The Time-and-Money Tangle of Workday Breakfasts

Photo by Manki Kim on Unsplash.

One of the sacrifices my partner and I made when we chose our home was our commute. We knew we’d be driving a hefty distance to work, and we both work jobs that require arriving by 8 a.m. This meant we’d need to change the way we did breakfast.

Back when I was in school, I’d woken at 7ish, promptly started coffee and toast and maybe some pre-cooked bacon, and then enjoyed a leisurely breakfast while getting started on writing work or homework. Once our jobs began, my husband and I settled into an unsatisfying routine: we’d wake up at 6 a.m. (me) and 6:15 a.m. (him), with just barely enough time for showers. I’d start some coffee and maybe some toast, but we’d barely be able to get a few sips and bites down before the clock struck 7 and we needed to get in the car. Thus began a series of breakfast sadnesses.

For breakfast to truly work well for us, we had to optimize sleep time, food prep time, food cost, and food quality. We also wanted to give ourselves enough time to enjoy our breakfasts! Unfortunately, none of our attempts seemed to fulfill all of our breakfast goals.

Attempt 1: Quick toast

Toast with butter is, generally, one of my favorite foods — but even that gets old after a while. We spiced it up by getting really high-quality seedy multi-grain bread, but although this strategy achieved sleep time, prep time, and cost goals, the food was not as healthy or as delicious as we usually wanted, and we never had much time to eat. 

Attempt 2: Early riser biscuits, eggs, and bacon

Hubs and I love Southern breakfast food, so when I get a real big moment of motivation, I try getting up 30 minutes early to make egg sandwiches from scratch. (For some reason, both of us are uninterested in those frozen heat-and-eat egg sandwiches.) This strategy meant a loss of sleep time and healthiness, but gave us a great boost in deliciousness and wasn’t really expensive. But in the end, I decided that I valued sleep time over breakfast deliciousness — plus I didn’t always plan ahead to make sure we had bacon and eggs in the house. 

Attempt 3: Fast food

The fast food joints on our routes to work have given us plenty of options, tantalizing us with their speed and the ease of eating while driving. However, they are usually the least healthy option and the most expensive: while we can usually make a tasty breakfast at home for under $2 a portion, coffee and a breakfast menu item rarely costs less than $6. While it feels nice, in the moment, to eat something while driving — the road is long and boring — I feel like there is something lower about my quality of life when I’m spilling biscuit crumbs on my work clothes instead of leisurely watching the sun rise from home.

Attempt 4: Breakfast smoothies

The breakfast experiment we’re currently running attempts to balance the five factors a little better than any of the prior options. It came with an upfront cost ($25 for a personal-smoothie blender) and some ingredients (frozen berries, yogurt, frozen spinach, bananas), but it feels like a good breakfast compromise. Nothing is going to make it possible to both sleep late and get to work on time, so the smoothie is a very portable option that allows me to eat while driving. Smoothies include a lot of good fruits and veggies, which have never been enough of a component in our breakfasts. Since we use frozen fruit that can be bought in bulk, our smoothies are both tasty and affordable.

Still, I’m worried that the smoothie thing may not work long-term. Hubs doesn’t want to drink smoothies for breakfast, so he usually does toast or oatmeal, both of which have lost all luster for him and leave him hungry before lunch. I have a feeling that, even if smoothies work for me, I may try to find a new breakfast solution that my husband and I can eat together. If you’ve figured out the time-money-tastiness-healthiness breakfast compromise, I’d love to read your suggestions!

Laura Marie is a writer and teacher in Ohio. Read more of her work at Messy Mapmaker.

This story is part of The Billfold’s Food Series.

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