Quickest whole grain breakfast cooked in a Thermos insulated jar

Breakfast? We don’t need no stinkin’ breakfast!*

Oh, wait… Yes, we do!

Breakfast Thermos cereal preppedYou’ll find many better resources for recipes and cooking all over the internet, but I have one time saving breakfast solution that I want to share.

All of the (very minimal) preparation can be done in advance. The only work you must do in the morning is boil water. For those of us who start the day with a cup of hot tea, this means zero extra time or effort at the busiest part of the day.

Remember that Thermos food jar that I recommended so strongly when I wrote a post with suggestions for packing a waste free lunch?

Here’s another use for that Thermos: a quick and easy hot cereal for a hurry-up-and-wait kind of morning.

Breakfast Thermos cereal ingredientsIn my case, there’s one day every week when I have to get up extra early and rush out the door to take my son to his violin lesson. The lesson starts at 7:45 am, and it’s 20 minutes away. Yawn!

I was getting my son up, fed, and there on time, but I was having trouble fitting in my own breakfast. This simple Thermos hot cereal solves that problem.

During the winter, I often prep several insulated jars at a time. Family members can grab one, top off with hot water from our always on (Japanese style) kettle, and eat according to his own schedule.

I also bring a thermos and containers of pre-measured ingredients when I travel. You can make this simple, filling breakfast with a hotel room kettle or coffee machine, too.

Simple steps:

I hesitate to even call this a recipe.

  1. Start with a clean, dry Thermos. (I fill multiple jars at once, on the weekend.)
  2. Add measured quantities of dry ingredients, to taste. (I’ll specify one blend shortly.)
  3. 30+ minutes before you plan to eat, fill Thermos with boiling water and stir.
  4. Cap the Thermos and take it with you on your commute.
  5. Open and eat!

The longer you wait to eat, the softer the cereal grains will become. My husband likes oatmeal cooked much longer and with more water than I do. Vary according to your tastes.

Rolled oats are edible in about 15 minutes. I prefer a 30-40 cooking time for oatmeal blends. I usually include steel cut oats, and I appreciate that they retain a firm texture at 30 minutes.

Ingredients:

Here are the specific quantities I used to make the hot cereal for my photos today. I want to stress, though, that I don’t normally bother to measure my ingredients at all. This is a forgiving recipe!

  • 50 g Oats, rolled (1/4 cup)
  • 20 g Oats, steel cut (1/8 cup)
  • 10 g Buckwheat cereal (∼1 Tbsp)
  • 10 g Coconut milk powder (1 Tbsp)
  • Brown sugar, maple sugar, salt & raisins to taste
  • 125 mL Boiling water (enough to fill the Thermos, leaving a little space to stir)

I didn’t weigh or measure my toppings, but if you really want guidance, try one spoonful each of raisins and sugar and a tiny pinch of salt.

I never measure out my boiling water. I just dispense it until the Thermos is full. I used the scale today just to provide a guideline for anyone who’s unfamiliar with cooking hot cereal from scratch.

Breakfast Thermos cereal water 125 mL

127mL of hot water topped up my Thermos jar

Some people argue that oats aren’t healthy due to high levels of phytates. This is controversial. I love oatmeal and I think the nutritional benefits they provide outweigh these risks, but I have adopted the routine of including some buckwheat grains in every bowl.

I don’t like buckwheat cereal on its own, but I don’t even notice its flavor blended in with other grains.

You can read more about how adding buckwheat might be helpful here. Sometimes, I do soak my oats overnight in an acidic liquid according to this philosophy. Frankly, however, I don’t enjoy the taste of the resulting oatmeal as much, even when I rinse it before cooking.

Barley is another grain that works well when prepared by this Thermos cooking method. I like it combined with oats in roughly equal proportions.

I missed lunch because I was busy preparing this blog post, so I took the completed Thermos full of ingredients with me to after school pick up. I ate the hot cereal about 40 minutes after preparation, and it was just the way I like it: slightly chewy, but definitely, thoroughly cooked.

You can purchase ready made steel cut oats to eat on the go. Amazon’s price for Pacific Steel-Cut Oatmeal is $2.41 per serving when you buy them by the dozen, and this product is packaging intensive.

