COOKING WITH CHRISTIE: Healthy Breakfasts

By Christie Popp

Finally, after two months of candy, cakes, rich foods, and way too much alcohol, we arrive at January. If you are anything like me, you have indulged whole-heartedly, and now your pants might be feeling a little snugger than usual. Many people, feeling said snugness, enter the New Year with grand goals of diets and exercise regimes—resolutions to completely alter their ways of eating. And, like diets, most resolutions fail. 

I don’t start new diets, and I don’t make resolutions that involve eating. Most fad diets fail, and I think they are a waste of time and mental energy, especially when science has told us what we need to eat. (Michael Pollan has done a great job detailing what the science says, and I highly recommend his books or his new documentary (link here). Spoiler: you have to eat real food and you will have to cook most of it). 

I must admit, though, that going into the new year, I do need a change. I like to imagine that I am hitting the reset button. I cut back a bit on the sweets, the rich foods, and the copious amounts of alcohol. Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains come back to the forefront of what I eat each day. And, for me, starting out with a good breakfast in the morning is the best way to set the tone for the rest of the day. 

Unfortunately, for many people, breakfast gets short shrift. It’s hectic. I know I find it rough to get all of us fed, dressed, and out the door in time to make it to school and the office. So my criteria for any breakfast dish are that it has to be relatively quick and simple, it has to be homemade, and it has to be healthy-ish. I am willing to give up 15 minutes to cooking, but no more. Below are some of my family’s favorite breakfast recipes to fill you with real food goodness and help you get a good start to your day. 

 

Recipes

Here are two weekday recipes and a bonus recipe that you can prepare on the weekend and enjoy the rest of the week. 


Steel Cut Oats

I am on the steel-cut oat bandwagon. While they aren’t any healthier than rolled oats, steel-cut oats are much more delicious. They cook up less like a bowl full of stiff paste, and more like a creamy pudding. If you have ever made steel-cut oats, you know that they can take a long time to cook. They are, after all, a whole grain. But with this method that I have adapted from old Cook’s Illustrated and Bon Appetit recipes, you can enjoy the warmth of oats on a weekday morning.

 

The Process

As with many of my recipes, this is a blueprint that you can tailor to your tastes. The process couldn’t be simpler. 

Use:  1 cup water to 1/4 cup oats (e.g. 4 cups of water to 1 cup of oats). I figure 1/4-1/3 cup of uncooked oats per person. You may need more if you have big eaters

  1. Before bed, boil 3/4 of your desired amount of water. (See note below)
  2. When it comes to a boil, add salt (figure about 1/8 teaspoon per 4 cups of water or to taste) and any spices you desire see below.
  3. Add oats and give one quick stir.
  4. Turn off heat, cover pot, and let sit overnight. I find this method works best if you keep the pot on the burner you have just turned off, the residual heat helps the oats absorb the water a little better.
  5. In the morning, stir in final portion of water and heat on medium with the lid off. In around 10-15 minutes (depending on the size of your serving), the water should be mostly absorbed, though still creamy (again, think pudding, not paste), and the oatmeal should be heated through. Use this time to get dressed, cut up some fruit, or pack lunches!
  6. Once the oatmeal is heated through, add desired amount of sweetener. I use 1-2 tablespoons of sweetener here.
  7. Turn off heat, cover, and let sit for five minutes. (I sometimes add around 2-3 tablespoons of milk to this final rest to make the oatmeal creamier).
  8. Top and enjoy!

*Note: You do not want to add the full amount of water to the overnight soak. You will add 3/4 of your desired amount. So, for example, if you are cooking 1 cup of oats with four cups of water, you will soak the oats in 3 cups of water overnight and add the final cup in the morning. 

 

The Variations

The options here are endless—you can vary your grains, your spices, your liquid, and your toppings, meaning you have a warm bowl of cereal that is different every day. 

  1. Change your grain: Substitute another grain for up to half of the oats. Choose longer-cooking grains like barley, wheat berries, farro, or quinoa (rinse quinoa first for the best flavor). I recommend avoiding couscous or bulgur, as the overnight soak makes them a little mushy.
  2. Add spices: Whatever you choose to soak with your oats will permeate each bite with flavor. I often use cinnamon and cardamom, but I bet ginger, nutmeg, cloves, or allspice would also be delicious. For my 1 cup of oats, I usually use around ½ tsp of cinnamon and ¼ tsp of cardamom. This gives a light flavor. Play around with the amounts to your taste.
  3. Add fruit at night: Add raisins or craisins to the overnight soak. The dried fruit becomes soft and plump, and it also naturally sweetens the oats.
  4. Change your liquid: Substitute different liquids for all or part of the morning’s water. You could use apple cider, juice, milk (dairy or other). I haven’t tried it, but I bet coconut milk would be delicious.
  5. Change your sweetener: I usually use maple syrup or honey, but sometimes I’ll sweeten my oatmeal with brown sugar.

