10 Quick and Tasty Zero-Waste Breakfast Ideas for Busy People

overnight steel-cut oats

Of all three daily meals, breakfast offers the greatest potential to cook and eat with minimal waste. You’ll probably be home, not on the go, and will eat your breakfast on real dishes, with real cutlery, not on a styrofoam plate with a plastic spork. You also won’t likely run to the store to buy ingredients—you have to get to work or school after all! Instead of buying more food, you’ll eat what’s on hand, which prevents that food from going to waste.

I can buy the staples I need for the breakfasts below from bulk bins, filling my own jars and bags. Produce comes home from the year-round farmers’ market in my homemade produce bags. If you don’t have access to bulk bins or farmers’ markets, check out this post, Good, Better, Best Zero-Waste Shopping.

Like all things zero waste (or low waste if you prefer), a bit of planning—but not that much—is key to your first zero-waste meal of the day.

1. Granola or muesli

You can make large batches of granola or muesli on a weekend and enjoy them with your favorite milk on a busy weekday. Or eat either one with fresh fruit and yogurt for a satisfying, delicious breakfast. Go here for a granola recipe and here for a muesli recipe. If you’d like to make your own nut or seed milk, find instructions for that here.

2. Oatmeal

Make a big pot of oatmeal one morning (or any time) and simply reheat the leftovers for quick, satisfying, hot breakfasts all week. A pot of oatmeal keeps for at least five days in the refrigerator.

You’ll need 1 part rolled or old-fashioned oats, 2 parts liquid and a pinch of salt (use a larger pinch if making a vat). I usually cook my oatmeal in water but you can also use half water and half milk (any type will work.

Boil the liquid and salt in a pot over high heat. Stir in the oats. Turn the heat down to medium. Cook the oats for about 5 minutes until softened, stirring occasionally.

To serve, fill a bowl with oatmeal and add toppings such as:

  • Fresh fruit: blueberries, sliced strawberries, sliced bananas
  • Dried fruit: chopped dates, raisins, cranberries, apricots
  • Nut or seed butter: peanut butter, almond butter, tahini, homemade Nutella
  • Nuts and seeds: pecan pieces, walnut pieces, slivered almonds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, flax seeds
  • Coconut: shredded or flaked, or if you have it, fresh!
  • Spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, pumpkin pie spice blend
  • Sweetener: maple syrup, honey, brown sugar
  • Splash of milk of choice

Store the leftover oatmeal in the refrigerator.

Prefer steel-cut oats? Go here for overnight cooking instructions.

3. Overnight oats

My daughter Charlotte eats these several mornings every week. You need old-fashioned oats or rolled oats, not steel-cut oats (go here for instructions for cooking overnight steel-cut oats).

In a jar, combine oats with a pinch of salt, chia seeds, dried fruit and your milk of choice. Charlotte sometimes adds a bit of cocoa powder or cinnamon or both.

Place the jar in the refrigerator overnight. In the morning, stir in sweetener and nut butter if desired. Top with toasted nuts or granola. This will keep for about five days so you may want to make a few jars in advance to save time.

Go here for an overnight oats recipe from NYT Cooking.

4. Besan chilla

Enjoy these savory thin pancakes for breakfast, lunch or dinner. They taste like omelets but contain no eggs. I am a bit obsessed with them. I have been making these with gram flour (aka besan) that I grind up in my grain mill. But you need not grind your own flour to reduce waste! I have a grain mill to grind wheat and rye flour for sourdough bread and so use it for grinding roasted split chickpeas to render gram flour as well. You can buy gram flour at Indian stores. Chickpea flour contains ground whole chickpeas and also works but I prefer the taste of gram flour.

Add dry spices (turmeric and cumin, for example) to the flour and stir in water and any add-ins (finely chopped onion and tomato taste delicious). Melt ghee or coconut oil, spread the batter in a thin layer, fry and repeat. Purée some cilantro chutney to go with your breakfast. Of all the breakfast ideas listed here, these require the most time. They don’t reheat well and taste best fresh. Speed cooking up by having a couple of frying pans on the go, depending on how many you make.

Go here for the adaptable, addictive recipe.

5. Hardboiled eggs

Really, any egg dish makes a good breakfast. But you might not have time to make huevos rancheros on a weekday morning. If you hardboil eggs on the weekend or in the evening, you can grab them out of the refrigerator in the morning.

