Part of my daily routine throughout the fall, winter, and spring is to get up with my children and either make breakfast for them or aid them in making breakfast for themselves. Sarah is usually getting ready for her own workday and often leaves 30 to 45 minutes before the children do (and she doesn’t eat breakfast most mornings anyway), so I manage most of their morning routine once they’re out of bed. Most mornings, I eat breakfast with them and we talk about our game plan for the day.
My goals in doing this are very straightforward.
First of all, I want us to have a healthy, filling breakfast, one that will keep them satiated until lunchtime and able to focus on their schoolwork. I want the same thing for me – a breakfast that keeps me satiated all morning and able to focus on my work until midday. I want to serve healthy foods, meaning I try to avoid processed junk foods as much as I can.
Second of all, I want meals that are quick and easy to prepare., as the window of opportunity for meal prep in the morning is fairly short. I’m willing to get up a little early for meal prep, but there are often small emergencies in the mornings that end up having to be handled, so very quick breakfasts are the best option.
Third, I want meals that are inexpensive. Ideally, I want breakfasts that cost $1 or less per meal.
Finally, I want breakfasts that all of us will enjoy. A meal that two or three of us really won’t like is a meal that isn’t a success. I try to keep to breakfasts that I know at least three out of the four of us will enjoy.
Here are six breakfasts that I use on a rotating basis that hit all of these marks.
Tasty Flavored Steel Cut Oats
I make steel cut oats in the slow cooker, starting them the night before in a small slow cooker on the counter. My usual recipe is 2 cups of steel cut oats, 6 cups of water, 2 cups of milk, two tablespoons of butter, and a small amount of butter. I’ll rub the butter on the inside of the slow cooker crock, then I leave the remaining butter in there and add the other ingredients. I then mix all of that together thoroughly and let it cook on low in the slow cooker overnight, about eight hours.
In the morning, as soon as I get up, I’ll add something to it for flavor. Maybe I’ll add a couple of diced apples, or three sliced bananas. Maybe I’ll add a quarter of a cup of brown sugar. Maybe I’ll add a quarter of a cup of peanut butter. Maybe I’ll add some raisins or other dried fruits. Maybe I’ll add some maple syrup. Maybe I’ll add some dice peaches, or some diced pears. I add different things in different combinations for variety. Often, what I add is based on whatever was on sale in the grocery flyer in the last week or so.
This is usually more than enough for all four of us, with some leftovers that I often eat for lunch that day. The cost, depending on the add-ins, is about $3 for all five meals combined, or about $0.60.
I often bust these out on days when the weather is warm, as they’re not the best when it’s cold. Still, they’re super simple and very tasty.
I just pull out the blender and add two bananas, two cups of frozen berries, one cup of plain yogurt, and two cups of milk. I blend all of that together by pulsing it several times and then I pour it into several glasses. If you want it sweeter, you can add a bit of honey or sugar, too, but this is sweet enough for me and the kids seem to like it, too.
Sometimes, I’ll vary it a bit by adding things like a couple of teaspoons of cocoa powder or peanut butter.
Since we usually buy large containers of yogurt all at once and buy large bulk bags of frozen fruit, the cost of the ingredients for enough smoothie for all four of us usually comes out to around $3.
Egg on Toast
This one’s real easy. I just toast a slice of bread, put a bit of butter on it, then top it with a poached or fried egg. I usually make two of these per child and they’re gone.
This one does take a bit longer to prepare than the other items on this list, but it’s a very well-loved breakfast. I find that if I approach it assembly-style with a large skillet and use a child as an assistant to make the toast and butter it, I can just focus on cooking the eggs in the skillet, turning them over, and topping the toast with them. I can usually go from pulling out the ingredients to eating with my kids in about twelve minutes.
To prepare two “egg on toasts” (as we call them) for each of the four of us, you just need eight slices of bread, a bit of butter, and eight eggs. The cost of a dozen eggs is $2 to $3 and a loaf of bread is less than that, so this makes for a very cheap breakfast. I usually supplement it with a banana or an apple or some other easy-to-grab fruit. The cost is still far under $1.
