Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Redefining Breakfast

Part of our new early-to-the-bus routine for Ann involves squeezing in enough time for her to eat before she leaves the house at 7:10 or so in the morning. Having a new time goal in mind this year (last year, gan started at 9) prompted me to do something about the nagging breakfast issue in my family.

For a while, we'd been eating almost exclusively cold cereal and milk for breakfast. Cold cereal is great, and it is a big time-saver. But I wanted to give breakfast an overhaul because I felt like we should be eating something more substantial and more filling, and because unfortunately, we were in a sugar cereal rut.

I really had very few food rules growing up, and so, when buying food for my own home, if I found good deals on the cereals I liked and was used to, that's what I bought and served. Cocoa Puffs, Reese's Puffs, and Cinnamon Toast Crunch are some of my favorites.

But I really started to feel uncomfortable with how much sugar the kids were consuming during their first waking hours. I began phasing out the sweet cereals and replacing them with Cheerios, corn flakes (not Frosted Flakes, albeit a delicious option), and Rice Krispies. Pathmark makes a store brand of all of these that bears an O-U, so it depends on whether there are sales and coupons to use, but the store brand is usually the better buy.

RaggedyDad's favorite cereal is Honey Bunches of Oats with Almonds, so we keep a boxes few of those around. It's sort of a semi-junky-semi-healthy option. Keeping it around doesn't pose a problem.

For most mornings, though, I started serving hot cereal, which is usually more nutritious and hopefully more filling than what had been the status quo. We have oatmeal usually, but sometimes farina (I know, I know, it's the Wonder bread of hot cereals . . . ) and I serve a bowl to everyone, alongside a plate of toppings.

We call it the "toppings bar" because we're just that crazy. While the hot cereal is cooking, I'll prepare any combination of almonds, dried cherries, raisins, shelled sunflower seeds, chopped dried apricots, and the like on a plate. I used to offer chocolate chips in the beginning of this transition, but I have mostly phased those out unless someone is very insistent. While the dried fruit is sweet, it is fruit, and it's used much more sparsely in the bowls than sugar is in sugar cereal.

Once a week or so we'll have toast or sandwich-maker-sandwiches, or eggs. My father eats a pretty standard Israeli-type breakfast of toast, cottage cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, etc., and I'll serve that once in a while, too.

I'm just glad that breakfast is planned out and is more of a sound meal than it was before! The one challenge I had was cleaning out the oatmeal pot, but I found a solution for it that I'll blog about in the near future.


Honestly Frum said...

You should try frozen pancakes. Takes 30 seconds in the microwave, my kids love them.

the apple said...

Mmmmmmmmmm, oatmeal with milk... YUM!

Ezzie said...

We grew up almost exclusively on cereal and milk for breakfast, except in the winter. We'd have a combo of healthy and semi-healthy cereals (we never went for any of the cocoa or fruity whatevers - the worst cereals we had were Clusters and Frosted Flakes), and that tended to do the trick.

In the winter, my mom would often make Oatmeal or Cream of Wheat (either of which I'd pour glorious amounts of syrup on top of - yum).

I grew up eating breakfast every day (at home and in WITS), and I basically kept that up until Israel and Lander and since - further reinforcing to me that breakfast (whatever it is) is the most important meal of the day in terms of good eating habits. I notice every time that if I take time to eat breakfast - anything, really - it has a great impact on migraines, what I eat the rest of the day, and energy throughout.

The biggest thing to me as a parent seems to be to make it easy: So long as I viewed breakfast as easy, I'd make sure to eat something. In Israel when breakfast became more sandwiches and eggs and the like, I'd end up skipping more often, and never really got back on track since. While you seem to be good at doing things like the fruits and whatnot, I feel like we're better off keeping it simple. Plus, dried fruit? Eeww! :P

Aside: I told RD on our Target outing that he has the right fave cereal but Almonds are yucky. :)

One thing you can try which might (or might not) save time/effort - my mom found that the packets of instant oatmeal and cream of wheat were actually just about as good, much easier and obviously less messy/no pots to clean, and were pretty cheap (at least then, especially on sale). We'd buy a few boxes for a couple bucks and it would be enough for a Cleveland winter. They came in really handy in WITS, actually, and I think it came out to something like 20 cents a meal.

Also, if you like oatmeal with milk, my mom started using dried milk (even when making it from scratch) - found it to work better with the oatmeal and didn't lose that thickness.

triLcat said...

I was going to point out that if you make it from scratch, the hot cereals save you a fortune!

I've found with the packets that it takes two packets to make a full breakfast. If you use quick oats or farina, you're going to end up spending much less.

Kudos on the dried fruits. Personally, I throw in a good amount of sugar and a handful of chocolate chips for good measure ;)

On the other hand, baby K eats at gan, so I'm only feeding myself and the inside baby.

She eats bread with hummus or cheese, sometimes eggs, and some fresh veggies.

Who knew I'd have a child who will throw tea biscuits on the floor instantly, but gobble down sliced cucumbers like it's the best thing on earth?!

RaggedyMom said...

Honestly Frum - We used to serve those a lot, along with the frozen waffles. They are good. Nowadays I am trying to pare it down as much as I can and use less processed options, but those are great in a pinch. Or my own pancakes that I've frozen!

The Apple - Oh, definitely. We use skim milk. It is so much yummier than water!

Ezzie - I've gotten sorta used to RD's almonds. You can even pronounce the "a" as in "apple" like my grandmother does.

