Chowder: It’s not just for breakfast anymore.

thI 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?

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  1. Lots of good suggestions. I used to make 4 fried eggs at a time (in one pan), then take 2 to work for breakfast, just reheat in the microwave for less than a minute. Now I’m even more low maintenance, I hard boil eggs in the oven (so easy!) and then take 2 to work for breakfast. So no frying pan and spatula to wash and I can make a weeks worth at a time. Love it! Plus super cheap:)

    • Sorry, should have included the directions for the hardboiled eggs in the oven. Preheat oven to 325 degrees, put eggs in a muffin tin (you don’t have to, they just have less of a chance of rolling on the floor) then cook for 25-30 min depending on how well done you like your eggs. After taking them out, put them in cool water for 10 min or so.

  2. micki

    cold spaghetti!!! i remember eating that for breakfast 🙂 don’t do it much anymore but hey, it was a great instant breakfast that i like better than cereal 🙂

  3. Candace

    I freeze my own breakfast sandwiches – much cheaper even than the frozen ones at the warehouse clubs.

    12 eggs
    1 tube breakfast sausage
    1 onion, chopped
    12 multigrain sandwhich thins
    3/4 – 1 cup shredded cheese – I use cheddar/jack mix

    Preheat oven to 350. Brown sausage in skillet crumbling thoroughly. Add onion and cook until translucent. Drain. Whisk eggs with a little salt and pepper. Put the sausage in a 13 x 9 baking dish and pour eggs over the top. Bake 15 – 20 minutes until set. Sprinkle with cheese while still warm. Cool until easy to handle. Cut in 12 equal pieces – 3 across short side x 4 across long. Put each on sandwich thins, wrap in paper towel, then in plastic and freeze. Reheat 65 seconds in microwave. Variations on this recipe are endless!

  4. I will gladly heat up a bowl of purple hull peas and eat that for breakfast. Leftover cold pizza is right up my alley.

    I have been precooking breakfast for the past few years. If I eat eggs, I am not so susceptible to reactive hypoglycemia. I scramble eggs in multiples of 2. Four eggs will give me a breakfast now or dinner and the other two are for another morning when I don’t have time. I put two scrambled eggs in a straight-sided Tupperware cereal bowl. I place two pieces of buttered toast, buttered side together on top of the eggs, replace the lid and refrigerate.

    In the morning I heat the eggs in the microwave for 45 seconds, barely room temp but not tough. I pop the buttered toast in the toaster. I can eat this for breakfast at home or put it all back in the Tupperware and have a warmish egg sandwich wherever I am going. Other people bring donuts or junk.

    The other breakfast on the go: I dehydrate bananas and store in a quart jar. I dump a about two dozen banana pieces in a bowl, add chocolate chips stored in a jar, and then add pecans halves bought from friends at the market. This is an ideal breakfast. Mostly, I eat this when others are eating junk at some meeting at dawn.

    I am very adaptable at breakfast.

  5. Holly Samlan

    Most oiften i tend to eat cereal & fruit or plain ff yogurt & fruit. However, I change thing up here & there w/ toasted bread (english, bagel, rye) topped w/ cheese, cottage cheese, cream cheese or PB.

    Add in an occcassional egg or pancakes or waffles.

    If I am real ambitous I might make a quiche, fritatta or breakfast cassarole and have breakfast for days 9or lunch or dinner).

    Also, I might eat just about ANY left over in my fridge. who says chicken/pizza/sliced meat is just for lunch or dinner?

  6. Rose1953

    Hmmm – I just had a little bit of left over mashed potatoes with some gravy and a hard boiled egg….cleaning out left overs. DH had Cheerios with banana and milk.
    I also have frozen Oatmeal pancakes in the freezer, some home made instant Oatmeal mixes – just add liquid – available. Possibilities are endless.

  7. Agatha Silverdragon

    I’m going to be baking next week’s breakfasts tomorrow as a matter of fact. Just picked up some asparagus at the local “used” grocer’s. Asparagus quiche! Yummy. . .must cut small sections. . .must cut small sections. 😀

  8. Kristin

    This reminds me of a post I saw on a parenting blog from a frustrated mother who was concerned because her preschooler didn’t like “breakfast foods.” After many creative responses with suggestions of how to prepare “breakfast foods” so the child would eat them, one sensible reader commented “Why does she have to eat ‘breakfast foods?'” and suggested that the mother give the girl something healthy that she *would* eat, even if it wasn’t “breakfast food.”

    • Donna Freedman

      Noodles? A baked potato? Peanut butter toast? Cheese cubes and fruit? All will keep the kid alive. Fighting over food is the worst.

      • When we went out or had company so late the children had to go to bed even with our company still there, I made special breakfasts so they would go to bed without whining.

        Sausage balls and orange juice were a favorite. Ex objected to party food for breakfast. It was no worse than biscuit and sausage with a glass of milk. But, it was special to children.

        The other special breakfast food for my children was strawberry shortcake. I make biscuits with butter and sugar, split them and top with strawberries I have lightly sugared the night before. The had a glass of milk with this but no whipped cream.

        They liked “normal” breakfast food, so these breakfasts were not to assure they ate. They rarely complained about breakfast. I guess I got lucky there. Dinner was a different matter.

  9. Punkinpye

    LOL. What a timely article. I just fed my husband the last of a hearty beef stew I made a couple of days ago. He loves it. Being a meat and potatoes man, he finds that it really sticks to his ribs. The other advantage of giving him dinner leftovers for breakfast is that it helps use up leftovers before they go bad, therefore minimizing waste.

    • Donna Freedman

      No more leftovers-turned-science-projects? I like it.

  10. rosarugosa

    Costco sells a frozen 3-berry assortment that I love (blackberries, raspberries, & blueberries) at 4 lbs for $12.00. I fill a small container every night and put it in the fridge and it thaws by the time I get to work.

  11. Lilypad

    Cherry pie for breakfast reminded me of wonderful visits in Germany with my cousin, who was the same age as my mom. She fed me a breakfast of cold plum cake—“Zwetschgenkuchen” with a spritz of real whipped cream on the side. That, with a cup of sweet, milky coffee set me up for a day of sightseeing. Other mornings, she sent her little daughter down the street to the bakery for big pretzels—another German breakfast of champions. When I was on my own in other parts of the country, I ate “milchreis” which is basically a rice pudding, packaged in various flavors like yogurt. I just made some rice pudding with raisins the other day and my son (11) and I ate it for lunch…dang it, I’m getting hungry but I won’t eat again for 10 more hours!!

  12. I just saw grocery store frozen pancakes for the first time yesterday. I literally stood there staring at them in shock.

    Very strange.

    • Donna Freedman

      I was a little surprised the first time I saw them, too. Not everyone has a waffle iron, but almost everyone has a frying pan…

  13. Dale Hawkins

    If it is the right sason, spread some avocado on whole grain toast. Better ‘n butter !


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