Smart SpendingSmart Spending

Breakfast on the fly, and on the cheap

Resist the temptation to hit a drive-through.

By Donna_Freedman Nov 2, 2009 1:59AM

School's back in session and retailers are trying to sell us items like breakfast cookies and individual bowls of cereal. Convenient, maybe, but also fairly pricey -- and would you really trust a 7-year-old with a bowl of cereal and milk in a moving car? 

Besides, breakfast is the most important meal of the day for all ages. Over on the Smart Spending message board, some readers offer grownup strategies beyond granola bites and fast-food drive-throughs. 

A reader posting as "anotherstatistic" got the ball rolling. She's cutting back on restaurant meals, but breakfast has been a problem. She isn't hungry when she gets up, but is ravenous by 9 a.m. -- and winds up hitting coffee stands or fast-food restaurants.

"I'm thinking about making homemade muffins instead of buying them for $1.50 a pop. Or possibly mixing plain yogurt with fresh (or frozen?) fruit," she wrote. "Any more ideas?"

Cereal thrillers
To some people, breakfast means cereal. Period.

Reader "Great Arm" portions cold cereal out in plastic bags or containers. "I'll eat cereal dry with a drink in hand -- coffee, milk or pop. Or even with a cup of yogurt." 

Other readers keep boxes of the stuff at work. Be sure to watch for sales and use coupons, they suggest. Some keep instant oatmeal at work, too, and cook it in the office microwave.

Those without microwave ovens can make oatmeal overnight in a wide-mouth thermos. Preheat the thermos with boiling water, then pour it out and put in a serving's worth of oatmeal, boiling water and salt. Cap it tightly. The next morning it will be done. 

Or you can do as reader "skammons" does: Make a giant batch of oatmeal and parcel it into small containers. "Then I just grab it and microwave it in the morning." 

Reader "Rose1953" makes her own instant oatmeal by pulverizing rolled oats in the blender and adding flavorings. Her recipe is listed on Page 4 of the thread.

Drink your breakfast
What about a breakfast shake or smoothie? Reader "wannabewise" mixes milk, juice, strawberries and a banana in the blender. "It tastes yum and you can take it with you on the go."

Reader "OHjen" gets her breakfast ready the night before by putting frozen mixed berries, a banana, a few spoons of vanilla yogurt and "any odd bits of other fruit left from the kids' lunches or from dinner" into the blender canister. In the morning she takes it out of the fridge and blends in soy milk or fruit juice. 

There's always that old standby, Carnation Instant Breakfast. Make it the night before, advises "old Karen," and carry it with you when you leave. You can add fruit or other flavorings if you like.

Reader "rhondasroom" came up with one I'd never heard before: oyster crackers in a glass of V8. Or as she calls it, "Cold tomato soup for breakfast."

Takeout, but from home
Reader Great Arm can't stomach food first thing in the morning, either. All morning meals are "to go," thanks to a little prep work. Bagels with cream cheese or peanut butter can be fixed the night before and wrapped up in the fridge. Cut-up fruit like melon or grapes gets portioned out in plastic bags or containers. "Bananas are already packaged," notes Great Arm.

Sometimes Great Arm cooks scratch pancakes, French toast, sausage or bacon and freezes them in individual servings. "At 10 a.m. at the office, I'm the envy of my co-workers."

There's a toaster where reader "sdlocal" works, so it's possible to bring bread or English muffins. There's also a microwave to heat up homemade "egg burritos" -- scrambled eggs, cheese, and maybe bacon or Tater Tots, all wrapped in a tortilla. "I've definitely noticed how much eating breakfast helps keep me going throughout the day," sdlocal writes.

Miniature omelets are easy to do, according to "Cronewitch." Bake a mixture of eggs, bulk sausage and onion in muffin tins, then freeze. "High-protein foods hold you over to the next meal," she notes, suggesting cheese sticks, hard-boiled eggs or nuts as easy, portable examples. 

Make egg sandwiches on English muffins or rolls and heat them up at work, suggests "Alexandrainabox." It probably takes less time than waiting in the drive-through. She's in favor of "replicating rather than using" the dollar menu.

Several readers spoke of making muffins, either from scratch or a mix. Since the muffins at bakeries and coffee shops tend to be very high in calories and fat as well as expensive, making your own lets you control both cost and nutrition. Cruise the Internet for healthy muffin recipes, and bake and freeze a double batch at a time.

What does breakfast look like?
Not interested in cereal, toast or smoothies? Neither are some other readers:

  • Keep a jar of peanut butter at work, to be eaten on crackers or toast -- or right off the spoon, suggests reader sdlocal.
  • Alexandrainabox favors a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It's especially good if made with waffles, she says. Reader "geri a" spreads peanut butter and honey on waffles.
  • Leftover quiche or frittata makes a savory breakfast, suggests "achy back."
  • Reader "bee dance" has a broader vision of what breakfast should be. "Maybe you're just in the mood for a sandwich and some fruit?"
  • Bake a potato in the office microwave, suggests Cronewitch. Heat up leftover pizza. "Remember, breakfast doesn't have to be breakfast food. Microwave popcorn can be breakfast," she says.

I guess it could. I just hope it isn't. Feel free to add your own on-the-go breakfast ideas to the thread

Just as with brown-bag lunches, the savings can be considerable. Let's say you spend $3 each morning on breakfast out (and that's low-balling it). We're talking an extra $15 per week, or $780 per year.

Although you'll have to buy additional groceries, your homemade repasts will almost certainly be cheaper than a hot meal at the drive-through, and healthier than bear claws and lattes from the lobby coffee shop. Or popcorn fresh out of the microwave.

Published Sept. 10, 2008


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