The Foodlife Journey: The Intimate Weekday Breakfast
It usually only lasts about ten minutes. If you put just a little effort into it, it is a wonderful experience that reinforces your relationship, makes you feel better about yourself, and punctuates your life. If you rush through it, it leaves you unsatisfied- hungrier for the real thing than you were before.
I’m talkin’ about breakfast, of course. How satisfied are you with foisting a cold bagel at your children as you launch them into the day? Could I get you to believe that offering yourself and your family 10-minutes together to nourish yourselves and reconnect is very important? Could buttermilk pancakes make the sun shine brighter and pour joy into your life?
How great would your marriage be if you had “cold cereal” sex all the time?
Every six months I must endure the scrutiny of my dental hygienist. I spread my jaws and she pokes around my gaping maw with great deliberateness. Ultimately, she asks, “Have you been using your rubber tip? How often are you flossing?”
“C’mon, I know you know the answers,” I think to myself. Though I will probably regret it later in my life when I face receding gums or other ravages of half-assed dental hygiene, I just can’t be bothered. I can say it is about a lack of time but I’d be lying. We all make time for the things that matter to us. The reality is that the benefit of spending a few minutes picking at my gums with a little rubber thingie every night is just too vague for me. I’m unconvinced.
There are so many things that we know are “good for us” but which we just can’t be bothered to do. I should be routinely checking the air pressure in my tires, changing the batteries in my carbon dioxide and smoke detectors, getting new running shoes every 50 miles, and making my kids wash their hands before every meal. Good ideas, but somehow I’ve gotten along just fine without doing them.
Breakfast is in this category for most Americans. We know we should eat it. We know there are nutritional, metabolic and social reasons to enjoy it. We just “don’t have the time.”
Okay, now let’s have an honest moment. It isn’t about time. You’re unconvinced. I’m taking one more run at you on this one. I want to inspire you with a vision of how having a more meaningful, substantial breakfast will materially impact your family’s enjoyment of life. I want you to take just a few moments to imagine what it would be like to be the kind of family that sits down and eats breakfast together.
First let’s take inventory of the status quo. Do school mornings in your house feel like a chaotic blur? Do your kids groan when you try to foist a bagel or cereal bar on them as they dash out the door? Do you break into a sweat when packing your kid’s lunchbox because you are so afraid he might not like his lunch or have enough to eat? You’d never dare introduce anything new at lunch because if he didn’t like it he’d starve all day. Right? Do you let your kid eat cereal for dinner because he didn’t eat much of what you served and you know that the next significant thing he’ll eat will be at lunch the next day? Doesn’t it suck to live like that?
Often, when people learn that we all actually sit down together for breakfast every morning, they envision me struggling amidst a chaos that is even worse than their own. I have to do everything that they have to do AND I’m making breakfast. It seems absurd.
The surprising reality is that the breakfast ritual sucks the air out of the morning chaos. Chaos cannot exist where there is order. Breakfast creates order.
I’ll give you the “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” speech one more time. Breakfast restarts your metabolism in the morning. It gives you the energy you need to get going . It keeps you from overeating as the day gets on. Blah, blah, blah.
All of those things are true and I can testify to their truth from personal experience. But you probably don’t care about that. To be honest, that really isn’t the main reason why we do breakfast together.
Breakfast is yummy
I love breakfast foods. Who doesn’t? Pancakes, waffles, scrambled eggs, hash browns, bacon, sausages, crepes, oatmeal, French toast… Is your mouth watering yet? Why skip a meal that is so fun, satisfying and easy to make?
Breakfast connects us
It means a lot to our family to have a moment together before we launch in separate directions for the day. As a busy mom of four, I love that moment when I grab the lukewarm dregs of my coffee and sit down at the table with the kids. It is a moment to exhale. Someone prays. That reminds us of who we are, calms everyone down, and gets everyone focused. We pass the pancakes, butter, syrup and powdered sugar. Sophie pours juice for Penelope. We pay attention to each other. I can remember to ask Sally if she is still having trouble with the boy who won’t talk to her. Max gets us all laughing with his silly stories and jokes.
It only lasts for about 10 minutes. They’re 10 minutes that we treasure.
Breakfast motivates personal responsibility
Breakfast is the morning hub around which the children and I can orient ourselves. There are tasks that each kid must do before they are allowed to join us at the breakfast table. I often feel like it is a little song I sing every morning: “Bed made, hair brushed, teeth brushed, socks on, backpack packed.” Sally, my kindergartener is still struggling with staying on task. We’ve had a lot of tears since the start of the school year because she hasn’t been able to eat enough breakfast before she has to leave. That problem persists, but we’re doing better. The reward of French toast- the scent of vanilla, cinnamon and custardy egginess wafting through the air is a great motivator.
Breakfast gives me a great excuse not to be involved in getting the kids dressed, mediating their conflicts or finding their homework. These are skills that need to begin developing in Kindergarten. Being unavailable to help ultimately develops children who have the kind of self-confidence that only comes with personal responsibility. I’ll often remind Max that he may choose to leave his homework on the floor of his bedroom, but if Penelope comes in in the morning and scribbles on it, I’m not going to get involved.
