Are there seasons in your life where you're more likely to swing through the drive-thru because you're tired, stressed, or overwhelmed?
Fall is like that for me. My friends start talking boots and flannel. Pumpkin Spice Lattes start showing up in my Instagram feed. And the corn mazes and pumpkin farms open for business.
And me? While I love colorful leaves and impossibly blue autumn skies as much as the next person, I cringe when fall arrives.
It has nothing to do with the weather and everything to do with my husband's busy season. As a farmer, he is busy harvesting, usually gone before the kids get up and home after they're in bed. By the third (okay, second) week, the kids and I are cranky, and my car veers into the drive-thru. By itself. It's the craziest thing.
But I resolved this year would be different.
So I really analyzed my day and discovered my overwhelm started with breakfast and kitchen clean-up. And it didn't stop all day, but maybe I could start the day off on the right foot.
1. Forget McDonald's. Here's an English muffin egg sandwich.
Total cost: $0.78 (vs. $2.99 for a Sausage McMuffin with Egg from McDonald's)
English muffin, toasted ($0.17)
Egg, fried (from my chickens, but otherwise $0.22)
Slice of Canadian bacon ($0.19)
Slice of cheese ($0.20)
Assemble the egg, cheese, and Canadian bacon between the muffin halves. Wrap carefully in wax paper, then tightly wrap in foil. Place in zip-top freezer bags. These reheat well in my toaster oven at 325 for 30 minutes. Add vegetables of your choice if you want to up the nutrition.
2. And here's an egg burrito too!
Total cost: $0.61 (vs. $1.56 for a Sausage Burrito from McDonald's)
One slice of bacon ($0.25)
Two eggs, scrambled ($0.44)
Sprinkling of shredded cheese ($0.05)
Leftover broccoli ($0.02)
If you're adding any raw veggies, saute them until soft. Then add your eggs to the pan. Cook until done. Depending on the size of your tortilla, spread around ¼ c. of eggs slightly off center. Top with bacon, cheese and broccoli (or other leftovers). Wrap up the tortilla, burrito-style. First, wrap in the wax paper and then tightly wrap it in foil. Place in zip-top freezer bags. These reheat well in my toaster over at 325 for 30 minutes. Or you can wrap the naked burrito in a damp paper towel and warm it up in the microwave.
These egg breakfasts are awesome for using up leftover veggies or small amounts of meat that may otherwise get shoved to the back of the fridge. Although I didn't do a price comparison on quiche, it freezes well and transforms limp broccoli into something quite delicious!
3. Fruit & maple oatmeal that rivals the drive-thru
Total cost: $0.30-35 (vs. $1.99 for Fruit and Maple Oatmeal from McDonald's)
½ c. old-fashioned oats ($0.08)
¾ c. of milk or water – enough to cover ($0.14)
Cinnamon (negligible cost)
Seasonal fruit/nuts as desired – apples, raisins, bananas, berries, pecans ($0.12 for blueberries)
Maple syrup to taste (negligible cost)
Place oats in a (microwaveable) bowl and cover with water or milk. Add a dash of salt to enhance flavor if you like.
Next, customize. At this time of year, apples and cinnamon make a nice addition. Or how about maple extract and pecans? Pumpkin and nutmeg? Whatever you're in the mood for, really. Adding spices, nuts, seeds, or fruit can make your tastebuds sing in the morning. Microwave on high for about 2½ minutes.
(Add fruits or nuts before — or after — cooking depending on whether you want them to be cooked or not.) Top with a bit of maple syrup.
There's all sorts of ways to be creative!
Making oatmeal fresh doesn't take much time, but you can also make overnight oats. Add ½ c. old-fashioned oats to a glass jar and cover them with ¾ c. of milk or water. If you eat the oats cold, you'll save time. Plus, depending on your ingredients, this is a cheap meal. I buy my oats from a bulk food store for $0.81 per pound.
Baked oatmeal is another of our family's favorites. I can slice the baked oatmeal (it has a cake-like consistency) into squares and wrap it in wax paper with an outer layer of foil. Then, I slip them into freezer bags to be reheated.
1 egg ($0.22)
1/3 c. oil ($0.30)
1/3 c. sugar ($0.05)
Baking powder, cinnamon, and salt (negligible)
1/2 c. milk ($0.09)
1/2 c. blueberries ($0.50)
Divided by five — 30 cents a serving. What!?!
Driving off-menu with waffles and pancakes
We love waffles at our house. But I don't love cleaning the waffle iron. We freeze any extra waffles and they crisp up nicely in the toaster — without messing up my waffle iron again. It's just as fast (but so much more delicious) than Eggo or other frozen waffle brands.
I've been freezing extra waffles for years, but I haven't actually frozen pancakes — but I have put pancake muffins in the freezer. These muffins taste like pancakes, but the syrup is mixed into the batter … which means no syrup in my daughter's hair two minutes before the bus comes. Search online for these recipes and then tweak the recipe to your family's tastes. Berries and other dried fruits make delicious additions.
I freeze waffles, pancake muffins, and regular muffins in zip-top freezer bags.
But even if you don't freeze pancakes or waffles, you can still mix up most batters the night before. I have done this with waffle batters and they taste (and look) fine, even though the batter is a little disgusting-looking in the morning.
For pumpkin pancakes, incorporate pumpkin puree to the batter along with spices such as allspice, cinnamon, and ginger. But eating pancakes on the go can be a sticky mess — just one of the reasons why I love pancake muffins — however, you can solve this problem by making inside-out pancakes.
Standard pancake batter
½ c. brown sugar
½ t. cinnamon
2 T. of your favorite toasted nut, chopped
Make your favorite pancake batter. Then, mix up brown sugar, cinnamon, and toasted nuts. Spread the batter on the skillet as you normally would, but then press the sugar mixture on the batter before covering it with another layer of batter. Flip to finish both sides. (You may need to thin your batter more than normal.)
Is my breakfast strategy passing the test?
And how's this strategy working for me?
I expected to save some time and money, but I didn't realize how little my homemade breakfasts cost. If I hit the drive-thru, I usually don't mind paying more for the convenience. But here's the thing: planning ahead makes driving thru my own cupboards a whole lot more convenient than getting in the car and going to McDonald's.
Of course, it's not all rainbows and unicorns, as they say. Making everything and cleaning up a disastrously messy kitchen took hours. But now? My kitchen requires very little morning clean-up, everyone gets a tasty (and sometimes nutritious, although that can be argued) breakfast for less, and the real measure of success? The car hasn't pulled into the drive-thru once. Not once.
What strategies do you use to cope with busy seasons in your life? How much do you think you pay for conveniences like buying meals at the drive-thru?
Time to open an online savings account? Look at these options:
Lisa Aberle is a college professor by day and a freelance writer by night. Always an aspiring writer with an interest in money, she once ironically misspelled “mortgage” during a spelling bee. Most of her current adventures take place on the four-acre mini-farm she shares with her husband in the rural Midwest (where she writes with gel pens whenever possible).