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Isn't It Time to Take a Break for Breakfast?

You can save a good breakfast for a time when the whole family can enjoy it, like dinner, or weekend mornings.

Breakfast has grown legs. "Food on the move" is now the name of the game, and sales of the less time-efficient breakfast foods are losing ground. It seems that a stationary bowl of cereal doesn't cut it any more. Portable eats, Pop-Tarts, bagels, muffins, and scones are now the staples of the hurried American-family lifestyle. According to a recent Roper Starch Worldwide survey, nearly 4-in-10 household members turn to whatever is at hand for breakfast. And we're not just talking about glazed doughnuts. Once a month, the first meal of the day is pizza or soda in up to half the households queried.

Speed it seems is of the essence. "My mom and I always grab a Nutri-Grain bar on our way to work, it saves time and gives us longer to sleep," says Devon Richter, a student-teacher in Los Angles, Calif. "A bowl of cereal just isn't as convenient for me. I'm more likely to eat it as a dry snack in the afternoon." Although cereals are the second-largest selling items in food outlets, according to Information Resources Inc., Chicago, new cereal introductions for 1997 were down 31 percent from 1996.

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Cereal faces a fundamental problem in our high-gear culture - people can't carry it with them on their way to work. Kellogg's has tried to re-tap the market by introducing Snak-Paks and toast-at-home (or at work) bagels, while other companies are issuing portable ready-to-eat cereal in cups and instant portable hot cereal.

While these time-saving innovations may help address the nutritional needs of a treadmill society, they may only hasten the demise of the sit-down breakfast. Or will they?

About half of all families still have a weekend breakfast together that lasts a full 30 minutes.

And according to the Roper Starch survey, people still believe that breakfast is "the most important meal of the day." Eighty-one percent of those surveyed say they want their children to grow up with happy memories of eating together as a family. They see breakfast as a bonding experience, a time together for both communication and emotional benefit.

Not surprisingly, Edon Waycott, author of "Breakfast All Day: 150 Recipes for Everybody's Favorite Meal" (William and Morrow) says that people need to slow down and get back in touch with breakfast. Make it a priority and make it fun.

"You don't have to follow those preordained time constraints, you can save a good breakfast for a time when the whole family can enjoy it, like dinner, or weekend mornings," says Ms. Waycott. And it is possible to have a weekday morning breakfast without being late for work. She advises,"Take time to pre-prepare food, for example, mix muffin batter the night before."

Families that achieve a weekday breakfast do so by taking such steps as: * Setting the table with cereal and fruit the night before.

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* Agreeing to get up earlier, at least one or two mornings a week. * Making it simple, but special. Vary the fare. Have something special to discuss and look forward to, such as a family trip or new photos. "It feels wonderful to eat real food in the morning, the stuff where you don't have to peel away the paper," Ms. Waycott says. "Breakfast can be such a simple, familiar yet delicious meal." So while you're running to the office with half a bagel in your hand, remember to take time to plan for the pancakes in life - it's worth it. Spiced Pecan French Toast You can make the custard the night before, then soak the bread in the morning before cooking the toast. Hazelnuts or walnuts may be substituted for the pecans. 5 large eggs 1-1/2 cups half-and-half (or light cream) 1/2 cup toasted, ground pecans 2 tablespoons sugar 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice Zest of 1 orange (the thin orange peel, grated from the fruit) 12 slices French bread (if bread is small, use 18 slices) 6 to 8 tablespoons unsalted butter Maple syrup, butter, and/or fresh seasonal fruit such as strawberries, blueberries, or raspberries as accompaniments. For the custard:

In a large bowl, combine eggs, half-and-half, pecans, and sugar, and mix well. Add vanilla, spices, and orange zest, and mix well.

Soak bread in the custard mixture for about 10 minutes, turning a few times. Heat about 2 tablespoons of butter in a large saut pan and place about one-third of the slices in the pan (they should fit in one layer). Cook for 3 to 4 minutes per side, or until golden brown. Remove from pan and keep in a warm oven while you cook the remaining toast. Add more butter to pan as necessary. Serve warm with your choice of accompaniments. Serves 6. Based on a recipe by Caprial Pence,

from her book 'Cooking with Caprial, American Bistro Fare'

(Ten Speed Press, $24.95)

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