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Food + Cooking

The Breakfast-for-Dinner Diaries

Stories of the most important meal of the day, whenever it is.

I don’t remember when I learned that hot dogs are not a socially acceptable morning food, but I knew well enough to be ashamed in grade school when we went around the classroom declaring our favorite breakfasts. I wanted to say hot dogs, or maybe leftover steak, or maybe stir-fried noodles, but I lied and went with scrambled eggs. I even sullied the lily and mentioned pancakes, too, even though I hated pancakes until I was in my mid-20s.

I’ve never really understood why certain foods are to be eaten in the morning and others aren’t, but as with any arbitrary stricture, breaking the rules is where it gets interesting. Having breakfast for dinner is, I’ve found, almost a rite of passage for people. Maybe they’re cooking for themselves for the first time but they only know how to make breakfast foods. Maybe, in a fit of feverish freedom, they realize there’s no actual reason not to invert the natural order of meals. Maybe Dad was sick one night and Mom only knew how to fry eggs, so dinner was sweetly makeshift, as if you and Mom were playing House.

In honor of this month’s Gourmet Cookbook Club selection, I asked a few friends to share their favorite breakfast-for-dinner stories. I hope you enjoy them. And please share yours in the comments.

On Sunday nights growing up we used to have extended family over and eat waffles and ice cream for dinner. It was a tradition my mom had when she was a kid, too, and she really really loved it, especially since she was diabetic and a very controlled eater on every other day of the week. She didn’t really like cooking and certainly wasn’t a baking kind of mom, so she was also disproportionately proud of her buttermilk waffles. But the funny thing was, our visitors really didn’t like it. One cousin confided to me later that he used to have nightmares about giant buttermilk waffles. —Meryl Schwartz


My girlfriend (Meryl, above) eats Puffins (the cereal, not the birds) three to five times a day. She begins or ends most of her meals with them. “Now for just a tiny bowl of Poof-ee-nos,” she says with a guilty grin on her face. The bowls are always tiny (to avoid sogginess) and they are always several.

She used to buy only the peanut butter Puffins, because, as everyone knows, they’re the best. But when she started to abuse these Puffins too heavily, she decided to restrict herself solely to the original flavor in an attempt curb her consumption.

She’s embarrassed, but I encourage it. It’s an important ceremony for her, slurping and munching with a faraway look in her eye. Still more milk in the bowl? She grabs bare handfuls, because it’s important to handle your cereal. —Ben Winter


I just had French toast the other night, but that’s usually dictated by what’s in the fridge or how stale the bread is. Or how much I want to feel like my dad has been left in charge of me for the night. He had a limited menu (grilled cheese and chili or French toast) but he’d do it up: thawed strawberries and Cool Whip, maybe some bacon to grease the griddle. It always had the air of something extraordinary, even if I was just going to watch a bit of TV or do homework afterwards. It made me feel like I had the whole day ahead of me, even though I was going to bed pretty soon. —Jamey Dempster


Around suppertime, my parents would sometimes declare that they were tired, and so the responsibility for feeding the family fell on my sister and me. We were, like, five and seven years old. We didn’t know how to make dinner. The only meals we were ever involved in preparing were our family’s big breakfasts on the weekends. So we went with what we knew and thus “kids’ night” meant pancakes or waffles, plus some eggs and bacon if we were inspired. Eventually, our parents seemed almost disappointed when we finally started making proper dinners. —Will Tauxe


My friend Kristen eats omelets late at night. She eats them after work, but usually her time to eat after work is not just after work, but after work and after band practice, because she tries really hard to make time for music in her life, because otherwise her life would be totally consumed by work. Or sometimes eating after work means eating after work and after going to the gym and after grocery shopping, because she tries really hard to make time for taking basic care of herself, because otherwise her life would be totally consumed by work and playing clarinet with a squawky community band. So she comes home late and hungry. She breaks some eggs into her favorite pan and stirs them around and folds them in half, because eggs in a pan are quick and they are tasty, and she eats them while reading something. Sometimes she thinks she should eat something else. Last night dinner was a head of broccoli. —Francis Lam


I had a midnight breakfast once, at the student union when I was in college. It was great because I was with Kevin, this guy I was completely in love with. Even though he was gay. We didn’t know anyone there, but the place was packed with freshmen because the food was free. The eggs were gross and powdered. The sausage was warmed-over. I didn’t know what Kevin thought of me or my weird plan to hang out. He never talked much. He was so nervous. It felt like a conspiracy, or a joke.

So here we are: getting breakfast at midnight. Neither of us is hungry. Kevin will never like me the way I want him to. There he is, pushing eggs around his plate, laughing at them. They look like they’re made of plastic. —Margaret Reges


Most New York diners serve breakfast all day. If they don’t, I don’t eat there. I used to say that my favorite food was a really good steak or pesto pasta with chicken and sun-dried tomatoes, but no, it’s scrambled eggs. It always has been. That’s not the real reason I eat breakfast for dinner at diners, though. New York diners have these ridiculous 12-page, 18-inch-tall menus filled with grilled swordfish, lobster, strip steak, and all this other expensive bullshit that no one in their right mind would buy at a diner: It’s a diner. Eggs and potatoes and toast and coffee: $6. It’s just a bonus that this is also the best meal on the menu.

Also, I keep a box of Cheerios and a half-gallon of milk in my kitchen at all times. I am a 26-year-old male living alone. That is one hell of a healthy dinner in my book. —Karl Sturk


Once my neighbors had a “backwards day” where they had lasagna for breakfast and pancakes for dinner. They wore their clothes backwards and tried to talk backwards, too. I would have killed one of my sisters to be able to go over there and eat pancakes for dinner, but my parents always thought the neighbors were crazy. Later, I would find that they were right. —Sarah Sala


Breakfast in my family was a weekend ritual. My parents were never big mealtime talkers, so though we all had to be at the table at once, we all did our own thing: They had two copies of the Times crossword that they did side-by-side; I usually had a book; and my sisters would talk to each other or do homework. I loved that separate-yet-together time—the warmth of being surrounded by people I love.

Two years ago, my youngest sister got on a big breakfast-for-dinner kick. She’d come home from school every day and make herself an egg, cheese, and English muffin sandwich in the oven.

Now I’m on the same kick. I’ve been missing her a lot, and it reminds me of her and the rest of the family. Breakfast, more than other meals, reminds me of home and warmth and togetherness and support. —Jill Dembowski


I wasn’t seeing much of my good friend Dayna, but one gentle evening she happened by, and she, my boyfriend, and I cooked a feast of toast, bacon, sausage, eggs, pancakes, orange juice, and milk. The sky was just thinking about sundown and there was a late-summer breeze blowing through the screen door. We ate, we laughed, we lingered at the table, and just as we were finally clearing, I heard a car door slam in our driveway.

My mother and aunt were outside examining my begonias. On their way home to another town, they had thought to stop by. We left the doors open, talking and laughing and enjoying the air. With the summer warmth and the good energy of our unexpected meeting and the sun going red at the horizon, I found myself imagining we had eaten breakfast not for dinner, but in the morning—all our happiness and ease was beginning a new day. —Rebecca Virginia Lee Adams