I calculated my cost per serving using my Thermos method by finding prices for all organic and gluten free ingredients from Amazon.com. $1.31 per serving for Thermos oatmeal is probably on the high side, but I wanted to provide a cost estimate.

My absolute favorite hot cereal is steel cut oats, brought to a boil the night before then left to sit at back of the stove overnight. Re-heated in the morning, these are soft and delicious, but retain the chewy goodness of Scottish oats. Making these requires forethought, and spending a specific amount of time both the night before—and the morning of—the breakfast.

Thermos cooked hot cereal, on the other hand, tastes pretty darn good. It can be made with any whole grains you wish at an affordable price. The minimal time you spend prepping can be done as far as days before you want to eat; the only step that is time dependent is adding the hot water.

I feel strongly that some fat is essential at breakfast if I want sustained energy to get me through my morning. This is why I always include the coconut milk powder in my blend. Powdered (dairy) milk is readily available, and costs less (even for organic) on Amazon than my brand of Coconut Milk.

If you add the boiling water to your Thermos jar first thing, say, before getting dressed, you could just pour in a liquid dose of your preferred milk straight from the fridge after giving the cereal time to cook. Dairy, soy, coconut, or almond milk—add whatever you like.

A personal trainer I know likes to use chia seeds in his hot cereal. I eat chia, but I don’t like that particular crunch in my oatmeal. Try this for added protein and fiber if you like the idea.

Nuts are another great add-in option for extra nutrition, but, if you grind or chop them for this recipe, remember that they will oxidize (become rancid and unhealthy) faster once broken, so don’t cut them up too far ahead of time. If you must prep them early, consider storing your filled Thermos in the fridge until ready to use it.

Storing a prepped Thermos jar in the fridge might add to the time needed between adding boiling water and eating your cereal. I haven’t tried it. Allow extra time if you try this, and let me know the results if you do!

This recipe will work any time you can boil water, then wait half an hour to eat. Just don’t forget to pack a spoon! I keep a Light My Fire spork packed in a silicone “popsicle mold” in my car for just such occasions.

Let’s not talk about how many times I’ve found myself waiting outside the kids’ schools or activities with my meal packed, but no utensils. I’d like to retain a shred of dignity.

Bon appétit!

Breakfast Thermos cereal spoon

*Just couldn’t resist the reference. I had no idea this popularly quoted phrase from The Treasure of the Sierra Madre took its most common form on the TV show The Monkees! Did you?

Peek inside my lunchbox: reusable solutions for a waste free lunch

Say you want to join the waste free lunch revolution, but you don’t know where to start. Here’s some advice on where to begin if you’re looking to reduce disposable packaging in your packed lunches.

Lunch dishes zero waste Packed bag

Containers used include Medium U Konserve square (grey lid), 10 oz Thermos jar, U Konserve small round (brown lid), Nalgene 8 oz wide mouth bottle, and Bumkins snack bag (Batman)

What does a zero waste lunch look like, anyway?

There are a lot of nifty reusable lunch containers on the market today, and it could be easy to imagine you need to invest the kids’ college funds and buy a complete set of stainless steel Tupperware alternatives from an expensive, eco-friendly brand.

That’s great if you have the budget—and it isn’t wrong to say that a few perfectly sized and well designed pieces can streamline a lunch packing system and simplify busy mornings.

On the other hand, lunch—or, at least, the concept of eating food while away from home—is hardly a modern concept. You can pack a lunch with whatever you have on hand, and you can do it without waste.

Disposable products are almost entirely a modern concept. Lunchables and Ziploc bags are the newfangled oddities that should be regarded with suspicion.

You can reuse commercial packaging jars.

Reusing bottles and jars is one good option.

The great benefit of these is that they appear in your home as a side benefit of some consumable you’ve purchased anyway. Jelly jars as drinking glasses? That’s reuse at work. You can certainly bring soup to school in a mayonnaise jar.

The down side is having the right tool for the given job. Does anyone have a kid who eats that much soup? Unless we were buying what I think of as “singles” sizes (as opposed to our large, “family size” jars) of mayo, peanut butter, etc., these jars are too big for any meal I can imagine for my kids.

If you’ve got the jars on hand, however, use them!

My mother-in-law has told me many times about how, living in communist Russia, they would save every jar they got. They were considered generous gifts to offer when someone invited you to visit their home. Every one was reused, and very much appreciated as the useful tool it was.

