Morning routines for school or office helped with breakfast on the fly
Jennifer Raaths is a natural planner and problem anticipator.
But having twins forced her to up her organizational game.
Now, she's got a fixed morning routine for her three kids - the twins are in seventh grade, and she has a high school sophomore. While she packs lunches, the kids get dressed. They eat breakfast and brush teeth before grabbing backpacks - organized from the night before - and heading out.
It's a process tweaked over time, with much trial and error, says Raaths, who lives in the Barrington area and works in Buffalo Grove.
Plenty of parents know the struggle. Mornings for many families are often chaos, and in the midst of schedule juggling, trying to fit in a healthy breakfast is just one more thing to worry about.
“It is one of the hardest things in the world,” says chef and nutritionist Suzy Singh from Deer Park, who is the mom of a 1-year-old and was a finalist on Fox's MasterChef. “We are so stuck on trying to get nutrition, but it's difficult in the morning when everyone's off to school. There's very little time to prepare that classic breakfast.”
But local nutritionists say there's a few ways harried parents can make the morning meal routine a little easier.
Prep on Sundays
Healthy eating coach and wellness expert Vicki Marquez, who works with women in the northwest suburbs, says finding time is one of the biggest challenges to healthy eating.
“Being healthy does require a little extra work,” she says. “At the same time, you don't need to slave over a stove all day. Do some prep work on Sunday, so things are good to go during the week.”
Her favorite go-to breakfasts are an oat pudding, or a chia pudding, which can be made and proportioned in a mason jar the night before, so it requires zero work in the morning. “You can take it to work with you or send it off as a lunch,” she says. It's a dish that's also easy to customize – for example; you can add fresh berries in the summer and pumpkin and cinnamon in the fall.
Planning ahead on weekends is also an integral part of Raaths' morning routine. On Sundays, she stocks up on yogurt and such cut-up fruit as cantaloupe, strawberries and oranges.
She'll often make a big batch of chocolate chip muffins, with oat bran flour and flaxseed to make it healthier. The mini-muffins are stored in a container in the fridge for easy grab and go. “I also 'prep' by having plates and cups on the kitchen island the night before,” she says. “Any meds and vitamins are on the counter as well. I have found this really streamlines the process, so I can get ready, too.”
On weekends, Singh, who works at NOW Foods, may whip up cashew butter and berry energy bites. The no-bake snack plays off peanut butter and jelly but with healthier ingredients, including cashew butter, pecans, rolled oats and berries and can be frozen for up to two weeks. “You're getting a lot of flavor and nutrition in a snack that's easy to take to school,” she says.
Make snacks portable
When it comes to simplifying breakfast routines, choosing food that's portable is essential. Fruit, hard-boiled eggs, healthy muffins and granola bars are all items that kids can grab off the counter or out of the fridge as they rush out the door.
Smoothies made in a blender with fruit and greens, for example, can be transported in a drink cup. An easy granola mix - featuring granola with rolled oats, shaken and mixed with dried fruit and nuts, can also be easily transported in a plastic baggie.
Another big go-to in the Marquez household is avocado toast. A piece of toast, topped with smashed avocado and a nut butter is an easy item to take on the go. Her family experiments with various types of nut butter and toppings, including kale chips, which give it a nice crunch, she says. “It's creamy, and the flavors go together really well,” Marquez says.
Other ideas for toppings on wheat toast include peanut butter and banana, cream cheese and raspberries, blueberry jam and almonds, pear and prosciutto with goat cheese, tomato bruschetta, cinnamon apples with syrup - the possibilities are endless.
Experiment with different flavors and foods
Portability and speed aren't the only factors in ensuring kids don't skip the most important meal of the day. Studies increasingly show that millennials also want their meals to be full of flavor, nutritionists say.
In particular, they like trying new foods and experimenting with different flavors and textures. They don't just want a banana, they want jackfruit or starfruit, Singh says. “They don't just want an egg, sausage and English muffin, they want more spice, more options, more customization,” she says.
With so many breakfast options on the market now - and the popularity of junior chef and kids' cooking shows - involving children in the process of choosing and making meals is a no-brainer, Singh says.
“Kids are getting more into food and want to create food with you,” Singh says.
Two popular meals Marquez recommends that have endless variation options are smoothie bowls and breakfast bowls. Smoothie bowls are a big trend right now; they can be made the night before, they're fun for kids and easy to customize and take on the go. “It feels like you're eating ice cream for breakfast, and you can do lots of different toppings,” Marquez says.
Breakfast bowls can include such grains as rice or quinoa and then add any toppings, from veggies to fruit, mixed in with sauces or milk. “It's a big bowl of goodness,” she says.
Another idea is eating dinner items for breakfast. For example, parents can microwave sweet potatoes the day before or the morning of, mash them up, add granola and cinnamon, and you have a slightly more savory, but still quick, breakfast.
“There're people who love to have breakfast for dinner - why not have dinner for breakfast?” Marquez says. A quick breakfast taco is another option, made with a tortilla stuffed with sautéed leftover veggies, black beans and salsa, and scrambled eggs made in the microwave.
“You can incorporate all the things you love and mix and match,” she says. “There really are no rules.”