Breakfast can be tough. When you're headed out the door to work or trying to get the kids ready for school, it's hard to think of good-for-you breakfasts that can be pulled together quickly. We know we should eat something, so it's easy to opt for store-bought smoothies and juice drinks and drive-through breakfast sandwiches for the first meal of the day. The solution? Like so many things, it's getting organized early. Make your breakfast the night before when you're in the kitchen after dinner. Or tackle the job over the weekend and prepare what you need to get through the Monday-through-Friday routine. First, who says breakfast has to be eggs, cereal or toast? If you'd rather eat a bagel spread with marinara sauce and ricotta cheese, then enjoy. Hummus, shredded carrots and cucumber sticks wrapped in a flour tortilla? A great way to get a head start on your vegetables for the day. Second, stock up on the right containers. Having containers that are the right size, and sturdy enough to withstand repeated use, makes it that much easier to get out the door with breakfast in hand. Look for cups with gel packs that go in the freezer so your milk and yogurt stay cold and drink containers with built-in mixers so your smoothie will stay smooth. Third, remember that there's nothing wrong with simple. A banana or an apple with a slice of whole-grain toast may be all you need to get your day off to a good start. Add a protein source like peanut butter, a slice of cheese or a hard-boiled egg and you're good to go. And as long as you're working on breakfast, how about packing up a little lunch?
Boiled eggs are the quintessential breakfast-to-go. Avoid rubbery eggs by using this method to cook them. In a medium saucepan, arrange eggs and add enough tap water to cover the eggs by 1 inch. Bring to a boil, then cover the pan and turn off the heat. Leave the eggs in the water for 10 minutes, then drain and cool. Peel immediately or store in the shell. Scrambled eggs refrigerate beautifully. You can use whole eggs, or just the whites. Scramble some eggs and then add some cooked sausage (pork, turkey or veggie). Mix in shredded cheese and salsa and wrap in whole- wheat tortillas to make breakfast burritos. Wrap in foil and refrigerate for up to four days; heat in microwave before you head out the door. Refrigerate plain scrambled eggs, then in the morning toast an English muffin, top with a slice of cheese and maybe some Canadian bacon, and warm up the eggs for one minute in the microwave. Add them to your muffin and you're on your way in two minutes with a hot sandwich. Another do-ahead idea uses purchased tubes of pizza dough. Unroll the dough and divide into 8 rectangles. Mix scrambled eggs with shredded mozzarella and marinara sauce and add 1/2 cup to each rectangle. Fold in half, seal the edges and bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes or until brown. These will keep in the refrigerator for up to four days. Reheat, and again, you have a hot breakfast in two minutes.
If you have a minute in the morning, peeled orange sections and sliced apples are easy food to eat on the run. To prepare ahead, chop a mixture into small pieces and toss together with just enough fruit juice to moisten the pieces and keep them from browning. Refrigerate in containers that fit your cup holder and then just grab one as you head out the door. No fork or spoon needed. You just shake the pieces out like you're drinking a milkshake. Smoothies are a great vehicle for a little fruit and maybe a little dairy. Set up the blender and have your smoothie container ready. Then take one minute in the morning to blend your choice of fruit, juice and yogurt, if you like. Add ice, pour into your cup and go. If you want to make your smoothie ahead of time, skip the ice and it will keep overnight. Using yogurt or bananas gives smoothies a creamy texture.
Cereal and grains
Granola bars are the ultimate in grab-and-go convenience. Make your own and customize with the nuts and dried fruit you and your family like. Cold cereal is easy to take if you have one of the new containers with a separate compartment for the milk. Try using vanilla yogurt and cut down on the chance of a spill. Granola itself is easy to make and keeps for weeks. Those same containers with separate compartments make it easy to keep the yogurt cold and the granola crunchy until you're ready to eat. Instant oatmeal may not be quite as fiber-filled as old-fashioned, but it cooks in seconds. After spending almost $4 for oatmeal at a coffee shop, I realized I could put 1/2 cup instant oatmeal in a microwave-proof container, add 1 cup water, heat for one minute and have the same result at a fraction of the cost. Dress up your oatmeal with brown sugar, chopped nuts or dried fruit. If you need oatmeal for more than one, try cooking steel-cut oats overnight in a slow cooker. They take about eight hours to reach a creamy texture. Add some sliced apples and a little cinnamon and you've got the breakfast equivalent of apple cobbler.
And finally, bread
It takes just seconds to put bread, English muffins or bagels in the toaster before you head to the shower. Even if you eat it plain, it's better than no breakfast at all, but if you've prepped a few squares of cheese or a boiled egg, you're on your way to a good breakfast. And by the way, cheese freezes fine for a few days, or just cube it and refrigerate wrapped in serving-size packages.
Research says many of us eat breakfast in the car. Here are some ideas for meals you can eat while driving. Not that we'd recommend that, of course.
Individual Omelets Hands on: 10 minutes Total time: 35 minutes Makes: 12 muffins This is really great pickup food and infinitely variable. Substitute Canadian bacon or veggie sausage, change the cheese to mozzarella or pepper Jack, or try broccoli or mushrooms, if that's what you like. Use this recipe to make 24 shallow muffins (just put half the amount in each tin) and you'll have thinner omelets that fit neatly inside an English muffin. They'll refrigerate for 5 days. Pop one or two in the microwave until just heated through and head out the door.