Her stories really help me appreciate the bounty I enjoy every day in my life, and we’ve gotten plenty of family sized helpings of her homemade chicken soup in repurposed jars.

Dry foods will survive just fine wrapped in fabric

Sandwiches on the dry side and similarly non-oily cakes can be wrapped in plain cloth napkins. If I have something just a bit too squishy for cotton, I might cheat and use a layer of waxed paper or parchment beneath the cloth. Okay, then I’m no longer packing a waste free lunch, but the paper does at least stand a chance of biodegrading, unlike a plastic option.

I grew up using cloth napkins, and that’s all we’ve ever used in our shared home. That means they are always on hand in the kitchen, and that I’ve also got a subset of napkins with stains. That mayo from the sandwich could make a grease spot? Oh well.

Just take care not to use your heirloom linens for this task, and it’ll be fine.

Damp foods can travel in dishes with fabric lids

Moving up the squishiness scale, damp or moderately malleable foods can go with you in any bowl you own. Just cover with a cloth and use a rubber band to hold the cover in place. This option is perfectly fine for adults who will carry a lunchbox in a reasonably upright orientation.

Remember Little House on the Prairie? Well, those kids carried their lunch to school in a tin pail with a cloth over the top, and we know Ma didn’t pack it full of Tupperware. The kids probably swung the pail as they walked several miles to school, too. Not a single anecdote from those novels tells the tale of a ruined lunch and how the world, as a result, ended.

Err on the side of caution and use an oversized dish. The food is less likely to slop over if you swing your pail tip your lunchbox in transit.

Soup is tricky: buy a Thermos

If I were starting to pack waste free lunches today with no existing dishes, and I was ready to invest in some basic equipment, my first purchase would be:

All of these are made primarily of stainless steel. They hold up well, are non toxic, and they won’t break under normal use, even by kids or clumsy adults. All of them have withstood regular washing by machine, even the Thermos which doesn’t recommend dishwasher use.

Lunch dishes zero waste Squares nested Rounds

U Konserve sells the To Go square boxes as a “Nesting Trio” (compare to individual piece prices on Amazon for the best value); below are U Konserve small round, mini round, & a generic red silicone baking cup

I’m assuming anyone reading this article already owns at least one reusable water bottle or beverage cup. I see making that switch as even more fundamental than packing a waste free lunch. Exploring the best water bottles would require a whole separate post!

Why these?

The Thermos is vital for me, because I like to pack hot leftovers and soups. Even when I had access to a microwave at work, I found it easier to do all my food prep at home in the morning. Ditto for my kids. I can barely get my little guy to eat the food I send for him; he’d rather skip lunch and head straight outside for free time. Only an insulated container gives you warm food immediately when you’re ready to eat.

A big eater could readily swap the 10 oz Thermos jar for the larger 16 oz size. The lids interchange between the two sizes, and I own both. I tend to pack smaller servings of more types of food for the larger appetites in our family, but the 16 oz size isn’t unreasonably large for a one dish meal such as casserole.

But, many times, I want to send drier foods that are fine at room temperature, or perhaps a sandwich to accompany that soup. I’ve found the medium square To Go box by U Konserve to be an ideal size. It will hold a fairly large sandwich (e.g., on artisan bread), but it can also handle a child’s mini sandwich with an assortment of small side dishes.

A really big eater might be inclined to start with a large square To Go box, but I’d still recommend the medium as an initial purchase. Your food will travel better in a box that’s packed full; empty space leads to shifting and deconstructed sandwiches. Buy two mediums (or maybe a medium and a small square) instead of one large and you’ve got more flexibility.

The U Konserve small round containers come in a set of two, which is a good start, because I pack between one and three of these in my son’s lunchbox almost every day. This is the size for a serving of carrot sticks. The silicone lid fits snugly enough to allow for sloppy foods such as yogurt, and its 5 ounce capacity is within the range of usual serving sizes for it.

One standard sized cookie fits neatly inside a small round by diameter, though I’ve been told that I should “fill” the container by including two or more cookies for the necessary depth…

These small rounds are approximately the size of a tuna fish can.

Having set that bare minimum as a baseline, I struggled to write the last section without mentioning what I’ll add here as Phase Two of the Zero Waste Lunchbox Shop-a-thon.

