindulging by slick marketing might.
To be clear, guidelines from Diabetes Canada and the World Health Organization, as well as the one cited above from Heart & Stroke Foundation, suggest limiting all “free sugars,” including those found in juice, honey, and syrup, to 5-10% of your calories. The only exception is made sugars found naturally in whole, nutritionally dense foods like whole fruit and milk. Have the others if you like, but do it for pleasure, and have just as much as you need enjoy the meal. [End rant.]
Similarly, nitrite-free sausages sound good, but it’s not clear that they’re any healthier. Most of them are still sodium bombs, cured with cultured celery extract or other additives that are high in naturally occurring nitrates.
If you go, go because you love a gourmet food adventure. This food will surely be delicious. Go to support a good cause, or because you need to follow a gluten-free or dairy-free diet and this is sure to be a fun way for you to enjoy the Stampede spirit. Just watch that you don’t trip on any fallen health halos.
Saturday, July 8, 7:30-11am. Free. The Ismaili Muslim Jamatkhana and Centre – 1128 45th Avenue NE.
In addition to pancakes, you’ll be treated to real eggs and bharazi, a coastal East African dish made with pigeon peas in a mild coconut curry. Pigeon peas are little nutrition powerhouses: fiber, protein, potassium and more. A great (vegetarian) food adventure, and reportedly one of the most popular, well-organized breakfasts in town, typically welcoming about 6000 people.
A few other highlights: They’re offering free tours of the Jamatkhana. Guests are invited to wear red and white to help commemorate Canada’s 150th birthday. And if you want to go green, Cyclepalooza is organizing a group bike ride from the Rundle LRT Station at 8am.
8. Your humble kitchen.
What if you just prefer to hit your neighbourhood breakfast, but you want a healthier start? Consider eating before you get there. Or bring along some berries, almonds, or pumpkin seeds. Mandarin oranges travel well. Toss a hunk of cheese in your bag so you can skip the sausages and still have protein (plus bonus calcium). I’ve even been known to bring hard-boiled eggs for everyone to nibble on while they wait. #nerdalert
Half the fun is the entertainment and socializing anyhow, and this way you can skip the long, hot line and just enjoy the party. Yahoo!
If you know of another breakfast that should make the list, let me know. Comments welcome in the Sweet Spot Facebook community.