Europe is the continent referred to in “continental” breakfasts. Unlike conventional American or English breakfasts that typically include meats, eggs and potatoes, a traditional continental breakfast is light and simple, much like those enjoyed throughout Europe, particularly France. Hotels often provide free buffet-style continental breakfasts to guests to give them a bit of sustenance before they begin their day. You can set up a similar breakfast at home for busy family members to grab a morning bite.

Breads and Pastries

Sweet pastries are the stars of many continental breakfast spreads and typically include an assortment of Danish pastries, doughnuts, filled croissants, fruit fritters and cinnamon rolls. Buttermilk biscuits or yeast rolls with cinnamon butter are popular offerings. Many buffets include a self-serve toaster to brown bagels, English muffins, bread, toaster waffles and pancakes. Upscale extras often include a Belgian waffle maker and toppings such as syrup, butter, jams, jellies, whipped cream and fruit compotes.

Fruits and Grains

Single-serving packages of cold cereal are frequently part of continental breakfasts. Bananas, apples, oranges, kiwi, grapefruit and other fresh fruits can be used as cereal toppings or eaten out-of-hand. Bowls of mixed fruit salad add variety and color to continental breakfast tables and frequently have yogurt selections available to complement them. Mix-and-eat instant hot oatmeal and farina are included for those who like to start their day with a hot dish, along with milk, half-and-half, heavy cream and non-dairy creamers.


Self-serve pitchers of fresh-squeezed citrus juices are generally offered in continental breakfast settings. Individually sized cans of other juices round out the cold beverage selections. Coffee, tea and hot chocolate are common beverages, along with whole, non-fat and low-fat plain and chocolate milk. More elegant continental breakfasts offer fresh-brewed espresso and cappuccino as well as Mimosas, a delicate mixture of orange juice and champagne or sparkling white wine.

Special Dishes

Occasionally continental-style breakfast selections include heartier fare. Chafing dishes of scrambled or poached eggs are provided, along with pans of warm bacon, sausage links, sauteed ham slices and crispy hash browns. Warm individual portions of corned beef hash are also included in some continental breakfast buffets.


If you’re putting together a continental breakfast at home, follow a few guidelines to keep it balanced. Include several foods rich in protein, along with grains to provide complex carbohydrates for lasting energy. A good dose of vitamin C is included in fresh fruits and a little fat gives people a feeling of fullness to tide them over until lunch.