It occurs to me that I haven’t much talked about breakfast at our house. I assume that regular readers have made a few cognitive leaps by now and connected at least the following dots regarding the morning meal in RRG land:
1) Sugary cereals, Pop-Tarts, Toaster Strudels, individually frozen sausage sandwich concoctions, and all other allegedly “wholesome” convenience items are banned from my kingdom.
2) My children eat breakfast every day, and so do J. and I.
3) All those muffins and quick breads that get turned out in the royal bakery on weekends sure do come in handy at 7:00 in the morning.
Beyond that, you might not have much idea what goes on in our house in the mornings (besides chaos and mayhem). I’ll say this: breakfast probably hasn’t been my strongest suit, when it comes to providing meals for my kids, but I do what I can to be sure that we all get fed.
My boys are total opposites in almost every way; this is particularly apparent at breakfast time, when P. is ready to eat everything in sight (edible or not) and may actually inhale two or three small meals in the space of an hour or so, and L. is not at all ready to eat, speak, move, or in any other way join the human race. P. wakes up jabbering, jumping, and ravenous, while L. wakes up reluctantly, most mornings. P. heads to the table almost immediately and tries to scale his high chair, signaling to us that he’s ready for chow; L. drags himself to the couch and lays there, weakly gesturing for a beverage, blinking at the world for a minimum of ten minutes. Needless to say, breakfast is not easily handled in a neat and efficient manner with these two personalities dueling for our attention.
In an ideal world, I’d do breakfast roughly the same way we do lunches and dinners: I’d have a game plan ahead of time, everyone would sit down together, and we’d all have the same thing, or close to it. That doesn’t work out so well, especially on weekdays. For one thing, we do all get up at different times; for another, J. and I are trying to get ourselves and the kids dressed and out the door with all requisite items for the day on a very specific deadline. We always manage it, but it means throwing the June Cleaver image of breakfast out the window and just dealing with everyone’s appetites and internal clocks when they demand it.
For P., breakfast is probably not only the most important meal of the day, but the most reliable. He tanks up on the majority of his calories, it seems, early in the morning, then spends the day running them off. He always has some sort of fruit, usually a banana; cereal of some description, generally either Cheerios or oatmeal; and often another item, whether it’s yogurt, a smoothie, toast with peanut butter, or a homemade muffin. He washes everything down with a cup of milk and usually leaves the house with the remains of whatever he’s had last clutched in his hand, as if he wants to be sure to have something in reserve just in case Mommy forgot to pack his lunch that day.
For L., breakfast is daintier and more painstaking. It’s just not appealing to him, most mornings, to eat much of anything. I can sympathize — for most of my childhood, I recall that both D. and I were averse to breakfast, and specifically to traditional breakfast foods. Our pediatrician advised our mother to simply let us eat whatever we wanted, within reason, in the mornings; leftover chicken and rice was a better breakfast than nothing at all. We often ate things that are not typically part of the American breakfast repertoire. I try to apply the same logic to L. — I would rather that he eat something rather than nothing, and while I’m certainly not going to give him junk, if he thinks he can choke down a grilled cheese sandwich in the mornings, I’m inclined to let him.
Most days it doesn’t come to that; he does like Cheerios and will often be happy enough to eat a dish of them, though milk might be a subject of negotiation. We do allow him a cup of 100 percent fruit and vegetable juice blend if he’d like some at breakfast time, though we try to limit juice consumption during the rest of his day and steer him towards water, seltzer, and milk. And both boys enjoy pancakes, so if I’ve got time to make them — or if I’ve made some on the weekends and popped the leftovers into the fridge, as with the Pumpkin-Ricotta pancakes I created recently — he’ll generally eat those. But these days, I view breakfast and L. a bit cautiously, because the issue of monitoring his weight puts me a little at unease when it comes to his usual pancake and muffin repertoire.
I’m trying not to bake muffins as often right now, so that fallback hasn’t been around to give L. a quick and handy breakfast. And while many people tell me to just make smoothies and let him drink his breakfasts, there are two problems with that: 1) L.’s fruit aversion and dislike of yogurt (he actually gags when he smells it) make it difficult to create a filling enough smoothie that he’ll drink willingly; and 2) His sensory issues mean that he is absolutely terrified of the blender. Not a great combination of factors. He also isn’t terribly crazy about eggs, though sometimes he’ll eat them; but on a hectic weekday morning, the last thing I feel like doing is taking precious time to gamble on that, then end up having to come up with something else at the very last second.
So with all these things in mind, I’ve set out, this week, to re-invent the breakfast repertoire in our house, at least a little bit. Beyond savory offerings (L. would happily eat salmon and pumpernickel for breakfast every morning, if my wallet could take it) and the failsafe Cheerios, I wanted to create something healthy and delicious that would be familiar enough for L., and easy enough for me, to be enticing at 7 a.m. The result is that I’ve made two things so far this week and will be testing L. on them, and variations on these themes, off and on for the next month or so. (I usually find that introducing totally new food concepts takes not only several tries, but attempts at several different times, days of the week, etc., before they become standard fare.)
The first creation was breakfast “couscous” — ill-timed, because the day I made it was the day L. woke up with a tummy bug, and I haven’t attempted to give it to him since. But L. loves couscous, so I made a variation with bulgur wheat to amp up the nutritional value (and reheating possibilities). With orange juice, almonds, and cinnamon, it should be a soft sell for my kid. In the meantime, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and even P. got in on the action for a few spoonfuls — miraculous when you consider that he’s not a fan of rice, couscous, or bulgur in any form.
The second creation was last night’s project. The other day, L. asked, out of the blue, for animal crackers. He’s eaten maybe a dozen or so actual animal crackers in his entire life, but something put the idea in his head, and he fixated on it for an entire morning. So last night, I pulled out our small animal-shaped cookie cutters and got to work. The combination of dried fruit, oatmeal, and whole wheat flour seemed like a decent enough breakfast to me, and they didn’t turn out half-bad; but this morning, again, it was P. who devoured them, while L. eyed them suspiciously and decided he’d stick with his Cheerios for the moment. I do think, though, that L. will give them a shot tomorrow — he often needs a day to mull over a new creation of mine, as well as plenty of evidence (in the form of watching the rest of us crunch on them) that these things are, in fact, edible. He was excited about the shapes, at any rate, which is encouraging; if I just set one in front of him tomorrow morning and walk away, it’s a reasonable bet that it will be gone by the time I casually pass by the table again.
It’s a lot of thought to be putting into breakfasts, when I know that most people are just handing their kids a cereal bar and calling it a day. Frankly, breakfast is the one time of day that makes me feel like L. is actually a picky eater, even though I know that in the grand scheme of things, he’s anything BUT picky. It’s just that the early hour and his general waking-up grumpiness makes for a perfect storm of contrariness at the table. But I’m going to keep working on the issue until I feel like we’ve got some new, healthier, more creative options on the menu, because I really do believe that while any breakfast is better than no breakfast, there’s no sense in sending my kids off into the world on a stomach full of compromise.