Extras make fitting odd items easier

Moving on from “bare necessities” to “really nice to have,” I’d add:

A set of silicone “baking cups” works wonders to subdivide your larger lunch box containers. These flexible molds come in standard circles, like a reusable version of the paper liners you’ve seen on cupcakes, but they are also available in squares, rectangles, and other shapes and sizes.

I use the square and rectangular cups the most often. They let me snuggle a pickle or other wet food in the same dish with a sandwich when I have an empty corner to fill, and they keep the wrong flavors from mingling. Before I had the silicone inserts, I used a lot more waxed paper or parchment to keep disparate foods from touching each other.

Since they come in a rainbow of colors, baking cups also make the lunchbox look happy inside, for an added ray of sunshine.

The next addition to the shopping list, not quite as basic as the small rounds by U Konserve, but, again, appearing super frequently in our family lunch boxes, are by the same brand: the Mini Food Containers (set of 3.)

Lunch dishes zero waste mini round

U Konserve mini food containers are ideal for boiled eggs or cucumbers

About half of Amazon shoppers are offended by how small these are, but that’s why I think they’re so perfect. Many kids don’t like commingled foodstuffs. Separation can be a beautiful thing. Also, many foods aren’t good for us in large quantities. These make a proper one ounce serving of nuts look bountiful instead of pitiful. They perfectly hold one peeled hard boiled egg.  A single macaroon fits neatly inside.

They won’t keep in liquids, so they aren’t quite as versatile as the rounds with the silicone lids, but I love this size.  It’s great for my light eater to have a high protein snack, stored distinctly from his lunch selections.

My final almost must haves are also some of my newest acquisitions: Bumkins snack bags.

These are like Ziploc bags, but made of washable fabric. The Bumkins brand also makes cloth diapers and other baby items. I preferred their bibs for my boys when they were babies. This is the same durable material: water resistant, wipeable, smooth, and washable.

They can go in the dishwasher (top rack) just like the rest of the lunch stuff, or you can launder them by machine. They dry overnight. I hang mine over the handles of my knives in the knife rack.

Now that I have them, I wonder why I waited so long, but I can tell you the answer. I doubted they would work. I thought they would be hard to clean or less convenient, like some other (hand wash only) reusable zipper bags I tried years ago. When I realized last fall that the only time I was still reaching for a disposable bag was when I had a tiny corner to fill in a full lunchbox, I finally bought these, and I’ve been very happy with both the large (sandwich bag) and small (snack) sizes.

I’ll admit it: I don’t fill the Bumkins bags with super juicy stuff. I have jars with threaded lids for that, and would sooner use the silicone lidded stainless than the bags if I didn’t. Neither the kids nor I have had any juice leak through from fruits, veggies, or pickles with them, though. I polled the house today to make sure.

I’ve packed a lot of lunches using many products

I was inspired to describe our lunch kit today by the comment stream after a post on A  Ferdydurking Blog about reducing waste. I’ve tried quite a few products to refine a system that works well for us, and probably wasted a bit of money in the process because I love to compare every possible thing.

One great bit of news is that almost every eco friendly lunchbox brand I’ve tried has been of good quality and sincerely useful. I can’t say enough good things about LunchBots, U Konserve (formerly Kids Konserve), and even the plastic (but high quality) Laptop Lunch brand.

It’s a far cry from the loads of cheap plastic ware that abound in mass market stores and often have poor fitting lids or corners that crack within a few uses. But not every piece will be ideal for every lunchbox. It depends upon what you like to pack for lunch.

I’ve offered up my best suggestions for where to start if you want to begin packing a lunch that’s a bit lighter on the planet. Please feel free to ask if I’ve prompted any questions. I’ve packed an awful lot of lunches in these dishes!

Lunchbox life saver: Weck glass storage jars paired with Thermos insulated containers

Some small tweaks in behavior can eliminate daily annoyances. One of those, for me, was the switch from storing leftovers in miscellaneous containers to using glass canning jars with narrow necks made by Weck.

What makes a glass jar revolutionary?

The mouth of a Weck ¼ L Cylindrical Jar (neck opening) nestles perfectly inside the rim of a Thermos insulated jar. It also holds just the right quantity of food to completely fill a 10 ounce Thermos.

