Make Breakfast and Still Get Out the Door on Time

The kids missed the bus. Someone needs a permission slip signed. The zipper on your skirt is broken and you can’t find your keys. The kids are in the car tearing open the foil packages of their breakfast when you find your keys in your purse. Where you’ve already looked. Twice.

Sitting at the stoplight, you find a half-crushed bag of pretzels for yourself. Using the rear-view mirror, you pull your hair into a ponytail, once again. You take a look at the chocolate-coated grins in the backseat. They look happy. So why do you feel so guilty?

Whether this is a daily occurrence or simply a Monday phenomenon, taking a bit of time the night before to prepare breakfast can help to alleviate some of the chaos.

Making the effort to prepare a quick, wholesome breakfast for you and your family takes little extra time, but has huge benefits. A full belly gives your kids the energy to start the day full force, and you’re creating a healthy food environment that will affect their choices down the road. Plus, your “mom guilt” meter can retreat a few notches. And eating a real breakfast yourself means you’re not slicing into that two-day-old baby shower sheet cake in the break room at 10 a.m.

make breakfast easier
Kale in smoothies? It’s nutritious, but kids might not like it. Use sweet fruit to hide the flavor. Photo by Daniel Friedman.

Decide what recipes work for you. What are your family’s tastes? How much time are you willing to devote to this endeavor? Prepare breakfast ahead of time while you’re already packing lunches, right after the kids go to bed, or right before you go to bed. Weekends may work better with your schedule. Getting older kids to help can also streamline the process.

Homemade smoothies are a great vehicle for healthy ingredients, and are much better for you than their commercial counterparts. The problem is the multiple ingredients can be messy and time consuming. Make a large batch at once.

Less kid-friendly but nutritious foods like kale or non-fat plain Greek yogurt can easily be hidden with naturally super-sweet ingredients like pineapple, strawberries or carrots. When “fresh” fruit is tasteless yet expensive (because it’s out of season and shipped in from South America), frozen fruit is a great option for smoothies. Frozen fruit is picked at its peak, giving you a much tastier product, often for less money. Nutrient content is unaffected by freezing, but be sure the frozen fruit does not contain added sugars.

Blend, pour into ice cube trays, and freeze. Defrost a few frozen cubes in a cup in the fridge overnight and grab on your way out the door.

Many other breakfast foods also freeze well. Take a cue from the frozen food aisle and make healthier versions of convenience foods like pancakes, muffins, biscuits, breakfast burritos, egg sandwiches or mini frittatas that can all be made in big batches and frozen. Not only is this cheaper, but you can add healthier ingredients like whole grains or vegetables, and reduce fat and sodium.

Freeze smart. Instead of throwing everything in one zip-top bag where it will freeze into one large clump, lay things flat on a large plate or baking sheet and freeze until solid. Then toss everything in a bag, zip it up and retrieve individual portions easily when needed. Nuke or toast them straight from the freezer while you’re trying to comb through little Emma’s rat’s nest.

make breakfast easier
Yogurt can be substituted for sour cream in recipes to boost nutrition and reduce fat. Photo by Daniel Friedman.

Keep your pantry stocked. Flour (preferably whole grain), oats, 100 percent whole grain bread products (bread, tortillas, English muffins, etc.), dried fruits, nuts and nut butters all keep well and can be added to many different things.

Modify recipes to be healthier. Two cups of all-purpose flour in a pancake muffin recipe can be substituted with one cup all-purpose flour plus one cup whole wheat flour. Sugar can be reduced by a fourth or more in many muffin recipes. Use unsweetened applesauce or mashed banana to replace the oil in muffin or quick-bread recipes. These can be exchanged with oil cup-for-cup, but it may be easier on your taste buds to ease into the full substitution. If a muffin recipe calls for ½ cup of oil, use ¼ cup of oil plus a ¼ cup of applesauce. If you’re satisfied with the flavor and texture, go ahead and substitute applesauce for the full amount of oil the next time.

Egg recipes can often be augmented with extra vegetables. Reduce or omit high-fat ingredients like salty breakfast meats or cheese.

Add flavor with spices or salt-free seasoning blends. Non-fat Greek yogurt in place of sour cream reduces fat and bumps up protein. Skim or reduced-fat milk is an easy swap for whole milk or half-and-half.

make breakfast easier
Steel-cut oats can be started before bedtime and be ready by morning. Photo by Daniel Friedman.

Overnight Steel-cut Oats
This can be done before you go to bed and takes less than 10 minutes of active prep time. In the morning, pour over a little milk and add some fresh or dried fruit, nuts and maybe a drizzle of maple syrup. Minimal effort on your part, and your kids get a breakfast full of whole grain that’s much tastier with far less sugar than those microwave packets.

1 teaspoon oil (whatever you’ve got on hand works—olive, canola, vegetable)
1 cup steel-cut oats
3 cups water
¼ teaspoon salt
Toppings of your choice

In a medium pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Once warm, add the oats. Cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour in the water and add the salt. Bring the pot to a rolling boil and cook for about a minute. Put a tight-fitting lid on the pot, turn off the heat and go to bed.