1/4 cup chopped green onions, divided
1/4 cup chopped red bell pepper, divided
1 cup 1/4-inch diced ham
3/4 cup grated cheddar cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Thoroughly grease a 12-cup muffin tin with nonstick spray. Reserve half the green onions and red pepper. In a small bowl, combine the remaining green onions and red pepper and ham. Divide the mixture evenly among the muffin cups. Top each with cheese. In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, salt and pepper. Combine thoroughly, then pour egg into each muffin cup. Use a fork to lift vegetables and ham to be sure egg penetrates to bottom of cup. Fill each cup 3/4 full. Bake 20 to 25 minutes, just until muffins have risen and are set. Remove to a rack to cool. Package in individual servings and refrigerate for up to 5 days, or freeze. If frozen, thaw before reheating. Reheat in microwave for 1 to 2 minutes or until warm in the center. Per serving: 125 calories (percent of calories from fat, 63), 10 grams protein, 1 gram carbohydrates, trace fiber, 9 grams fat (3 grams saturated), 226 milligrams cholesterol, 351 milligrams sodium.
Orange Smoothie Hands on: 5 minutes Total time: 5 minutes Makes: 1 serving This smoothie mimics the beloved flavors of beloved Creamsicle ice pops. Smoothies are another quick breakfast option you can customize in many ways. Stick with the basic proportions of 2 cups fruit, 3/4 cup liquid and 1/2 cup yogurt or a half-banana for one serving. If you're using frozen fruit, add that first and allow to thaw for just a few minutes. If you're making a smoothie, when you're ready to serve, add ice cubes to give you that slushy consistence.
2 cups pineapple chunks, fresh or frozen
3/4 cup orange juice
1/2 cup vanilla yogurt
In a blender, combine pineapple, juice and yogurt. Process until smooth, adding more juice if thinner consistency is desired. Drink immediately or refrigerate for up to 12 hours.
Homemade Granola Bars Hands on: 25 minutes Total time: 55 minutes Makes: 16 bars These bars get better as they age. They'll keep unrefrigerated for up to two weeks. Use one kind of dried fruit or add a variety. We made ours with dates, dried pineapple and dried cranberries.
2 cups old-fashioned oatmeal
1 cup sliced or slivered almonds
1 cup shredded coconut, loosely packed
1/2 cup untoasted wheat germ
2 tablespoons ground flaxseed
11/2 cups chopped dried fruit
2/3 cup honey
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
11/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 8-by-13-inch baking dish and line with parchment paper. Lightly butter the parchment paper. In a large bowl, toss together oatmeal, almonds, coconut, wheat germ and ground flaxseed. Spread on a rimmed cookie sheet and bake for 5 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned. Transfer mixture back to bowl and mix in dried fruit. Reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees. In a 2-cup glass measuring cup, combine honey, butter, vanilla and salt and heat in microwave until butter is melted and mixture just comes to a boil, about 2 minutes. Pour honey mixture over toasted oatmeal mixture in bowl and stir well. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish. Wet your fingers and firmly press the mixture into the pan. Be sure sides are even. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until light golden brown. Cool for at least 2 hours before cutting into squares. Serve at room temperature. Adapted from "Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics" by Ina Garten (Clarkson Potter, $35) Per bar: 209 calories (percent of calories from fat, 38), 5 grams protein, 29 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams fiber, 9 grams fat (3 grams saturated), 4 milligrams cholesterol, 39 milligrams sodium.
Banana-Blueberry Muffins Hands on: 10 minutes Total time: 30 minutes Makes: 12 muffins Banana and yogurt add sweetness and moisture to this lightened version of the traditional blueberry muffin. If keeping for longer than a day, store muffins in freezer.
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/4 cup milk
1 large very ripe banana, mashed
1 large egg
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 cup blueberries, rinsed and picked over
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease a 12-cup muffin tin. In a large bowl, whisk the all-purpose flour, whole-wheat flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together. In another bowl, whisk together the brown sugar, yogurt, milk, banana, egg, butter and lemon zest. Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and stir until just blended. Fold in the blueberries. Be careful not to overmix. Divide batter evenly among muffin cups. Bake 18 to 20 minutes or until muffins are just firm to the touch. Do not overbake. Cool in pan for 5 minutes; turn out on rack to cool completely. Adapted from "Go Bananas" by Susan Quick (Broadway Books, $16) Per muffin: 146 calories (percent of calories from fat, 18), 4 grams protein, 27 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 3 grams fat (2 grams saturated), 24 milligrams cholesterol, 272 milligrams sodium.
Morning Glory Muffins Hands on: 20 minutes Total time: 40 minutes Makes: 12 muffins This slightly decadent breakfast muffin is chock-full of fruit and vegetables and will refrigerate beautifully for up to one week.
1 cup pecans
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 medium apple
2 medium carrots
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup shredded coconut
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 12-cup muffin tin. On a rimmed baking sheet, spread pecans. Bake until lightly toasted, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside. Turn oven up to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, stir together all-purpose flour, whole- wheat flour, brown sugar, baking powder and cinnamon. In another large bowl, whisk together eggs, oil and vanilla. In the bowl of a food processor, chop apple and carrots until about the size of rice. Stir apple and carrots into flour mixture; add raisins, coconut and pecans. Pour egg mixture over all and stir together until just combined. Divide batter evenly among muffin cups. Bake 15 to 18 minutes or until just firm. Cool in pan for 5 minutes; turn out on rack to cool completely. Adapted from "BakeWise" by Shirley O. Corriher (Scribner, $40) Per muffin: 301 calories (percent of calories from fat, 52), 5 grams protein, 32 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams fiber, 18 grams fat (3 grams saturated), 53 milligrams cholesterol, 108 milligrams sodium.