This is a breakfast that I’ll usually assemble the night before, often when I have items on hand that are leftovers that work well for fillings. I just scramble several eggs together in a skillet, then fill two small burrito shells per person that’s going to be eating with the eggs, a bit of cheese, a very small bit of picante sauce, and whatever else happens to be on hand.
Sometimes some ham or crumbled bacon will wind up in there. Sometimes it’ll be black beans. Sometimes it’ll be sautéed vegetables. Sometimes it’ll be leftover potato slices chopped into little bits.
Whatever it is, I just strive to minimize the liquid inside of the burrito by scrambling the eggs, chilling them down completely, then assembling the burritos with cold ingredients and minimal liquid. They tend to heat up well without making the shell soggy this way.
Thus, in the morning, all I have to do is grab some burritos from the fridge and microwave them. It’s that easy.
Making a lot of these can be a lot of work, so sometimes I’ll wait until a weekend afternoon and make a giant batch, but I can make a good handful (eight or so) pretty easily on a school night in 15 minutes or so. The total cost for eight such burritos is a package of small tortillas (about $1.50), 12 eggs or so (about $2), and whatever leftover ingredients I have on hand (another $0.50 to $1), so the burritos cost about $0.50 each. Since each person usually eats two of them (I don’t make them that big), it’s about $1 per breakfast.
This is another item that I like to make the night before and allow to sit in the fridge overnight. It’s really simple – the biggest reason why I sit them in there overnight is to allow the frozen berries to thaw.
All I do is take a cup and make alternating layers of frozen berries and other fruits, yogurt, and granola. I usually make a layer of fruit, a layer of yogurt, a layer of fruit, a layer of granola, a layer of yogurt, a layer of fruit, a layer of yogurt, and a layer of granola on top. A cup is a breakfast for someone, and they’re usually big enough that the person is very full from eating one.
I just use whatever frozen fruit is on sale at the store (bought in the last several weeks and kept frozen) and I’ll usually buy a big bag of healthy granola when it’s on sale, too – I watch for it, then just keep it in the pantry. I generally make these a couple of times shortly after a sale on large containers of yogurt, because it’s cheaper that way. The cost varies a lot, but it’s usually well under $1.
When Time Is Super Short, Hard Boiled Eggs and Fruit
Sometimes, mornings can be a disaster and the best laid plans fall apart. We’re trying to find clean pants for our youngest child, our middle child needs a permission form filled out, and our oldest is sleeping in a teenager’s coma and won’t stir. The clock ticks later and later and there’s basically zero time for breakfast prep and our youngest can’t find his left shoe and our middle child has been in the bathroom for 10 minutes and our oldest child is out back trying to get mud off of his soccer cleats.
Ideally, on mornings like this, I can leverage a breakfast I made the night before, but that doesn’t always work out. In that case, there’s no time for breakfast – or is there?
On these crazy days, I’m glad that I always have several hard-boiled eggs in the fridge. I like to boil a dozen each week and eat them one at a time as a tasty snack. I just keep them in a large container in the fridge, already peeled.
If a no-good-very-bad day like this arrives, I hand each of them a couple of hard boiled eggs and a piece of fruit and wish them a good day. Yes, it’s a super simple breakfast, but it’s one that they can eat at the bus stop and I know that they’re at least getting some healthy protein and some fresh fruit in their belly to start the day. The cost per meal here is trivial, on the order of $0.30 to $0.40.
This is a repertoire of breakfast options that allows us to go for more than a week without having the same breakfast twice, and the amount of variation possible in each one, particularly the oats and the fruit smoothies and the burritos, manages to make the meals seem different virtually every day.
All of these meals are based almost entirely on simple foods, with only a slice of toast or a tortilla being processed. It’s all about fruits, eggs, yogurt, peanut butter, and other simple things that combine together into simple, delicious, easy, and super cheap meals.
Sure, we have a box of cereal in the cupboard and that works well on occasion, but these recipes form the backbone of our busy mornings, and they can work well for you whether you have children or not.