By Rochelle Bilow
In every office environment, there’s always one: The co-worker who arrives to work obnoxiously chipper and chatty, having successfully put on matching socks, combed her hair, and made (and Instagrammed) both her breakfast and her lunchtime jar salad. She claims to wake up at exactly the same time you do, and yet she somehow managed to bake scones in between brushing her teeth and answering e-mails. She is sometimes inspiring but usually just irritating. I am that co-worker.
Before you start pelting me with Nutri-Grain bars, let me explain. I’ve always been a morning person, and full-disclosure: I used to work on a farm, where the day started at 5 a.m. I’m no stranger to waking up with the sunrise. But since I moved to a city and started work in an office, I’ve learned how to channel those crack-of-dawn starts into an efficient, even enjoyable morning routine. Real talk: I don’t have kids, and my boyfriend lives in a different state. If I had to do this for two—or three or four—people, things would probably look a little different. But I definitely have a few simple organizational hints that anyone, parent or not, can use. Here’s how I do it, and how you can, too.
1. Prep the Night Before
If you want an easy morning, you’re going to have to do a little bit of work before going to bed. I often make my lunch while cooking dinner. For example, earlier this week I sautéed fennel and potato to take to work while roasting lamb meatballs for supper. Knocking out two meals in one go is one of the most efficient ways to cook—your oven’s already on, your knives and pans are at the ready, and you’re in that “let’s do this!” frame of mind. I also let ingredients overlap, so I can do less cooking. Tonight’s roasted vegetables can very well become a part of tomorrow’s lunch bowl: Just toss them with some cooked brown rice and steamed greens.
I also set out my mug, French press, and coffee grinder before going to bed (although it is a hand-crank burr grinder that takes a few minutes of manual labor to crush beans, so perhaps I’m just breaking even on this one) and place my mason jars (you may well prefer Tupperware or plastic containers, like a normal, non-Brooklynite) next to them. When I wake up with foggy brain, I don’t have to stumble around my kitchen looking for the right tools: They’re waiting for me.
See more: 14 Food TV Shows Actually Worth Watching
2. …Or Prep a Week in Advance
As soon as I bring home my CSA share or grocery store haul, I put my produce away. Properly. This takes a little extra effort, but it’s actually one of the most satisfying kitchen tasks there is. Instead of dumping everything in the crisper, I do as much preparation as possible: chopping greens and washing and draining them before packing them in plastic bags, cutting the tops off of carrots, peeling and portioning up butternut squash…you get the picture. Prep work is actually the most labor-intensive part about cooking, so when you knock that out in one fell swoop, the actual act of heating up some veggies and meat becomes delightfully simple. Say I want to make a kohlrabi hash: Instead of rinsing the vegetable, cutting away the skin, and chopping it into pieces, if I’ve prepped it in advance, all I have to do is pull that kohlrabi from the fridge and get it in a hot pan. I also cook big pots of plain grains (farro, barley, freekeh, wheat berries…), lentils, and/or beans (adzuki, garbanzo, cannellini…) early in the week and keep them in the refrigerator. In the morning, I just have to reheat and add whatever mix-ins and toppings I want (I’m partial to fried eggs, harissa, maple syrup, toasted nuts, and dried fruit).
3. A Clean Kitchen Is a Quick Kitchen
You know what’s difficult and frustrating? Cooking in a messy kitchen. I keep my countertops relatively clear of clutter and my sink free of dishes at all times. Now, I’m not trying to put undue pressure on you. No one has spotless counters (myself included). I understand that sometimes you’re going to have leftover brownies hanging around, or other kitchen miscellany. But unopened mail? Keys? Four lipsticks in different shades of pink? Get that stuff off your counter and into a junk drawer, where it belongs. Even better, put things away in their proper places as you use them, so you don’t have to spend a large chunk of time organizing when you should be chowing down on eggs and listening to Morning Edition.
4. Think Quick, Not Fancy
I never make pancakes on weekday mornings (unless I do). When it comes to quick and dirty breakfasts, I aim for meals that do all the hard work themselves. Choose things with a short prep time and a cooking period that doesn’t require monitoring. Pancakes, which need to be vigilantly watched and flipped, don’t count. A “dump it all in one pan and bake until golden” cornbread does. That cornbread, by the way, can definitely double as part of your lunch or be transformed into dinner (chili, anyone?) Anyone who poaches eggs at home before work is out of their mind, and to be honest, when I scramble eggs I don’t even whisk them up first. Crack ‘em into the pan and break those suckers up with a wooden spoon; that’s what I always say. Less time wasted, less dishes to wash. Roasted vegetables, homemade “sausage” (i.e.: ground meat with some chiles and spices), and yogurt swirled with syrup, nut butter, olive oil, and/or fresh herbs are all fast options that get heavy play on my roster.
5. Master the Multi-task
I’m sure nutrition and health experts everywhere will have my head for this, but I don’t actually sit down to eat these extravagant breakfasts I’m cooking and ‘gramming. Who has time for that!? As soon as my eggs, roasted veggies, or, um, steak, is ready, I plop it on a plate and carry it to the bedroom, where I eat bites in between checking e-mail and trying to make my hair do that cool thing I saw on Pinterest. And in fact, I tend to bounce back and forth while everything’s cooking, too. One word to the wise: If you allow yourself to go into a social media black hole before you’re actually ready for work, it’s inevitable: Ten minutes later, you’ll look up from your phone with your pants halfway on like an animal.
Need Proof? Here’s How I Did it this Morning
6:15-6:30: Turn off the alarm. Do not press snooze. Snooze is where you get into trouble. Make bed, then do 2 minutes of yoga and stumble to the bathroom to brush my teeth and take a shower.
6:30-6:35: Put a pot of water on to boil as I towel off, preheat oven to 425 degrees, and take a turnip and pre-chopped kale out of the fridge. Apply lotion, leave-in conditioner, and pull on a pair of sweatpants. Turn on NPR because NPR is love.
6:35-6:45: Grind beans and brew pot of coffee. Put 1 cup of steel-cut oats on the stove and cover with water; bring to a boil then simmer. (I’m making more than I’ll eat today, so I can have them for breakfast tomorrow, too). Chop turnip into small pieces and toss in the oven with butter, coriander, salt, and pepper. Sip coffee.
6:45-7:05: Apply makeup and run straightening iron through hair; turn on clothes iron. Head to the kitchen twice to check on the oats and to shake the pan of turnips.
7:05-7:10: Pick out, iron, and put on clothes for the day.
7:10-7:20: Add kale to the almost-done turnips and stir to coat with butter. Remove oatmeal from heat and ladle some into bowl; top with brown rice syrup, cinnamon, and whole milk. Snap a photo. Transfer remaining oatmeal to mason jar and refrigerate; fill pot with soapy water and set it in sink to soak.
7:20-7:35: Eat oats while simultaneously checking e-mail (only answering super-important ones; the rest can wait until I get into the office), messing around with the filters on my picture, and packing bag for work. Run into kitchen halfway through to turn off oven and remove pan of turnips and kale.
7:35-7:40: Pack kale and turnips in jar for work, adding cooked ground lamb from two nights ago—I had sautéed a pound and have been eating it through the week.
7:40-7:45: Wash dishes and wipe down all counters and stovetops.
7:45: Make sure all appliances are off, I’m wearing pants, and I have the essentials: Keys, wallet, phone. Out the door!
When all else fails: toast.
More from Bon Appétit:
photo: Kimberley Hasselbrink