 

The Toppings

  1. Dairy: I like to top my oatmeal with either a splash of milk or filmjolk (a Swedish version of Kefir) or a dollop of plain yogurt. You could also use a non-dairy milk like almond, coconut, or soy. Be careful if you are using flavored or sweetened milks, as that can alter the sweetness level of your oatmeal.
  2. Fruit: Try grated or chopped apple or pear, sliced banana, pineapple, berries, or any kind of dried fruit.
  3. Nuts: I love to throw on a few nuts for crunch. They would definitely taste better toasted, but if I’m honest, I usually just grab whatever is in my cabinet.
  4. Sweetener: I add sweetener twice. I add a bit while the oatmeal is doing its final sit, and I also add a small amount to the top at the end. I especially like a small amount of maple syrup or honey.
  5. Go Savory: Forget all of the above! Who says oatmeal has to be sweet? Cook up a basic oatmeal, and the next morning, quickly sauté a little garlic and fresh ginger. Stir that into the cooked oatmeal along with soy sauce. Top with a fried egg.

 

Peanut-Butter Banana Pancakes

This recipe was floating around the Internet the year after my first son was born. I saw similar versions in several places, and this is the one we have been using. These pancakes are loaded with protein from the egg and nut butter. Don’t be intimidated by the idea of making pancakes on a weekday morning. These are easy and quick. My 4 year old makes them! 

 

The Process: 

This recipe is a ratio:

  • 1 banana (the riper it is, the easier it is to mash)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 Tbsp of nut butter
  • 1 Tbsp of flour
  • I figure one recipe per person, so for my two sons and I, I will use three bananas. 
  1. Mash the banana very well.
  2. Whisk the egg into the banana
  3. Stir in the nut-butter and flour. You want the mixture to be somewhat smooth, though the nut butter won’t become completely homogenous.
  4. Heat up a cast-iron or non-stick skillet with a small amount of oil (I usually cook pancakes on medium-high at first, then lower the temperature if the pan gets too hot).
  5. Cook on one side until it has become a dark, golden brown, flip and cook for another minute.

*Note: These pancakes are not as runny as many batters, but the high sugar content of the banana means they brown quickly. It’s easier if your pancakes are on the smaller size, so that they cook through before they get too brown. 

 

The Variations:

Unfortunately, I do not have too many variations to offer. We will substitute out peanut butter for other types of nut butters and sometimes even nutella! I sometimes use whole-wheat pastry flour instead of white flour to make the pancake that much healthier. 


Granola

I love to have granola in the house because it makes a delicious quick breakfast or dessert. Most store-bought granolas are full of preservatives and way too much added sugar. I’m not going to pretend like this recipe is low in sweetener, but it comes from maple syrup, which, nutritionally, is leaps and bounds above simple sugar, and the quantity isn’t much when you consider it is spread out over several breakfasts. In addition, this recipe is full of whole grain oats, olive oil, and tons of nuts, which add not just flavor but also the added benefit of helping you feel full. Of all of the granolas I have ever had in my life, this is my favorite. Once you have eaten it, I promise you won’t want to try any others. 

 

The Recipe:

This recipe is not one you would make on an average weekday morning. But it is relatively easy to do on a weeknight or weekend afternoon. It takes about 10 minutes to prepare and another 40 to bake.

I have slightly adapted this from Orangette

  • 6 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 2-3 cups of large coconut flakes (I have used shredded coconut in a pinch and it works. Just use less than the amount here)
  • 3 cups of nuts, your choice*, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 cup of maple syrup, preferably Grade B
  • 2/3 cup of olive oil 

Preheat oven to 300. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. 

Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add the syrup and oil and stir to coat. Divide the mixture between the two pans and spread it out well. Bake for around 40 minutes or until the granola has turned golden brown. I usually stir about twice during this baking and flip the pans at least once to ensure it’s based through. 

Let the granola cool completely, and then put into airtight containers. 

I like to eat the granola with filmjolk or plain yogurt (with a little bit of honey). It would also be delicious over ice cream or fruit for dessert.

*I do not have any particular combination of nuts that I use for this recipe. I often combine miscellaneous tablespoon or half cup of this or that left over from other recipes. I also enjoy sunflower and pumpkin seeds. If I do buy nuts with the plan to make granola, I usually add walnuts and pecans because they are my favorites, but anything will work!