One of my fondest mom memories is of my 7-year-old daughter and her still toddling brother standing at the bedroom doorway with a half-spilled bowl of cereal balanced on a cookie sheet covered in dandelions. Their eyes were sparkling with pride as they delivered my surprise breakfast. It was as if they were presenting me a tray of precious jewels from King Tut’s tomb.
They climbed up in bed and helped me eat soggy toast, giggling as we stirred the milk that had a dollop of jelly plopped in for flavor. That was the first of my many breakfasts in bed over the years. Dad was behind the scenes, but clearly allowed them artistic license (maybe too much). There were half-cooked eggs, burnt pancakes, peanut butter toast that was dropped on the dog and picked off. Once, I had a pineapple smoothie complete with rind—needless to say, it was not smooth. But never have I felt more loved. Inevitably, one or the other would say, “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day,”—one of those things moms say and don’t think anyone is really listening. Now that they are both grown, I fondly treasure memories of my sweet pint-sized chefs.
Consciously creating childhood memories and family traditions is essential so the days (and years) don’t just jumble together and fly by. Breakfast in bed may well be a simple tradition your family wants to start. Make sure to involve the kids in all stages of planning and execution.
A few days before the special morning, gather the kids together and hold a secret meeting about ideas for the “Breakfast in Bed Extravaganza.” Have a few menu ideas in mind to give them some direction, or you may end with spaghetti and meatballs before 8 a.m. Your menu should be simple and yummy, and easy to prepare, allowing all family members a chance to participate.
You might offer choices by saying something like, “Should we serve a delicious donut, a yummy yogurt granola parfait, or pancakes on a stick?” Notify the recipient adult (Mom, Dad, Grandma, Grandpa, Aunt, etc.) that the meeting is taking place so they can steer clear. Or, better yet, so they can pop in and say, “What’s going on here? A secret gathering?” which is sure to make the kids giggle with excitement. Part of the fun is the anticipation involved in carrying out a surprise.
Schedule a time to take the kids grocery shopping for supplies. Kids naturally want to help. It’s our job as parents to nurture and guide this inclination to pitch in so it becomes a lifelong habit. Of course, it would likely be more efficient to do everything yourself, but resist the urge to run to the local supermarket alone. Shopping for the special breakfast is a good opportunity to talk about how important it is to do nice things for people you care about and allows kids to have ownership in the process.
Shopping tasks for little ones might include being in charge of crossing things off the list, picking the yummiest berries, or putting items into the cart or onto the checkout counter. You might make a special stop after groceries to buy a single flower at your local florist for the breakfast tray, and hide it away in the back of the fridge.
The Day Before:
Now is the time to decide on a tray and make the notes that will accompany breakfast. A tray doesn’t need to be a silver platter; it can be as simple as a bar pan (edge on all sides), the top of a TV tray table, or you can make one complete with handles on the sides by cutting down a sturdy cardboard box. A handwritten menu, an original card, or a sweet poem from each child kicks up the specialness of the day. Even if it’s just scribbles on paper with a crayon, it will mean a lot.
The Night Before:
Everyone can pitch in to wash berries, cut up fruit, mix up batter, or line muffin tins with paper. Anything you can do the night before will make the morning run smoother. Food prep is a great practical life experience. Children can learn the importance of regular handwashing and begin to master age-appropriate kitchen tasks with safety in mind.
I’m a big fan of making lists—if your helpers are too young to read, draw a picture list of the finalized plans so everyone knows what to expect.
Your children might want to rehearse what they are going to say when presenting the honored guest their food. Let them come up with their own ideas for presentation; happy and silly songs are never a bad idea.
Get dishtowels ready for makeshift aprons and pick the prettiest plate from the cupboard and set it aside. Choose a colorful napkin or cloth and wrap a spoon, knife, and fork together, tied with a ribbon. Take a minute to discuss clean-up and remind the group it will go faster if everyone helps out.
The Morning Of:
Gathering your kids to prepare the surprise is sure to be a wonderful adventure. Remember, while making meals in the kitchen may be old hat for you, it’s an exciting and fun activity for children to cook with adults. Turn off all distractions except for perhaps some energizing background music to keep things moving.
Demonstrate cooking methods at every opportunity. Kids can learn to crack an egg by tapping the shell at the center and using their thumbs to pull it apart. Even very young children should be able to slice soft fruit, such as a banana, with a butter knife. Be spontaneous! If your child wants to put fruit snacks or gummy bears in the muffin batter, or mix juices to create a “bluestraw orangeberry blend,” just go with it.
Set the tray with a drink, main breakfast attraction, and your “add-ons” (see sidebar on page 21), again making sure everyone has a part to play. Presentation is everything; there are never too many sprinkles or too much glam! Put a tutu on the dog, drape a dishtowel on an arm—waiter style—and let the breakfast parade begin.
Five-year-old Ian, from Moorhead, thinks the best part of making breakfast in bed is “Mom can stay laying down and eat!” Ian’s mom, Alicia Artley, enjoys listening to the happy work in the kitchen as Ian and his dad create her surprise meal. She closes her eyes when she hears her family coming, so she can “wake-up” amazed and delighted. “Ian is very excited to do something special for me,” says Artley.
Everyone should have a part in clean-up (except the guest of honor). A way to insert fun might be to draw a task out of a chore jar. On slips of paper, write down various jobs such as “Bring dishes to the sink,” “Wash the counter,” “Put potholders away” and drop them into a jar. Everyone keeps removing slips of paper—these are the clean-up tasks they need to do—until the jar is empty.
During clean-up, take time to talk about how it felt to do something nice to brighten someone’s day. Brainstorm ideas about what secret kindness to execute next.
Breakfast in bed disclaimer: Everything will not go as planned. Embrace whatever happens with smiles and gratitude. If juice spills onto the scrambled eggs, or your little waiter sneezes on the waffles, or the banana slices taste slightly of dish soap—be happy and joyful. Breakfast definitely is the most important meal of the day, especially when it is delivered with the love of a family working together.
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