How do Atlanta’s busy chefs manage school-day breakfasts? For many of these families, breakfast may be the only meal they eat together since the chef in the family is often in his or her restaurant during the day and into the evening.
“As a parent, you have the best of intentions. And as a chef you feel this pressure to make sure your kids have to have the best breakfast, the best packed lunch ever, the best dinner ever. But then reality kicks in and you’re slinging Pop-Tarts in the toaster and packing peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch,” says Meherwan Irani of Chai Pani and Botiwalla. “It’s a dilemma. How do you make a healthy breakfast your kid will eat?”
Growing up in India, Irani ate savory breakfasts of porridge or dosa. He had a hard time with the idea of cornflakes with sugar and milk or toast with jam. But his daughter Aria made it clear she not going to eat a savory breakfast. The key to finding the solution was getting Aria involved in the process. “She said she loved fruit and she’d like her breakfast to be a little bit sweet but still healthy. So together we came up with a compote of frozen fruit topped with puff pastry. It’s quick and easy and something she’ll happily eat before she runs out the door.”
Zach Meloy and his wife Cristina of Midtown’s Better Half have two daughters under five. “It is important to me that I get to cook for my family at breakfast,” says Zach.
Cristina is from Costa Rica where breakfast is a big meal. The family eats beans and rice almost every meal, so sometimes breakfast is leftover beans and rice sauteed with onion, then served with scrambled eggs, fried plantains, sour cream and grilled tortillas. “Yes, that’s a fast breakfast for us,” laughs Cristina.
She adds, “Most families are rushing in the morning, but this is the only time we don’t rush since it’s the only time we have Daddy at home.”
But not rushing doesn’t mean the family doesn’t take advantage of the freezer to have delicious breakfasts ready at hand. Zach will make classic French toast and let it cool, then freeze it on a sheet tray and wrap when frozen. When it’s time to have French toast for breakfast, he can just pop it off the sheet tray and put it into the toaster oven. While it’s toasting, he cuts up fresh fruit. Then they serve the French toast with a drizzle of sweetened condensed milk, another nod to Cristina’s heritage, and honey.
And he makes baked oatmeal, a recipe he learned from his mom. It’s a combination of cooked oatmeal mixed with egg, brown sugar, vanilla and maybe dried fruit or nuts. Dried cherries are a favorite addition. It’s baked into bars which can then be frozen individually. “Then all we need to do is toss one into a microwave-safe bowl and heat it. Then you pour cold milk over it. I love that combination of this hot cereal kind of pudding and cold milk.”
During the school year, Twain’s Brewpub’s Ryan Burke is in charge of breakfast for his son and daughter. Some mornings he’ll whip up a one-egg omelet for each child. “I have eggs every morning and after all these years of cooking, I can turn out an omelet really fast. It’s a fine fast breakfast for all of us. But while I’d like to pretend that every morning I’m whipping up something fresh for the kids, the reality is sometimes that can’t happen. We’re all on the go with lots to do.”
So he also makes sure to have breakfast options frozen and ready to go. “My kids are waffle fans so that’s an easy one. Waffles are easy to freeze ahead and then heat up in a toaster oven. You can do the same thing with pancakes or French toast.”
Billy Allin and his wife Kristin of Cakes & Ale, Bread & Butterfly and Proof Bakeshop have two boys, nine and 13. Allin is in charge of serving weekday breakfast and packing school lunches and says the way he makes that work in a busy family schedule is to plan ahead. On Sunday night, he knows what the boys will be eating for breakfast and lunch throughout the week.
“If you don’t have a plan, then the 10 minutes it takes you to decide what you’re going to make, is the 10 minutes you give up. This year my son’s bus comes at 7 a.m. That’s early. I plan ahead so when I get up, I know exactly what’s for breakfast and what the boys will have for lunch.”
That balancing of breakfast and lunch is important to Allin. If they have toast and an egg in the morning, then lunch won’t be a sandwich. The boys will get a ploughman’s lunch with some cheese and sliced salami, maybe a few crackers, some fresh fruit and a few carrots.
Of course you always have to work with what your children will eat. “Monday is the hardest morning of the week and it may be that breakfast is whole grain cereal and seasonal fruit. By Tuesday I’ll cook an egg for one son but the other doesn’t like eggs so he gets toast with peanut butter or almond butter and honey.”
The family enjoys fruit smoothies, too. At this time of year, they may have freeze slices of Georgia peaches to be used in smoothies down the road. “We put the peaches and regular plain yogurt in a blender with some honey. I slip in a little wheat germ that dissolves when you puree it so they’ll never notice it.”
A non-negotiable is that the food has to taste good. “As a cook, it’s important to me to set a good example, especially to never be lazy about anything you do. If it’s worth eating, it should be done well.”
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Do a little weekend prep to get ahead for the week, or better yet, double one of these delicious dishes for Sunday breakfast, then freeze the remainder to enjoy the rest of the week.
Aria’s Puff Pastry Fruit Compote Breakfast
This recipe is the result of consultation between Meherwan Irani, chef and owner of Chai Pani and Botiwalla, and his then seven-year old daughter, Aria, as they negotiated what she’d like to eat for breakfast. Eight years later, these are still a favorite. “Usually it’s mom or dad that make it. She could do it, but she’d rather us do it. She’s 15 and apparently has more important things to do in life,” he says with a laugh.
Whole Foods and Sprouts carry Dufour Classic Puff Pastry which is made with butter. The 14-ounce package contains one sheet of puff pastry, about 8-by-16 inches. That’s the puff pastry Irani prefers. He makes these compotes with a mixture of frozen organic mango chunks, peach slices, blueberries and cherries. Use the puff pastry and fruit combination your family favors. He also makes these in 6-ounce ramekins, but you can use larger or smaller ramekins depending on what’s in your cupboard.
These ramekins are so tasty they’d make an elegant easy dessert for your next dinner party as well. We’re providing directions to make one ramekin. Multiply as needed.
Ryan Burke’s Blueberry-Bacon Waffles
Who doesn’t like blueberry pancakes? How about blueberry waffles? Ryan Burke of Twain’s Brewpub has a 7-year-old son and a 2-year-old daughter and they’re both waffle fans. He makes blueberry waffles in several variations including flavoring the batter with lemon or orange zest. As for adding bacon to his blueberry waffles, he says that’s one of his family’s favorite combinations.
Jeff Sellers’ Breakfast Burritos
Jeff Sellers, executive chef of Decatur’s Leon’s Full Service, has a 1-year-old son who’s not quite ready for breakfast burritos. Every morning dad juices a mixture of organic blueberries, bananas and arugula or kale in the family Vitamix and serves that to his son. Dad’s not a big breakfast eater, but if he cooks some eggs for himself, the baby will try those as well. One day he’ll graduate to these burritos. They’d be as good for dinner as they are for breakfast. If your kids aren’t a fan of cooked onions, leave them out.