How we make it happen
Here’s how it works out for us. I’m up at around 7AM, sometimes 7:15 and occasionally as late as 7:30. I wake any sleepyheads and head downstairs, mulling what it is that I’m craving for breakfast.
First things first. I start the coffee. I heat up the griddle or oven if I’m using either and begin breakfast. I use the moments between batches or during baking or cooking time to put together the kids’ lunches. The kids are responsible for packing their own snacks, if they want to have one. The lunches are put by the front door so they aren’t forgotten on the way out.
About 10 minutes before I’m ready to serve, I start calling down any kids who haven’t already made their appearance, quizzing each one with my little morning song “Bed? Hair? Teeth?…” The two oldest kids start setting the table- breakfast is almost always served family style. Sally is sent off to get her shoes on and pull together her backpack.
Breakfast is served sometime between 7:50 and 8AM. Soph and Max serve the food, I grab my coffee and we eat. At 8:10 the three oldest are dismissed from the table to the mudroom where they gather their things and are shooshed out the front door at around 8:15. I then spend 3 minutes on the front porch sipping my now tepid coffee and praying for them as they head off for the day.
It’s often not as smooth as that. The times and objectives are more like pace targets. Interestingly, just this morning, my two oldest were screaming insults at each other as they were setting the table. My daughter was sobbing and screaming with a tone that made it obvious that she’d had her feelings hurt. I stay out of these things. However, as soon as I asked her to come bring the waffles to the table, the tears subsided and everyone pulled it together. This morning’s breakfast conversation ended up being all about knock-knock jokes. The hurt feelings were left behind.
Every week we enjoy pancakes and hot cereal- oatmeal or Cream of Wheat- at least once. In the fall we have Cranberry-Pumpkin Muffins and Pumpkin Pancakes every week. We also have French toast, waffles, German pancakes, eggs and hashbrowns, smoothies with hardboiled eggs and cinnamon toast.
I keep many of these recipes interesting by altering the way that they’re served. I make chocolate banana pancakes, serve the oatmeal with an apple-cinnamon compote or ladle warmed blackberries over the waffles.
All of the breakfasts that are served family-style at the table are kept warm by being served in warm dishes. I just turn the oven on to 200-degrees when I start the meal and place the serving dishes in the oven. Pancakes and waffles also get a top layer of aluminum foil followed by a clean dish towel. The foil is absolutely necessary because otherwise the waffles would taste like the fabric softener I use on my dish towels.
You can make it happen
Could you get up an hour before the kids go to school? Probably. Many of you already do. However, there are probably a few skills you need to pull together in order to make it happen.
Figure out the schedule
I’ve got it kind of easy. Three out of my four kids leave for school at the same time. I know that life isn’t that simple for many families and won’t continue to be for ours. Some kids have such different schedules that they don’t even wake up around the same time. A friend of mine has four kids: her two middle schoolers leave 30 minutes before the other two.
There are any number of ways to handle these things: make breakfast but keep it warm in a 200-degree oven for the kids who leave later; eat breakfast together and have the ones who leave later help you clean up the kitchen, read, do devotionals, or otherwise occupy themselves; trade off which kid or kids you eat with every morning. I have a friend whose husband prepares breakfast for their kids every morning. That’s a meaningful part of the time that he gets with his kids everyday. Isn’t that cool?
The bottom line: look at your schedule and come up with a plan. For those of us with less complicated issues, it’s just a matter of setting some pacing times and paying attention to them as the “launch time” counts down.
Know your recipes
Find go-to recipes and stick with them. Memorize them. I make everything from scratch, but I have every recipe memorized. I can whip up pancakes or cranberry-pumpkin muffins with nary a thought. Because I have the recipe memorized, I can make a homemade pancake batter in about 5 minutes. I can hear folks saying, “Yeah, but the mix only takes 30 seconds.” That’s true, but my homemade pancakes are delicious and satisfying. My pancakes’ll kick you pancakes’ butt in a taste test.
Here’s how I memorize my breakfast recipes. I break down the ingredients into wet and dry, memorizing them separately. I’ll keep a recipe that I’m introducing to the rotation clipped to the inside of a kitchen cabinet. When I go to make that recipe, I’ll try to remember how much flour, and then check to see if I’m right. Its like memorizing dates for a history exam. A few batches later, and I can whip that stuff up on the spot anyplace where I can find the ingredients.
I try new recipes on days that I know will be less pressured. Often that’s a Friday. It just takes a bit longer and takes a bit more concentration to learn a new recipe.
Develop a rhythm
Everybody needs to be on board. Establish the chores and responsibilities that need to be accomplished before a child can sit down to the breakfast table. I’d strongly recommend that younger children be pretty much ready to walk out the door before they sit down. It will enable everyone to relax while they eat.
Last year, I developed a system for Max to help him remember what he needed to do before he could sit down to breakfast. He moved little “task ornaments” onto a hook as he completed each one. It only took a few weeks before he got into the routine.
Be patient. It will take a while to develop your rhythm. Honestly, it will probably take most of the school year to really master this so that it is second-nature.