We buy pastured eggs at the farmers’ market. These come from hens who have lots of space to roam outside and do what hens were meant to do. I am fortunate to be able to pay a premium for these eggs and am happy to do so.

To make hardboiled eggs, place the eggs in a pot and fill it with enough water to cover them by a couple of inches. Place the lid on the pot and bring the water to a boil. As soon as the water boils, remove the pot from the heat. Let the eggs sit covered for 15 minutes. Remove them with a slotted spoon and allow them to cool in a bowl. Store them in a refrigerator.

6. Breakfast frittata

Make this in advance and eat it cold for breakfast. Or if you have time, make it in the morning and eat it hot. You can add all kinds of vegetables to it, making it a wonderful use-it-up dish. Go here for the recipe.

7. Smoothie

My daughter MK has moved back home for a year or so and makes a smoothie almost every morning to take to work. You need only yogurt, fruit and a bit of milk of choice to thin out the smoothie. Add protein powder if desired.

Make it zero waste by tossing in seasonal fruit that you previously froze. In the summer, I freeze strawberries that I buy loose—no clamshells! After bringing them home, I wash them, spread them in a single layer on a cookie sheet, put the sheet in the freezer and after the berries have frozen, transfer them to jars. (Go here for more details on plastic-free frozen fruit.) I also either buy yogurt in returnable glass jars or make my own. (Go here for the yogurt recipe.)

8. Quick breads and muffins

Make quick bread or muffins on the weekend and enjoy them at breakfast. If you pack them for a snack at work or school, wrap up a slice or a muffin in a napkin furoshiki style and you have something to wipe your hands on after eating.

You’ll find a few sourdough discard quickbread recipes on this blog:

9. Khichdi (Kitchari)

This porridge-like, one-pot, savory comfort food originated in South Asia. Make it with lentils and rice only (and water of course), or add lots of spices, various vegetables and loads of ghee. Cook a big pot of it and eat it for many quick breakfasts. Just heat and enjoy. Go here for the recipe.

A turquoise bowl is filled with cooked khichdi. Two hands hold the bowl up.

This satisfying and filling dish can also help settle an upset stomach.

A stray cat sort of mauled my arm a few weeks ago. I don’t take antibiotics if I can avoid them but a somewhat wild animal sinking her fangs deep into my flesh seemed like a good reason to swallow large chalky pills. (The nurse at urgent care also administered a large antibiotic shot into my hip. “We need a muscle big enough to handle this,” she had said. “Now take a deep breath!”)

I had prided myself on my healthy gut, filled with good bacteria, thanks in part to all the fermented food I eat. Now those antibiotics have massacred my microbes. I’m continuing to eat sauerkraut or kimchi and yogurt daily, which I hope encourages beneficial bacteria to recolonize my gut.

Even though I’ve finished the antibiotics, my stomach has been upset off and on since my run-in with Scruffy Cat. This khichdi helps calm my tummy.

10. Waffles

Okay, these take a little while to cook unless you have one of those large, double-waffle makers. Even then, you’ll have to wake up early to make these. But how about making a pile of waffles on the weekend, freezing them and defrosting them in the toaster on busy mornings? My kids ate loads of these sourdough discard waffles when they were little. I made them every weekend and always froze a few for later.

A plate has a waffle on it topped with ripe fresh raspberries. A bowl of raspberries and cup of tea sits nearby.
Sourdough discard waffles; photo credit Monique Labelle-Wheeler

Accolades for my cookbook, The Zero-Waste Chef: Plant-Forward Recipes and Tips for a Sustainable Kitchen and Planet:

You can check out the book here.

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6 Replies to “10 Quick and Tasty Zero-Waste Breakfast Ideas for Busy People”

  1. So many good, new (to me) ideas for breakfast. Thank you! Sorry you got bit while protecting your cat and sorry you have to be on antibiotics for it.

    1. My pleasure! I’m glad you like the ideas. Thank you for the well wishes! I’m glad I saved Bootsy =^..^=

      1. You’re very welcome and my pleasure!

  2. Jessica Baxter says: Reply

    I’m going to have to try the Besan Chilla out!

  3. Ouch…hope it heals soon and your tummy settles back down…Great breakfast ideas 🙂

  4. Eggs and smoothies are definitely my go to 🙂 thanks for this

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