Aaron McCargo, Jr. was one of the best-kept secrets in the culinary world. But after winning the 2008 Next Food Network Star reality TV show, the successful restaurant owner and catering chef from Camden, NJ, burst into the spotlight. Now his show, Big Daddy’s House, and his recipes are hot. When we asked Big Daddy to cook up some breakfast ideas for P&C readers, he confessed, “I was never a breakfast guy until I had kids. But I saw how it started their days off with a bang, and how they seemed to be running on empty energy when they missed it. I realized it was the same for me.” We invite you to sit down with this father of three as he serves the first meal of the day.
WHAT’S COOKING: A nutritious meal at the start of the day that helps you focus throughout the morning. The goal is to prepare it fast and to make it so delicious that everyone is excited to eat, even when in a rush.
THE GAME PLAN: First, make sure you’ve got all the healthy stuff on the grocery list, says Aaron. “Then with just a little bit of weekend prep, you can have a homemade meal ready to make any morning you like.” On a Sunday afternoon, whip up some extra pancakes and French toast and freeze them in layers. Or make a simple quiche or two, chop some fruit, cook a bit of sausage and bacon, and store it all in the fridge. Then microwave a serving at a time later that week in less than a minute.
Aaron’s favorite weekday trick is making breakfast sandwiches. “I love them,” he says. “It’s such an easy way to get everything you need when you’re on the run.” Use a bagel, whole-grain bread, or Aaron’s top choice, pita pockets. For the filling, scramble some eggs or make an omelet and slice it in four, then add cheese, sliced veggies, or meat if you like. There’s no need to feel guilty about going with prepackaged foods a few days a week to save even more time. There are lots of good-for-you options out there when you shoot for low-sugar cereal or oatmeal, for example.
WHAT’S COOKING: The energy and nutrients you need, plus a great opportunity to relax as a family with a calm morning full of fabulous food.
THE GAME PLAN: Get the kids into the kitchen! Like most households, Aaron’s is too hectic for cooking with his children on school days. On the weekends, they go all out with waffles, parfaits, and more. “I’ll have some great chefs coming out of my home one day,” he says proudly. “My kids love to crack eggs, decorate pancakes, and choose the quiche ingredients. Then we usually all eat breakfast in bed.”
Weekends are a great time to start a tradition like eating in your pajamas, going out for brunch, or letting the kids pick the menu. If your family has a morning commitment such as church or a soccer game—you can grab a quick weekday-type bite before you leave the house, and go for the full spread afterward.
Weekdays: Getcha Goin' Grits
21⁄2 cups water
11⁄2 cups low-fat milk
Pinch of salt
11⁄2 cups quick grits
6 oz American cheese
1⁄2 cup pre-cooked bacon, diced (try low-fat turkey bacon)
1⁄4 cup diced onions
1⁄4 cup chopped scallions
1. Place water, milk, and salt in a medium pot. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Add grits and stir.
2. When grits have absorbed most of the liquid, add cheese. Mix until creamy. Add bacon and onions. Add half the scallions. Stir well. Garnish with rest of scallions.
Makes 4 to 6 servings
Weekends: Elvis Pancakes
2 cups buttermilk
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
6 Tbsp butter, melted (plus extra)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup buckwheat flour
Peanut butter, sliced bananas, and honey, for topping
1. In a large bowl, whisk together buttermilk, eggs, baking powder, sugar, salt, and melted butter.
2. In another large bowl, mix the flours.
3. Slowly add flour to wet ingredients and mix with a whisk until batter is velvety.
4. In a large cast-iron skillet, melt a Tbsp of butter over medium-high heat. Ladle in pancake batter to desired size. Cook each side 2 to 3 minutes, until golden brown.
5. Spread peanut butter on a pancake, and top with bananas and honey. Put another pancake on top to form a sandwich.
Makes 12 to 15 pancakes