Make-ahead, quick-assembly breakfast ideas for when you're short on time

Compilation of stock images of breakfast ideas, avocado on toast, overnight oats, open sandwich and breakfast tacos
Breakfast doesn't need to feel too time-consuming to make regularly. Incorporating quick-assembly and make-ahead meals into your morning can change up your routine while saving you time. Photo credit: Getty Images

By Casey Barber of CNN

If the word "breakfast" conjures up big plates of bacon and eggs, stacks of pancakes, or omelettes - all of which might feel too heavy or too time-consuming to make regularly - it's time to move beyond those ideas.

Rather than turning to a box of cereal or the same old menu of morning favourites, give yourself permission to go wild and get creative.

Reframing breakfast as simply the first meal of the day - rather than a meal that needs to include traditional "breakfast foods" - gives us all room to eat essentially anything we want, as long as the meal checks off a few nutritional boxes.

Personally, when I'm feeling like I'm in a breakfast rut, I think of other foods I'm craving. Pasta, tacos and burritos, French-inspired fruit-and-cheese tartines, and even popsicles have all graced my breakfast bowl or plate depending on the season and my whims.

Also, in my world, an egg is not only a breakfast food. I'm happy eating an egg-and-cheese sandwich at any time of day. Just ask my husband, who's been witness to many quick convenience-store sandwiches on road trips.

If you aren't inspired by your usual morning routine, challenge yourself with these recommendations for quick or make-ahead meals, as well as a few other indulgences to start your day with something delicious.

Avocado on toast
You can keep components on hand for easy-to-assemble breakfasts. My favourite strategy here is to brainstorm what I'd like to eat in a sandwich and use those filling ideas for breakfast dishes. Photo credit: Grace Cary/Moment RF/Getty Images

Make-ahead breakfasts for when you're short on time

If the texture of scrambled muffin-tin eggs doesn't appeal to you (same, honestly), there's an alternative that's just as versatile. You can bake whole cracked eggs in the greased wells of a muffin tin and refrigerate or freeze them for meals all week.

Is it a coincidence that there are 12 wells of a muffin tin and a dozen eggs in a carton? Maybe it's fate telling us all to bake up a big batch. Or do a few at a time if that makes sense for your schedule. If you want to add chopped vegetables for more flavour, add them to each well before cracking in the egg.

Use these baked eggs as a protein base for English muffin sandwiches and wraps, or eat on their own as you would hard-boiled eggs.

While overnight oats skew more traditionally toward breakfast, there are so many ways to zhuzh them up that they're worth making a part of your routine. Because of the versatility and hands-off aspect of the preparation, these are some of my favourite breakfast options for road trip vacations and camping adventures - but they work for busy at-home mornings, too.

Overnight oats
Overnight oats are one of the most versatile breakfast options out there — and can easily be taken on the road or enjoyed at home. Photo credit: The Picture Pantry/Alloy/Getty Images

The basic premise of overnight oats requires you to hydrate the flakes for at least 8 hours, or while you sleep. But oats aren't the only grain option that can handle an overnight soak. Stir in some precooked quinoa or millet to add a more toothsome-but-tender texture.

Vary the flavour profile with these additions:

  • dairy-free milk options, such as rice, cashew or macadamia
  • dried fruit or frozen berries
  • toasted coconut flakes
  • chopped nuts or flax seeds
  • sweeteners like honey or maple syrup.

And if you really like smoothies, make them ahead, as well. You don't have to get your blender dirty every morning to reap the benefits of a drinkable, portable breakfast. Make your favourite flavour of smoothie - I love using frozen Maine blueberries with spinach or avocado. Then pour it into ice pop moulds for frozen pops that can be grabbed in seconds.

Open-faced sandwich
Open-faced sandwiches are a good option for a meal that can be quickly prepared and skew either savory or sweet. Photo credit: NelliSyr/iStockphoto/Getty Images

Quick-assembly breakfasts for when you want something made fresh

If you don't have the fridge or freezer stocked with pre-made meals, you can keep components on hand for easy-to-assemble breakfasts. My favourite strategy here is to brainstorm what I'd like to eat in a sandwich and use those filling ideas for breakfast dishes.

Tartines, AKA open-faced sandwiches - or as I like to call them, "things on toast" - comprise a catchall category of breakfast options that can skew savoury or sweet. Start with sprouted or whole grain breads, bagels or English muffins to bring in crucial fibre. Then toast and top with ingredients like the following:

  • smashed avocado and sesame seeds
  • nut butter and fruit slices (bonus: make your own sweet and savoury maple nut butter)
  • cream cheese and berries
  • marinated baked tofu and kimchi
  • brie, Camembert or goat cheese and jam (try fig or raspberry).

This strategy also works for the no-carb set - simply swap out the bread for a bowl of plain or vanilla Greek (or similarly thick) yoghurt. My standard summer breakfast is plain European yoghurt mixed with cubed watermelon or peaches and a drizzle each of honey and balsamic vinegar. If you love watermelon feta salad, give it a try.

breakfast tacos
Eggs and tortillas pair well in the morning to make breakfast tacos or burritos. Photo credit: Joe Christensen/iStockphoto/Getty Images

Multistep meals when you want to treat yourself

If you like savoury foods, there's so much more to do with eggs than simply fry, scramble and fold them into omelettes. When I have a few minutes and am feeling famished, my go-to move is to grab eggs and tortillas for breakfast tacos or burritos.

The technique of making both is simple, but ripe with possibility when it comes to fillings. I "taquear," or dress, my breakfast tacos with leftovers and take my cues from Jackie Alpers, author of "Taste of Tucson," to fill my burritos with a blend of scrambled eggs, beans, cheese and spicy fresh salsa.

Cold pasta leftovers will always be an acceptable breakfast to me, but when I want some fresh and hot noodles first thing in the morning, I make a one-pot breakfast pasta inspired by carbonara. Stirring spaghetti together with creamy eggs, spinach and peas creates a hearty, satisfying bowl of carbs, protein and vegetables.

If you have a sweet tooth, pancakes and waffles are probably your standing order for weekend brunch. And yes, they do take more time to prepare than you probably want to spare on a weekday, which is why they're more of a special-occasion meal.

But when you've got the fever for a stack of fluffy carbs, you can still play around with flavour. Amp up the fibre and protein with grains like buckwheat or cornmeal. Then top your creation with quick-roasted fruit and yoghurt whipped cream.

Pro tip: If you're still making more pancakes and waffles than you can eat in a single meal, freeze the leftovers in a single layer on a sheet pan. When they're frozen solid, transfer to a freezer bag or other sealable container. Pop into the toaster when you're ready to eat them again - voila! Homemade Eggos!

Casey Barber is a food writer, artist and editor of the website Good. Food. Stories.