Jane Says: A Fast Breakfast Doesn’t Have to Be a Fast-Food Breakfast

The first meal of the day really is the most important—so make it healthy, and make it at home.

Microwaved rice and a fried egg is one quick, nutritious dish you can throw together in the a.m. (Photo: Sawayasu Tsuji/Getty Images)

Feb 20, 2013· 2 MIN READ
Jane Lear is a regular contributor to TakePart and the executive editor of CURED, a magazine devoted to the art and craft of food preservation. She was on staff at 'Gourmet' for almost 20 years.

“Fast-food chains like McDonald’s have perfected the portable breakfast, one my family relies on far too often. How can I possibly compete with that?”

—Zoe Campbell

The scene is played out all across America: Every weekday morning, each member of the family is moving at a different speed and in a different direction, often with mismatched socks, someone inevitably coming to the horrifying realization that not only did the dog eat the homework, but threw up afterward. (“Oh, just let it dry,” advised one seen-it-all mom. “Then peel it off the floor like a fruit roll-up.”) Whoever is in charge of packing lunches for the kids has his or her hands full, with no time to make what we all think of as a proper breakfast. You know, the kind that Alice, the live-in housekeeper, made for the Brady Bunch.

What adds to the pressure is the inconvenient fact that the cliché is true: Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. For adults, kick-starting the metabolism in the morning makes them more energetic and able to perform their best; breakfast eaters also tend to make wiser lunch and dinner choices. And for children, with their developing brains and bodies, breakfast is even more critical. When they skip the day’s first meal, they can end up going for a long stretch without food. WebMD calls this what it is—a period of semistarvation—and when you think about it in those terms, it’s easy to see how it can create a range of physical, intellectual, and behavioral problems in kids.

So, how do you instill a good habit yet prevent the inevitable rush to a convenience store or fast-food drive-through for unhealthy high-fat, high-calorie processed food? I turned to a colleague of mine, Lucinda Scala Quinn, who has long juggled a high-pressure career at Martha Stewart with raising three boys and writing cookbooks; her latest, Mad Hungry Cravings, is due out next month. In that book’s predecessor, Mad Hungry: Feeding Men & Boys (Artisan, 2009), she outlines a few breakfast strategies that will, er, save your bacon, no matter who you are feeding.

“You have to make breakfast easy to eat, so have the supplies on hand and easily available to prepare,” she writes. “Don’t become a short-order cook—leave that for a restaurant. Make only one breakfast and make enough of it.” That could be as simple as several healthful varieties of whole-grain cereals set out with bowls, spoons, and milk (dairy or non); a fried egg over heated leftover rice (while the rice heats in the microwave, fry the eggs); or just peanut butter spread on rice cakes. And don’t forget to eat breakfast yourself.

If you are in a hurry and your family is about to run out the door, Quinn suggests eggs (not scrambled, but yolk broken) on toasted rolls or bagels (if you are gluten-free, use whatever products work for you). Sprinkle on some salt and pepper, wrap the sandwiches in foil or parchment paper, and hand them off as everyone leaves.

To Quinn, tortillas are a godsend for making healthy fast food; in fact, they’re an integral part of her Mexican egg scramble. “This is a hearty portable breakfast—eggs wrapped in a tortilla and twisted up in foil on the fly have satisfied my boys for twenty years,” she explains. “At home, just place the pan with the eggs and toasted corn tortillas in the center of the table. Everyone can make their own taco at the table or just use the tortillas as a fork-shovel … I love these eggs very spicy, but the chilies can be adjusted to taste. If you’re cooking for one, use two eggs and adjust the other ingredients accordingly.”

Mexican Egg Scramble

Adapted from Mad Hungry: Feeding Men & Boys (Artisan, 2009), by Lucinda Scala Quinn

Serves 6

18 corn tortillas

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

5 scallions, chopped

4 to 6 serrano or jalapeño chilies, chopped

1 large or 2 small tomatoes, chopped

1¼ teaspoons coarse salt

¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro (optional)

1 dozen large eggs

1. Toast the tortillas individually over a gas flame or in a pan for about 40 seconds per side. Stack on top of each other and wrap in foil or a clean kitchen towel. This will steam the tortillas for pliability.

2. Heat a 14-inch skillet and then add the oil and swirl it around in the pan. Stir in the scallions and chilies. Add the tomatoes, salt, and cilantro, if using. Stir over high heat about 2 minutes.

3. Crack the eggs one at a time into the skillet and stir. Cook just until the eggs are set, 1 to 2 minutes. Serve with tortillas.