I smelled burning bread when I woke up, a clear sign that DF was fixing himself some breakfast. When I got to the kitchen I found he’d split and toasted two homemade rolls in the same frying pan used to cook a salmon burger and some onions.
By “toasted,” I mean that one half-roll was as black as the inside of a brunette cow. The other three halves were brown with cinderized rims. DF’s motto for his own food prep is simple: If it’s smoking, it’s cooking; if it’s charred, it’s done. Then again, he used to eat burnt match-heads when he was a little boy.
Burned bread, sizzled onions and a salmon patty: The breakfast of champions. It could just as easily have been leftover fish chowder, or leftover chili with rice. Or oatmeal with flax seed but no milk. Or nothing but coffee, if he’s fasting for religious reasons. His idea of breakfast is much more flexible than mine.
I almost always have oatmeal, although yesterday it was toast and fruit and homemade yogurt because we were out of milk. (I like a looser oat than DF does.) Neither way is necessarily better: Breakfast is, or should be, whatever works for you. If more people felt that way, they could save a lot of money.
Prefab breakfast foods (frozen pancakes? really?), fast-food morning menus, bagels and coffee picked up at a drive-through – all are popular options and all cost considerably more than the DIY versions.
Breakfast at home not only saves you money, it lets you control what you’re eating – using low-fat cream cheese, say, or egg substitute in order to observe preferred dietary habits.
You’re the reason coffee kiosks make money
I once interviewed a woman who’d volunteered to help a friend fix his money issues, i.e., the fact that his paycheck wasn’t lasting as long as it should have. She discovered that he was spending as much as half his monthly food budget on breakfast burritos from the truck parked outside his workplace.
Yes, half. Which is sad, since breakfast can be the cheapest meal of the day – and just a little prep work can save you a bundle over what you’re paying for those single-serve instant oatmeal cups.
(I did the math, so you wouldn’t have to: An instant “Oatmeal Express” cup sells for $14.33 per pound, whereas instant oatmeal in packets will set you back $4.77 per pound. Bulk oatmeal at the supermarket costs 99 cents a pound.)
Maybe you’re one of those people who can’t eat first thing in the morning, but who is ravenous upon arriving at work. So you opt for a bear claw from the lobby espresso stand or a breakfast sandwich from the workplace cafeteria. Ka-ching!
Back to the “prep work” part: It takes very little work to have breakfast ready to go – literally, if need be — when you get up. Whether you do it as batch cooking (an hour or so spent to cranking out a month’s worth of breakfast burritos) or multitasking (having oatmeal or biscuits going while you’re doing something else), it can shore up your budget in a major way.
Do it in batches
Remember, everyone has his own idea of what “breakfast” food is. Do what works for you. Here are a few ideas to pique your interest:
Batch cereal. Cook enough oatmeal for a week, add whatever you like (milk, sugar, dried fruit, nuts) and put it into single-serving containers. Take it to work with you and nuke it. Prefer cold cereal? Parcel it into small containers and keep a container of milk at work. Best-case scenario: Cereals are bought on sale with coupons.
Batch fruit. Every few days, cut up oranges and any other fruit you like. Keep it in those single-serve bowls to grab and go, or enjoy it at your own table alongside toast, a bagel or cereal. Or mix in some yogurt and sprinkle on a bit of granola for crunch.
Breakfast burritos. Eggs, sautéed vegetables, maybe a little meat and/or cheese and/or beans all wrapped in a tortilla – so easy, and so much cheaper than the fast-food versions. Recipes abound online and you can tailor them to your specific dietary preferences (e.g., egg white only, low sodium cheese). Make a week’s worth (or a month’s worth) and freeze them. Note: If there’s a bakery outlet in your area, see if it sells tortillas.
Breakfast biscuits. Even if you buy a tube of those “whomp biscuits” vs. making them from scratch they’ll still be cheaper than a takeout breakfast. (The Sweet Potato Queens call them “whomp biscuits” because they are opened with a whomp against the kitchen counter.) Add any combination of the following: egg, cheese, bacon, sliced or diced ham, sausage. These can be done with English muffins, too. I do this with a wonderfully simple recipe called Soft Oat Rolls that needs to rise only for an hour, right on the baking sheet. Made into little sandwiches with loss-leader sausage patties, they’re a mainstay at Café Awesome.
Bake some potatoes. Fill the slow cooker with spuds on Sunday afternoon. Reheat them in the microwave and add a dollop of yogurt and a side of fruit. Slice and fry them alongside eggs. Dice them up and add to those breakfast burritos.
Cookies for breakfast?
Prefab bagel. Slice it after supper or right before bed, spread on a little butter or cream cheese and put it in a plastic container in the fridge. Set an orange on top, or leave a banana by your bag or briefcase. The next morning your breakfast is ready, whether you eat it on the spot or take the container and fruit to work.
Mini-omelets. Easier than they sound – basically, just beaten eggs doctored any way you like (cheese, sautéed vegetables, meat) baked in muffin cups. They freeze well.
Boiled eggs. Hard-cook six or eight on Sunday while you’re doing other things. They’re a quick breakfast when served with toast and/or fruit.
Breakfast sips. Make a shake or smoothie with milk/juice, fruit, yogurt, wheat germ, peanut butter, protein powder or whatever you like.
Breakfast cookies. Myscha Theriault from the Wise Bread blog offers a recipe that features bananas, applesauce, oats, skim milk and dried fruit – but no flour and no eggs. Or try “baked oatmeal,” a dish you cut into squares and serve; A Year of Slow Cooking offers a recipe that looks pretty darned tasty.
Breakfast muffins. Tons of recipes out there; make a couple of dozen and freeze them.
Peanut butter toast. Or almond butter toast, or whatever-butter toast. Put it on an English muffin if you like; again, both are available at bakery outlets. A side of that fruit cup will cut the stickiness a bit.
Whether pie or pork
Breakfast can actually be whatever you want, from a bowl of plain yogurt to a plate of leftover pork chops.
Chili with rice is too heavy for me in the morning, but DF will happily consume whatever’s in the fridge. He’s such an early riser that he also has plenty of time to cook eggs and meat before going to work. That is, on the days when he doesn’t just microwave oats and water for five minutes.
My friend Linda B. thinks leftover cherry pie, heated and served with ice cream, is a great breakfast. She hasn’t eaten it for years, mind you, but the memory lingers.
I have a lingering memory of my own: cold spaghetti for breakfast, an idea that brings faint nausea rather than joy. These days a lighter repast is kinder to my stomach.
That doesn’t stop me from indulging in DF’s weekend bacon-egg-and-potato extravaganzas, mind you. I just make sure he takes my rolls out of the frying pan before the smoke alarm goes off.
Readers: How do you handle breakfast? Got any money- or labor-saving tips to share?