I can microwave leftovers in their storage container (Weck jar), then simply invert the jar over the Thermos to quickly and neatly transfer the warmed food.

My old method was messy & inefficient

Before, I would transfer a serving size portion of leftovers—judged by eyeballing the quantity—from a larger Pyrex storage container to a plate. I’d re-heat the food, then fill the Thermos from the plate. Unless I took the extra step to measure out the serving of food, I routinely over- or under-estimated how much mass on a plate would precisely fill an insulated jar.

Or, I would store single servings in plastic containers, but then I would need to dump the food onto a microwave safe dish before re-heating.

We don’t heat food in plastic because of the potential health risk of leaching toxins. I prefer not to store food in plastic for the same reason, though I’m not zealous enough about the subject to avoid it when there’s a real danger of broken glass.

In either case, I also had to spoon the food into the Thermos after heating. That usually resulted in at least a little spilled food and a greasy mess on the outside of the lunch container. Remember, hand-eye coordination is not a particular strength of mine. My arthritis also means morning stiffness in my fingers, further reducing my competence in the kitchen, especially during the before school rush.

Objective improvements thanks to Weck jars

Here’s a list of functional improvements I can attribute to my switch to storing individual servings of leftovers in Weck jars:

  • less wasted food
  • no dirty measuring cup and/or
  • no dirty plate used for re-heating
  • no dirty spoon used to transfer
  • no dirty kitchen counter from spills
  • less frequent cleaning of lunchbox interior from carrying greasy Thermos

More subjective benefits

Though I tend to put function first, the intangible benefits of this new storage and food transfer solution have also made a big impression on me.

Glass jars are beautiful

I debated whether this should be reason number one, but it’s too easy to overlook little changes that bring a lot of joy to everyday life. Beauty is one of those.

Weck jars lids narrow neck - 1

L to R: ½ L Juice Jar; 080 Mini Mold Jar over ¼ L Juice Jar; 760 Mini Mold jar over 975 ¼ L Cylindrical Jar; plastic storage lid, glass canning lid, 762 1/5 Jelly Jar

Even with my lackluster photography, Weck jars make a pretty picture.

I originally bought a set of three of the ½ L Juice Jars from a fancy kitchen store at an exorbitant price. I had a functional use for them, but I also just loved them. Aside from looking nice, the juice jars, in particular, are sized to feel great in the hand while you hold them.

Compare these two views:

Though both cupboards store functional kitchen equipment I use every day, it should be obvious which items I store in a closed cupboard, and which are stored in plain sight.

Made in Germany, meant to last

Americans who aren’t familiar with the German manufacturer, Weck, should know that these are canning jars. Consider this a European equivalent to our Ball or Kerr canning jars.

The difference, and, again, what makes these so perfect for use with a Thermos, is the size of the mouth of the jar. You want a jar with a 2-3/8 inch opening to mate with a Thermos. Weck also makes wider mouthed jars more similar in diameter to the mason jars used in the USA, so check the size carefully before you place an order.

Because these are canning jars, they are made of thick, strong tempered glass. They were designed to be immersed in boiling water as part of the canning process, then stored for long periods to keep food fresh. They are sturdy.

They are microwave and freezer safe, and I routinely use them for both.

Avoid sudden temperature changes when using glass, and allow room for expansion when freezing liquids. Weck jars are sturdy glass, but any glass has the potential to break if mishandled.

Standardized sizes for sensible accessory storage

I realized years ago that buying a set of containers with interchangeable lids works much better for me than a bunch of disparate sizes. I am reasonably good about tossing a container that’s lost its lid, but why run that risk in the first place?

To keep up with the packed meal demands of my family of four, I own six Thermos insulated jars in two sizes, all of which use interchangeable lids.

Though I’ve now expanded my Weck jar collection to include both 2-3/8 inch and 3-7/8 inch diameter sizes, in both cases I can always order extra lids to replace any that are lost or mangled. The jars are somewhat expensive, but the plastic lids are very reasonably priced.

One less thing to worry about

A canning jar won’t change your life, but, if your family carries packed lunches, it might remove a moment of stress from typical mornings. In our household, that’s one of the busiest—and most stressful—stretches of the day.

And, after all, is there any more beautiful way to store your jelly beans?

Weck jelly beans