Breakfast really is very important. The sooner I eat when I wake up, the sooner I feel ready for the day, mentally and physically. After barely sleeping all night (nearly a year and a half of this with Little Rag), it's at the very least a cue to my body that it is the morning.

Dried milk, huh? Will have to look into that one . . .

Trilcat - You're right, that's another important point. I used to buy the oatmeal packets for RD to use at work, when they'd be $1.48 a box for the store brand. The big containers of oatmeal and farina/cream of wheat are definitely cheaper than that per serving.

Sometimes I'll surreptitiously add salt or sugar to my food in the kitchen. No use in getting the kids interested in my bad habits.

To wit, my daughter's favorite foods are tomatoes, cucumbers, and tznoniot. I seriously never contemplated eating a radish as a five year old kid. Must be a backlash for all of the Entenmann's donuts I ate while pregnant with her! One for breakfast, one for lunch, one for dinner, all with milk. It was the only food that didn't make me sick for weeks on end!

Ezzie said...

Tznoniot = ?

Just to clarify, I didn't mean that the packets are cheapER, just relatively cheap. If you're trying to cut out mess/time, at a grand total of about an extra 50 cents (if that) for a family breakfast, it might be worth it.

LittleBirdies said...

I wish my kids would eat breakfast. They don't like their cereal wet, so they tend to eat dry cereal. I feel bad waking them up early, so I tend to give it in a bag for the road. I have tried waffles, etc, but my kids just aren't crazy over the breakfast foods (or any food for the matter). For myself, I take instant oatmeal packets to work and make myself breakfast there.

RaggedyDad said...

When I was a little boy in Russia,

We used to often eat smoked/salted fish with bread and butter in the morning. We used to live close to a river.

I Belgium we switched to more cereal and sandwiches. And of course we had omelets in both countries.

Yes RaggedyMom, it is RD who is reading and commenting!

Erachet said...

I grew up only eating cereal and milk for breakfast (hmm, sounds like Ezzie) until my dad introduced to us the idea of cinnamon toast. So on Sunday mornings, when there was more time, we used to sometimes make cinnamon toast (didn't you ever wonder what cinnamon toast crunch was based on?) or my dad would make us pancakes (french toast was a dinner food in my house for some reason - also usually on Sundays).

Cereal, by the way, remains one of my favorite foods. And breakfast is - and always has been - my favorite meal of the day. I only stopped eating it every day when I got to Stern, though I try my best here.

Re: cereals - my parents are very into not overdoing it on sugar cereal, so we had healthier cereal during the week (Rice Krispies, Corn Flakes, Life, Cinnamon Life, Chex, Honey Bunches of Oats, Cheerios, Honey Nut Cheerios, Raisin Bran, etc.) and things like Frosted Flakes and Fruity Pebbles on Shabbos (aka Shabbos cereal).

The only people who like hot cereal in my family are my dad and my aunt. I can't STAND it. It smells GROSS! :D

Btw, this is from my friend - I'm not sure if she made it up or if it's from somewhere, but -

"Life is like Rice Krispies. First you snap, then you crackle, and then finally you just pop."

I thought that was funny.

We're also one of the only families I know of with the concept of mixing cereal (GASP - I know, I know, we're weird).

Erachet said...

Btw, Raggedy Dad, breakfast in Russia sounds gross!

Too fishy. :P

Scraps said...

Brings back memories of breakfast in the winter when I was a kid. My mother used to make oatmeal in a pot with raisins and a touch of maple syrup, and we'd top it with milk (either warm or cold - when warm, my sister and I used to fight over who got to eat the "skin"). Yummm.....

Erachet said...

Oh, also, a REALLY fun thing to do while eating breakfast in the morning is to make forts with the cereal boxes.

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Des said...

Oatmeal is very good for stabelizing one's blood sugar, so I serve it a lot. I have found it convenient to make a a big pot of oatmeal one morning and portioning it out into single servings to be microwaved throughout the week. I like to serve thick cut oats, Irish or steel cut whenever possible. I add salt and brown sugar while cooking the oats and let the family add wholesome toppings like berries and nuts. This way, I can control the amount of salt and sugar. It is healthier than instant oatmeal and we can add yogurt or cottage cheese to make it a more balanced breakfast.

Hila said...

Mmm breakfast...yum! I like my oatmeal/cream of wheat with just a splash of milk and cinnamon and sugar on it...But I suppose that would defeat the purpose of serving hot cereal in the attempt to reduce sugar...Sooo...Anyhoo

Being Swedish, one of my favorite breakfasts consists of (dum dum de dum) Swedish pancakes!! They are super easy to make and you can serve them with any kind of fruit jams and whipped cream, even. Or when I want to be healthy I do the traditional open faced sandwich of whole grain bread with some butter, cucumber, and tomatoes with a bowl of granola and yogurt. Yum!

torontopearl said...

Can't wait to hear how you clean the pot. My suggestion: put dishwasher powder (if you have that) in with some water and put it on the stove to boil. It should loosen up the residue, making it easier to wash after with dishwashing soap and a sponge or brush.
Sometimes my kids just eat a banana to go, or they simply love toast with margarine. We're always running so late on school days that it's rare that they eat breakfast at all. My older son thinks going to yeshiva high school next year will solve his problems: he gets breakfast after morning davening!

SephardiLady said...

If you have a diary crockpot, I've seen some great overnight oatmeals that include raisins, apples, and walnuts. I've been planning to try that.