This is a story. A story about breakfast. I have been eating the same thing for breakfast, nearly every morning, since 2009.
How did this happen? Well, back in 2009, my bike commute increased from 40 minutes a day to 2 hours each day. Burning all those calories before 8AM meant I really struggled to find a cost-effective, easy-to-prepare breakfast that would actually keep me full through to lunchtime. I tried oatmeal with different types of fixings, I tried cereal, I tried biscuits and gravy. None of those options ended up working for me: I needed slow-burning protein to keep my energy up and I needed the whole meal to take less than 20 minutes to prepare & consume.
Enter black bean tacos. Tacos were my childhood favorite meal, but they were always an elaborate ritual, for dinner only. Each family member had a different item they prepared, and a big spread was laid with options. Each taco was constructed individually. Breakfast tacos, while delicious, were a much simpler endeavor, designed for speed instead of lingering with family. After some experimentation, I came to this very simple recipe:
- Black Beans
- Corn Tortilla, fried briefly in canola or sunflower oil
- Green things that are seasonally available (lettuce, spinach)
- Hot sauce
- Minced Habeneros
- Vegan Cheese (to be excluded when expensive or when cutting expenses)
That’s it. I’m not even sure I can call it a recipe. Take those things, combine, eat. It takes less than 5 minutes to prepare. Most days, I eat three tacos (1/2 cup of black beans as filling). If I’m planning on biking more than 35 miles in a day or running more than 6 miles or I’m not sure what time my next meal will come (like when I’m traveling), I will add in a fourth taco.
The Taco System
Over the years, my taco system has gotten more sophisticated, and more cost-efficient. When I first started eating breakfast tacos, I bought cans of beans, which set me back about $5.50 each week. Eventually, I took to cooking dry beans each weekend, bought in bulk, and simply reheating them each morning. Reheating black beans took less time (especially since my hands were pretty screwed up from RA back then and I struggled with using a can opener), was cheaper, and tastes better. In the years since, this pre-preparing beans has been improved by getting a slow cooker (set and forget vs worrying about black beans boiling over and staining the stove purple) and, more recently, by getting a pressure cooker (less than 30 minutes to finish!)
I have investigated making my own tortillas from scratch, but have determined the time vs money savings equation is firmly in the camp of “buy tortillas”. For years, I was using secret aardvark (a local habenero hot sauce) on my tacos, but because I love it so much, I end up going through it too quickly. I’ve switched to using hotter hot sauces, like Dave’s Insanity Sauce, in order to cut down the per-taco cost.
If you’re interested in how the cost breakdown goes, I happen to keep a spreadsheet updated with the current prices for my tacos ingredients. Currently, it works out to about $.60 per breakfast, or $.20 a taco.
When tacos haven’t made sense
There have been numerous times in my life when it has not been possible to have tacos for breakfast. When I was living in Berlin, it was impossible to find tortillas or masa, let alone black beans, commercially available. (There was a rumor there was one guy originally from Mexico City who covertly sold homemade tortillas to American expats via text message as a side hustle, but I never found him.) It took me about 3 weeks to find my “morning breakfast groove” when living in Berlin, it turned out to be tofu scramble every morning (pre-chopping the vegetables on the weekends for quick preparation on weekdays). When living in India, it was vegetable samosas bought from the village square every day.
I used to struggle to find breakfast when on work trips, but I’ve started to bring two or three days of taco ingredients when traveling to conferences. If I have access to way to heat food like a hotel microwave (or even once a hotel iron), I can make tacos, and it’s usually worth it. Because I often travel with refrigerated medication, it’s not a ton of extra work to tuck in some taco ingredients into my tiny travel cooler – all the ingredients are OK going through airport security (as long as I limit my hot sauce consumption to under 2 ounces!)
Why I love eating the same thing every day
People ask me if I ever get bored of eating the same thing every morning. Frankly, no.
The beauty of eating the same thing every morning is it reduces the number of decisions I need to make to get going with my day. There’s a fair amount of evidence that we can only make a certain number of decisions each day, and after awhile, decision fatigue sets in. I, particularly, struggle with decision making (if you can’t tell, I tend to overanalyze even the most minute of decisions – most recently, I made a spreadsheet with macros to buy a backpack and to pick a new gym).
I would rather save my decision making power for things that change the world the world for the better and increase my business’s income. If I can create a routine that’s also healthy and frugal like tacos, even better. The more I introduce routine into my life (into breakfast, into commuting, into working out), the more brain power I have left for the big decisions. Even President Obama routinized his workouts & suit colors so that he had more mental space left to run the country instead of picking out a tie.
So, yes, I eat the same thing for breakfast every morning. And I love it.