Breakfast is often called the most important meal of the day, but today's busy schedules leave many Americans too little time to eat before rushing out the door. It needn't be that way. Cheap and fast meals are plentiful, including many that can be prepared quickly and easily the night before to get you going at top speed. Here is about a month's worth of morning meals that should appeal across all age groups. They're easy to scale up for feeding school-bound youngsters, and many of the ingredients stretch over numerous preparations.
Doctoring up bowl of oatmeal is an easy and economical way to start the day. A 42-ounce canister of plain oats ($4 at Target) can feed about 30 people for just over 13 cents a serving. A spoonful of maple syrup or honey and a sprinkling of cinnamon adds a touch of sweetness — without all the sugar and sodium of instant oatmeal packets.
For another take on oatmeal, stir in a spoonful of Nutella and top with sliced banana. The sweet hazelnut spread might seem pricey, but each jar holds about 20 servings. And a banana is one of the best cheap additions to an already hearty dish. Just half will suffice; the other half can be eaten with lunch or thrown in a smoothie.
Scramble an egg or two with a touch of green onion and garlic for a cheap and protein-rich breakfast. A single green onion should suffice for up to three servings, and a clove of garlic goes a long way. Mixing in a tablespoon of Greek yogurt adds fluffiness and 5 grams of protein.
Plain yogurt is a healthy, filling, and budget-wise ingredient for multiple morning meals. Add a few slices of seasonal or dried fruit, a few spoonfuls of granola or muesli, and a bit of honey.
Sate your inner gourmet by toasting a slice of bread, cutting a hole in the center, laying the toast in a frying pan, and cooking an egg inside the hole.
This easy grab-and-go meal requires just two slices of toast covered with a thin layer of peanut butter and sliced banana, sandwiched together. A small banana contains a whopping 12 percent of the fiber needed daily. Two tablespoons of nut butter should be plenty, so a $3 to $6 jar lasts a while.
Prepare morning oatmeal with almond milk instead of water for an invigorating taste of the tropics. Almond milk is often cheaper than cow's milk, starting at about $2 for a 32-ounce carton. When the oatmeal is ready, sprinkle dried coconut on top and fantasize about the next vacation.
An interesting and easy twist on the morning meal is toast, fried egg, and sliced avocado. This green fruit may be pricey out of season (fall to spring), but during summer, avocados are plentiful, affordable, and brimming with healthy fat and nutrients. A touch of cayenne pepper adds a kick.
When there's absolutely no time to lose in the morning, an apple sliced into rings, smeared with peanut butter, and sprinkled with granola is a perfect perk-me-up breakfast. The combination of flavors, nutrients, and textures should keep you going until lunchtime.
A English muffin, a fried egg, and a slice of cheddar cheese make a hearty, fast, and low-cost breakfast sandwich.
Another tasty take on the bottomless bowl of oatmeal includes dried ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, and a chopped apple. Cook the oats in milk, with the spices, and stir in apple when ready to serve.
A strawberry-yogurt smoothie can be whipped up in seconds for taking on the road or drinking in the kitchen and sparkles during berry season, when the fruit is reasonably priced, super sweet, and perhaps locally grown. It can even salvage berries that are getting a bit soft for eating. Add a touch of orange juice for extra zing.
A bowl of cottage cheese accompanied by piece of fruit and a slice of toast with peanut butter is a healthy, inexpensive, and filling first meal of the day.
What's the ultimate quick and cheap breakfast? Half a grapefruit. Sprinkle with some sugar to smooth out the tart and tangy citrus taste. The pink/red varieties are the sweetest.
If you have a hankering for protein but only 10 minutes to spare, opt for soft-boiled eggs and "soldiers." While the eggs simmer (about 2 minutes for the perfect consistency), toast and butter a slice or two of bread and cut into strips to mop up the yolk.
End the week with a sweet and cheap breakfast of yogurt blended with a swirl of Nutella and topped with granola for crunch and texture.
Reverting to the smoothie theme, blend together peanut butter, a ripe banana, and dairy or almond milk or plain yogurt. Serve in a glass and drink, or pour into a bowl, add some granola, and eat with a spoon.
Try a tomato-egg scramble for a flavorful, frugal breakfast. Tomatoes are affordably priced throughout the year but especially cheap in the summer. Simply add diced tomato to scrambled eggs and continue cooking until the tomato is slightly soft (but not mushy).
An ideal fall breakfast combines oatmeal (yup, again), apple slices, a sprinkle of cinnamon, and a handful of walnuts for added crunch and texture.
Up the ante with parsley, cilantro, and basil to give eggs more flavor plus an abundance of nutrients. Whole bunches are usually about $2 and can last for a couple of weeks. Try your hand at an omelet with the herbs and fresh sliced or chopped tomatoes.
While honey isn't exactly cheap, it doesn't take much to sweeten a morning meal. Cinnamon is a cheap spice that combines with the honey to help perk up plain, protein-packed Greek yogurt.
Hummus may be popular as an appetizer or snack, but in many parts of the Middle East, it's a standard breakfast food. Take a cue from the Mediterranean diet and add hummus to an English muffin for a quick, healthy breakfast. Hummus can be prepared from scratch for about the same price as a prepackaged container.
For a large family, punch up Cream of Wheat with a pinch of cinnamon and sugar to taste. The prepackaged porridge usually comes in 28-ounce boxes for about $4, which makes up to 24 servings. The homemade variety requires milk and ground wheat. The latter isn't hard to find in the bulk bins for $1 to $2 a pound.
Tahirah Blanding contributed to this story.