Healthy Breakfasts with Less Work
I like to think of myself as a down-to-earth, reasonable, practical kind of person and I think that for the most part I am, but I do have this one tendency that regularly leaves me feeling like a naïve schmuck: I always believe that when summer starts things will slow down and I’ll make progress on my “to do” list.
This year, as we limped (staggered?) to the school finish line, one of the things I most looked forward to using all the “free” time for was getting the boys to cook one dinner a week. Sadly, I have made no progress in that goal, but one thing I have been doing is thinking about ways to streamline meals so that less of the burden falls on me.
In trying to come up with solutions that would mean less work for me and more independence for my boys, I stumbled upon the idea of creating a quick and healthy breakfast buffet.
Structure Is Necessary
One of the things that I have found most irritating when interacting with my kids about breakfast and lunch is the way that the options are seemingly never enough. Here’s what an exchange about these meals often looks like in my house:
Me: “What would you like for breakfast?”
Either son: “Ummm. I don’t know, what is there?”
Me (Thinking to myself: the same things there were yesterday): “Well, there’s bread, toast, muffins, eggs, breakfast sausage, lots of cheeses, peaches, watermelon, oatmeal, yogurt…”
Either son: “Hmmmmm. Anything else?”
Me: “I think that’s plenty of options.”
Either son: “Ummmm. None of that sounds good.”
Me: “Ok. So, then no breakfast?”
Either son: “I guess I’ll have…”
What I realized, as I pondered these conversations and the routine we had fallen into, was that by providing so many options, I was inviting decision paralysis.
It occurred to me that what I needed to do was create a bit more structure. Just like their completely open summer days needed a bit of a structure, so too did their meals. But what would that structure look like?
A Source of Inspiration: Hotels
As I brainstormed this issue, I got to thinking about hotels and how they offer their visitors breakfast buffets. In many ways, hotels have the same issues that many of us face each morning with our families — a time expanse of a few hours where sleepy diners need to float in to the dining area, grab some sustenance, and then rush out to meet the school bus, carpool, or morning commute (or these days to just move to another room).
Furthermore, I realized that rather than being a short-order cook, making whatever my kids desired, I could decide what limited options would be made available on a given morning and let them choose from those. In short, I was going to create a quick and healthy breakfast buffet, just like a hotel.
How to Create a Quick and Healthy Breakfast Buffet
Taking a page from some nicer travel spots I’ve visited, I realized the key is to set up a “buffet” that can be organized the night before and then pulled out by the earliest riser.
Here is a selection of items we can easily have on our own healthy breakfast buffets without too much effort:
- Storage containers filled with a variety of whole grain cereals and dried fruit
- Individual servings of cottage cheese and yogurts (preferably without lots of added sweeteners)
- A basket of whole grain English muffins, bagels, and/or bread for toasting themselves
- Waffles, pancakes, or muffins made and frozen in advance
- A collection of healthy spreads: fresh fruit jams, natural peanut and other nut or seed butters, pure maple syrup, cream cheese
- Hard-boiled eggs (you can even buy them pre-cooked and peeled)
- A plate of lean cold cuts (turkey, ham), smoked fish, and sliced cheese
- A plate of seasonal cut fruits or a jar of applesauce
- Bowls of granola, nuts, or trail mix
- Overnight oats
In addition, if you are feeling generous and/or motivated here are some hot items that you can add to the selections in the morning:
- Eggs- soft boiled and scrambled will sit for a while best, but any egg can be prepared pretty quickly (and you can even teach your kids how to cook their own eggs!)
- Breakfast sausage (meat or vegetarian) or bacon
- Oatmeal (you can even make this in the slow cooker the night before and wake up to warm oatmeal for all!)
How This Looks in My House
So now the mornings are going a little differently, when I get up (because I am always the earliest riser in our house) and am preparing my own breakfast, I will also prepare some items for the rest of the family to serve themselves.
If I’m making toast for myself, I’ll slice some bread for others to toast when they are ready.
If I’m making an egg for myself, I’ll make extra or will leave the makings out for others to use, if they like.
If I’m feeling super generous, I’ll cook up some chicken breakfast sausage (which I don’t usually eat myself but the rest of my family loves), and will leave it waiting for them in the skillet to do with what they will.
They also know that there are always muffins in the freezer and raw oats, honey, and, milk for a quick bowl of cereal.
Finally, I always put some washed and/or cut up fruit out on the table to have with whatever they end of choosing.
A Technique That Can be Used for Different Meals, Too!
Since starting this, I have realized that it also works well for lunches and even certain dinners.
At lunchtime, I will pull out breads, crackers, or tortillas; deli meats; cheeses; already chopped vegetables; fruit; and often olives and pickles. I’ll then invite everyone to build their own lunch. In doing it this way, my boys often choose to have “platters,” where they have a little of this and a little of that, which they think is fun and makes me happy because I don’t have to make another sandwich.
Similarly, you could do this for an end-of-the-week meal, where you just pull out all of the leftovers that you’ve got knocking around in the fridge, maybe throw together a salad, and just let everyone choose what they want. Easy and a great way to reduce food waste, too!
Do you ever use the buffet method to feed your family? I’d love to hear what your favorite foods to include are in the comments!