As a child of the 70s, I remember watching commercials for breakfast cereals. Between The Smurfs, The Transformers, and Josie and the Pussycats, I’d learn how Lucky Charms or Cap’n Crunch were “part” of a healthy breakfast.
The healthy breakfast would include toast (with visibly melting butter), orange juice, a bowl of berries, bacon or sausage (or both), sometimes a bowl of eggs, a pitcher of milk, and a big bowl of cereal. I remember the sheer volume of that meal—and that my breakfasts never came close to looking like that.
There was something very appealing about that voluminous breakfast, but like so many food-styled tablescapes, not realistic or truthfully something that a two-parent working family would have time to make.
I recall another vision of breakfast from my childhood, this one based in history. The Shaker breakfast is something I learned about at the Mt. Lebanon Shaker museum in upstate New York.
The Shaker breakfast has two parts. The first part is something that could be grabbed quickly when the Shakers first wake up; something like a piece of pie or bread and jam, maybe a piece of cheese. This would be something edible that could have been prepared the day before, in days before refrigeration, gas or electric ovens.
Then, about two to three hours later, when the first of the morning chores had been done, there would be a second, heartier breakfast. At this point, the cooks in the Shaker community would have prepared the fires so that they could cook a warm meal, like oatmeal with fruit jams or breakfast meats, cooked eggs, and pancakes.
This always made great sense to me. First thing in the morning, I rarely want something big and heavy, but by mid-morning I certainly do. If I start out with too light a breakfast, by 10 a.m., I’m hungry. As it turns out, that’s a perfectly natural phenomenon, and one the Shakers planned meals around.
These days, my breakfast activities center around my 15-month-old sons. Their breakfast is a hybrid of the two breakfasts above. Here’s how it goes:
- A big bottle upon waking, typically 6 a.m. (That’s the Shaker mini-breakfast.)
- One hour later, we have a four-course extravaganza, not too different from the commercial I watched as a child. Here’s how it goes:
- As soon as they hit their high chairs, I start with Cheerios, mostly to keep their hands and mouths busy so that I can buy myself some time to make…
- Toast! It takes five minutes in the toaster, which gives me enough time to get my second child downstairs and have them both happily munching on their Cheerios. The toast buys me even more time so that I can prepare…
- An omelet or some breakfast meat (some sort of protein). Again, something that they can feed themselves with their hands. By the time the eggs are done I’m sitting down with them and we’re eating together—which is critical. If I forget to eat, it’s not going to be a pretty day.
- Fruit finale: We end every meal with a little fruit. Blueberries, strawberries, kiwi, orange segments, pineapple… You get the drift.
They have two breakfasts, like the Shakers: milk, followed by a larger breakfast after there’s been a bit of appetite build up. The larger breakfast is not different from those “healthy breakfast” images I had as a child: cereal, toast, eggs, fruit.
As we know, breakfast is something we need to have, “the most important meal of the day.” But we also have to balance the needs of our schedule and our appetite. Breakfast doesn’t need to be a guilt trip, but it does need to be a satisfying, well-rounded experience for the cooks as well as the consumers. A little protein, a little fruit or vegetable, and a little whole grain gets you moving in the right direction. How you schedule and layer those components together is up to you.