Breakfast Foods and Pancakes, America Eats, from Life in the USA: The Complete Guide for Immigrants and Americans

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America Eats
American Foods

breakfast cereals in a supermarket
breakfast cereals in a supermarket

Packaged breakfast cereals in a typical American supermarket aisle.


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Breakfast Foods and Pancakes
The question “What do Americans eat for breakfast?” is a complicated one, and on several levels. Americans may eat heavy dishes for breakfast, light dishes, or combine the two. American breakfast foods in any of the categories may well be enjoyed for lunch, dinner, or for a midnight snack. Conversely, great numbers of Americans skip breakfast entirely, or eat “just about anything” first thing in the morning.

Most American breakfasts will include coffee, tea, fruit juice (primarily orange, grapefruit or tomato), or milk as side beverages. Some general formats include:

  • Bread based: toasted bread, bagel, roll, English muffin, corn muffin, bran muffin, topped with butter, a butter-like spread, jam, jelly, or cream cheese.

  • Health based: fruit and cottage cheese or yogurt.

  • Cold cereal based: a breakfast cereal, usually crunchy, in a bowl doused with milk and with possible addition of fruit chunks: bananas, strawberries, raisons. Granola is a growing trend. Children’s themed cereals may be highly sweetened.

  • Hot cereal based: oatmeal, cream of wheat or rice, often with milk added. May be made from scratch or purchased in pre-cooked, ready-to-microwave pouches. Oatmeal varieties are frequently flavored with cinnamon, apples, raisins, or nuts.

  • Egg based: fried, scrambled, or poached eggs, or an omelet.

  • Pancake or waffle based: pancakes or waffles are generally buttered then doused in maple or maple-flavored syrup.

  • Smoked-fish based: smoked salmon, sturgeon, trout, herring, served cold, with a bread item, capers, onions; a luxury breakfast.

Hot breakfasts are accompanied by two general categories of side dishes:

  • Meats: bacon, ham, breakfast sausages, breakfast steak, corned beef hash.

  • Starch: potatoes (French fries, home fries, country fries, hash browns, cottage fries), baked or refried beans, grits (ground corn meal, popular in the south), biscuits and rolls.

The American omelet may include ingredients plain or fancy. Common additions are cheese, mushrooms, onions, diced green or red bell peppers, diced ham, bacon, chili peppers, and various other diced meats and vegetables.

Some fancy egg dishes served at “brunch” events or fine restaurants include Eggs Benedict (a poached egg on an English muffin or toast with a slice of Canadian bacon, covered in a rich hollandaise sauce), or Eggs Florentine (eggs covered with fresh spinach in a cheese sauce).

Huevos Rancheros, a dish of Mexican inspiration, is an omelet made with onions, tomatoes, chili peppers and garlic, served over a tortilla in a spicy red sauce.

Fast-food restaurants like McDonalds serve easy-to-eat breakfast sandwiches: egg, sausage, cheese, all sandwiched into an English muffin. Many Americans enjoy similar egg sandwiches on bread or rolls as a quick take-out breakfast on the run.

Pancakes are made on a grill out of a batter of flour, baking powder, milk, and eggs; the buttermilk pancake is an American classic. Pancakes may be served with any of the meat, fruit and potato sides common with other breakfast foods. Pancake restaurants specialize in giant, festive stacks of the delicacy, smothered in butter or syrup, covered with berries or other fruit, festooned with whipped cream, or even topped with a scoop of ice cream. Waffles are served in similar formats. “Flapjacks” are a traditional name for pancakes, associated with the diet of lumberjacks. “Griddle Cakes” may simply be another name for pancakes, or may contain cornmeal. “Hoe Cakes” are a southern cornmeal-based pancake; “Johnny Cakes” are simple, unleavened flat corn cakes. Small “Swedish Pancakes” (plattar) are popular in many regions. French crêpes are available in major cities but have yet to infiltrate the mainstream American breakfast menu. Russian Bliny may find themselves on some menus, and Jewish Blintzes are popular in New York and other large cities.

Pancakes are prepared in home kitchens on a “from scratch” basis, and also from popular dried mixes. Waffles may be made at home using waffle irons and batter, but frozen toaster waffles are extremely popular, at any time of the day.

The large American breakfast buffet featured by some restaurants and hotels may offer a wide variety of these American breakfast foods on an all-you-can-eat basis.