Thinking Outside the Box, Literally

Life is full of clichés and the one about breakfast being the most important meal of the day is one that holds true. Breakfast boosts lagging blood sugars and fuels us for the day. Given the fact that this is the first food we feed our starving bodies and brains, it would make sense to choose something really nutritious. That’s another reason why I don’t serve breakfast cereal often.

“What do you eat for breakfast then?”

Around here we have very loose ideas of what breakfast food should be. So we’ll eat whatever is around that fills and fuels us for the day. Here is a list of some non-typical weekday breakfasts we might eat to start the day:
-egg fried rice
-pasta with butter and garlic or pesto
-frozen dumplings
-bean and cheese quesadilla
-leftovers from last night’s dinner. This could be just about anything: pasta, noodles, pizza, soup, stir fry, steak and potatoes. Anything.

But we also eat some typical breakfast foods:
-frozen homemade waffles, pancakes or muffins
-French toast
-eggs, omelettes
-homemade granola or muesli with yogurt
-hot cereal (not the instant kind): any combination of oats, barley flakes, quinoa flakes, triticale flakes…

And I’ll round out the breakfast with milk, fruit and sometimes even veggies or a fruit and yogurt smoothie.

“How do you find the time to make breakfast?”

Honestly, boiling up some water for pasta or stir frying rice and eggs takes about as much time as putting the kettle on and making a Bodum-full of coffee.

You get the idea. Pretty much anything goes as long as we have a balanced meal (yes, including all the proverbial food groups) and avoid falling into the clutches of highly processed breakfast cereal. Can your household do without cereal? Think outside of the cereal box and strip away your notion of what breakfast food should be and you’ll come up with a ton of new, quick, more-nutritious-than-cereal alternatives to start your day.

Irrational Make-over

I have an irrational bias: cereal. Boxed breakfast cereal. Highly processed, overpriced boxed breakfast cereal. I don’t like it.

I understand that families are time challenged in the morning and rely on quick, straight-out-of-the box breakfasts. Cereals make the promise of containing “18 essential nutrients” but I’m not convinced. Because cereal is so highly processed, they actually have to add back the nutrients that get processed out of the grains they started with. Kind of counterproductive in my opinion. And then there are the cereals with the extra added bonuses like sugar, colour, artificial flavouring, artificial aromas, etc.

As a result, I don’t buy cereal often. And when I do, I read labels and look for whole grain, lower sugar, lower sodium varieties. And I feel guilty for feeding into the cereal manufacturing vortex.

The other day I had a bit of a dilemma. I wanted to make crispy rice squares, the first time in probably 6 or 7 years. I bought a package of organic crisp rice cereal. OK, it’s organic, low in sugar, made from brown rice but I still felt guilty about supporting big food processors. I also felt guilty knowing that they processed the bejeezies out of rice to make the perfectly uniform crisp rice bits (don’t think that those are individual rice grains all puffed up–they’re not!). And of course the marshmallows are purely processed, good-for-nothing high-fructose corn syrup. I need to just let my hair down and live a little.

I am deeply sorry to disappoint the Rice Krispie purists out there but I’m going to be the party pooper. I made crispy rice squares with a healthy, sophisticated angle…replaced some of the cereal with toasted oats, dried mango and toasted almonds. I served these up to the boy to great relish. I served them up to the neighbour kids who inhaled them with glee. Serve them up to your gang and see if anyone notices.

Crispy Rice Squares (Made-over)
1/4 cup butter
200 grams marshmallows
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups toasted rolled oats
1/2 cup chopped dried fruit
1/2 cup chopped toasted nuts
3 cups crisp rice cereal

Line an 8” or 9” square pan with foil and butter well. Set aside.
In a large pot, melt butter over medium heat and continue to heat until solids start to brown and butter smells nutty. You will notice the butter sizzle as the water cooks away. Just before the butter browns, it will form a fine froth. I am being totally facetious using brown butter but it adds a certain je ne sais quoi. If you don’t care for this, just melt the butter.
Remove the pot from stove and add marshmallows. Stir until they are completely melted. If the pot cools down too much, return it to low heat and keep stirring.
Add vanilla and stir well to combine.
Add the rest of the ingredients and stir well to coat all the dry ingredients.
Pour into prepared pan. Grease your hands with more butter and press mixture firmly.
Let cool to room temperature and cut into 9 or 16 squares.