Breakfast at Dinner
Food trends are very similar to fashion trends. Butter was kicked to the curb when margarine arrived, only to win favor once again when trans fat, and with it margarine, acquired a bad reputation.
Sugar was a no-no up until high fructose corn syrup was deemed worse in the court of public opinion. Over the past few years, even the not-so-health conscious know that kale, quinoa, and coconut water rule the roost among healthier fare. Spinach, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts, as wonderful as they were a decade ago, will have to wait their turn to reclaim their place at the helm of what’s healthy. Yes, food trends, like fashion trends, come, go, and return.
While it’s not a food item or ingredient, one food trend that has a growing customer base for the past few years is breakfast foods. The demand is so prevalent that an increasing number of restaurants are serving it throughout the day. The food industry attributes this growing demand to consumers’ increasingly hectic lifestyle. Breakfast spells convenience and the foodservice industry is listening.
Besides chains like Denny’s and IHOP, restaurants like Bob Evans, Cracker Barrel, and Old Country Buffet have joined the breakfast-all-day bandwagon. As of April 2015, even McDonald’s is testing all-day breakfast at select San Diego locations.
“The integration of breakfast elements in dinner meals is becoming more prevalent,” agrees John Schultz, executive chef, Global Xing Inc. “The egg, especially, is becoming more and more common at dinner.” Besides meeting consumer demand, “The highest margin in the restaurant business is in breakfast. It’s where you make the most money.”
Yes, breakfast is good business. “Throughout the recent recession and continuing today, the breakfast daypart has remained the one consistently bright spot in foodservice, growing year after year,” says John Howeth, senior vice president of foodservice & egg products at the American Egg Board based in Park Ridge, Illinois. “Interestingly, breakfast sandwiches have made a particularly strong showing with growth every year since 2009, led by double-digit increases at midscale and casual dining. Breakfast is the fertile ground for operator growth, especially with other dayparts stagnant or losing ground.”
And it’s not just restaurateurs who are serving breakfast at other times of the day. For the Hussain family, breakfast at dinner time started out as a joke, about six years ago. It is now a family tradition, occurring a couple times each month.
“I didn’t want to make dinner one night and thought if I offered breakfast for dinner the kids would pick cereal and we’d be done,” recalls Zeenat Hussain of Glendale Heights, Illinois, “but they got so excited and we ended up making pancakes from scratch, scrambled eggs, and cut up fresh fruit.” The menu varies: skillet eggs with potatoes and cheese, crepes with chocolate sauce, and pancakes are a favorite. Drinks are either milk or juice. “These are the kids’ breakfasts of choice. It’s a simple and fun way to change up a routine, and always so adventurous-sounding when kids get to say ‘we had breakfast for dinner last night!’” Plus, breakfast for dinner means it’s a night off for mom. “I have a budding chef in Inaara and, of course, Nuha is eager to do as her elder sister does,” says Hussain.
“Yum! The foods are good and tastier when you are more awake,” Nuha, 11, adds.
“Breakfast is our favorite meal so we just have it whenever,” says Nancy Antol from Elk Grove Village, Illinois. “Plus, it’s fast and easy to prepare.” The family “does a lot of pancakes and French toast for dinner” as well as “mash-ups” such as “Monte Cristos, fried chicken and waffles, scrambled eggs and noodles, frittata or quiche, corned beef hash, hash browns with anything, omelet-in-a-bag.”
Yes, omelet-in-a-bag, a camping staple, features on the Antol’s dining table. “[We] have all the diners write their names on their respective [resealable] bags in marker, pour eggs in, add omelet fillings, seal, [shake well], drop into a pot of boiling water, cook until firm, and turn out onto plates [to serve]. Come to think of it, I could use a raclette now!” she says. A hearty, rustic meal, raclette, is both a traditional Swiss breakfast dish as well as the name of the cheese that it’s made from. Other ingredients include boiled potatoes, pickled onions, and tomatoes.
Aalia Siddiqui of Atlanta, Georgia, on the other hand, prefers the convenience of cereal, sometimes five nights a week, rather than cooking for just one person. “I only cook on the weekend, when my husband is in town. As for eggs, I believe anytime is good for those!” Does she ever have traditional Indo-Pakistani breakfasts, like halwa puri, for dinner? “No Ma’am, Desi is only when we have company,” comes the quick retort.
With Ramadan around the corner, breakfast foods will be served at suhoor (pre dawn meal before fasting begins) in my household, as always. Despite the longer days we anticipate, it’s too early in the morning for anything heavier, say my husband and children.
Eric Newman, vice president of sales for Organic Valley, an IFANCA halal-certified company, acknowledges the spike in sales of eggs, butter, cheese, and whole milk. “Collectively, breakfast foods are an important source of fat, calcium, and protein. A significant consumer trend is the awareness of fats and the quality of fats. With consumers’ realization that we needed more omega-3 fatty acids for optimal health, there has been a shift away from trans fat and margarine, towards butter. Eggs are one of the best sources of protein. Egg whites, driven by the protein craze, are on a lot of menus,” he says.
“We’ve seen growth in consumption of whole milk based on the demand for omega-3s. Most school milk, however, is 1 percent because of the fear of fat, and it is unfortunate because kids need fat for brain and vision development. Fats also give you satiety, that feeling of fullness,” says Newman. “Organic whole milk, according to a study we did, has an even better omega-3 to omega-6 ratio. In fact, grass-fed whole milk has the perfect ratio—1:1 of each.”
According to research published in Medical News Today, big dinners are bad news, even if it’s the exact same foods and calories consumed at breakfast. In studies comprising women, “the 700-calorie meals, whether eaten for breakfast or dinner, contained the exact same foods, and included a dessert item such as a piece of chocolate cake or a cookie.” While most would not consider cake or cookies as part of a traditional breakfast, they can be comparable to a doughnut, Danish, or muffin. The results? “The women in the big breakfast group lost, on average, 17.8 pounds and 3 inches from their waist. The women in the big dinner group, on the other hand, only lost 7.3 pounds and 1.4 inches from their waist.” The big breakfast group also “had larger decreases in insulin, glucose, and triglyceride levels.”
Alas, while pancakes and syrup may be fun and convenient, and those eggs and hash browns the exact same you’d have at the start of the day, calories at dinner cling that much harder. If you’re not ready to give up that breakfast buffet in the evening, try to keep it simple and limit the menu. Apparently, for women, there is no escaping portion control, even on mom’s night off.
Naazish YarKhan has bylines in more than 50 media outlets including Chicago Tribune and Huffington Post.