Weeknight Cooking

How to Make Muesli Ahead for School Mornings

September 25, 2014

Every other Thursday, we bring you Nicholas Day -- on cooking for children, and with children, and despite children. Also, occasionally, on top of.

Today: Rethink your relationship with mush. 

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You know what’s overrated? Crispy.

You know what’s underrated? Mush. 

Well, maybe not underrated by you. Maybe you think mush deserves its Rotten Tomatoes rating. But look at you! You are an adult-sized, literate individual with excellent taste in reading material. You are not the target audience. The target audience has to be convinced not to eat its dinner off the floor. I am not saying you don't sometimes eat your dinner off the floor. But you know you're not supposed to.

Every other week this column explains, slowly and without any ten dollar words, that how adults consume food is not that different from how children consume food. (The anatomy -- spoiler alert -- is almost identical.) But this week is an exception to the rule. Because sometimes how children eat really is different from how adults eat.

Which is a long way of saying that you may not like mush. But your rent-free boarders may. 

More: A week's worth of whole grain recipes with Kim Boyce. 

Adults look at mush and see a texture that fails to be something better -- they see a low-rent, flunked-out version of creamy. Mush is the texture that gave up trying and moved back into its parents' basement. Children, on the other hand, tend to accept mush for what it is. It has yet to be ruined by not being something else.

And mush, as Emily Vikre has wisely noted, has a deep, primal affiliation with childhood: "It is the best attributes of mashed potatoes and pudding and cuddly bunny rabbits all rolled into one. It is 'goodnight mush' at the end of Goodnight Moon."

Which brings us to muesli.

Muesli is a dish, of course, but these days it seems to be mostly a concept. And the concept has been stretched until it contains virtually everything you can do to grains at breakfast, which means that a lot of muesli recipes today look mostly like fancy granola or fancy oatmeal. 

But muesli has never been a glamorous dish. Its original version was soaked overnight, and when you soak oats overnight, you get, well, mush. I soak ours in milk and I like it a lot. But my children like it even more, possibly because it tastes a little like raw dough, which my children would crawl across a desert for.

Made the night before, tossed with fresh fruit and nuts in the morning, it is a perfect solution to the problem of a decent weekday breakfast. It’s bringing mush back.

School Morning Muesli

Serves 2, well 

1 cup rolled oats
1 cup milk
1/4 cup dried cranberries, roughly chopped
1 apple, grated or roughly chopped
1 peach or nectarine, roughly chopped
1/4 almonds, roughly chopped
Honey (optional)

See the full recipe (and save it and print it) here.

Photos by Mark Weinberg 

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  • christina
  • Renée (RJ Flamingo) Joslyn
    Renée (RJ Flamingo) Joslyn
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  • Alexandra Maillet
    Alexandra Maillet
  • Merrill Stubbs
    Merrill Stubbs
I'm the author of a book on the science and history of infancy, Baby Meets World. My website is nicholasday.net; I tweet over at @nicksday. And if you need any good playdoh recipes, just ask.


christina August 17, 2015
Vive la mush!!!
Renée (. September 29, 2014
I make a version of the Bircher Muesli that I learned about over 25 years ago from a Swiss gentleman, and I modify it with seasonal fruits. This makes a week's-worth: http://flamingomusings.com/2014/03/the-juicing-fad-is-dead-eat-real-food-ready-to-go-muesli.html
fiveandspice September 29, 2014
Good morning mush. :)
Alexandra M. September 28, 2014
Actually, I just moved to Switzerland, and found something in the grocery store called "Bircher", which is muesli mixed with yogurt. I had never heard of it stateside. It has grown on me. Nice filling mush for breakfast.
Merrill S. September 25, 2014
There's little I enjoy more than a good bircher muesli, and this version is pretty much perfect. I'll be making it a lot this fall -- thank you, Nicholas!
Nicholas D. September 25, 2014
Thanks, Merrill!
AntoniaJames September 25, 2014
Or you might consider this one, which hews closer to the original, made perfect with a touch of sweetened condensed milk - I make the DIY kind featured on Food52, cooked a bit longer to caramelize it -- held in check with a fair bit of lemon. https://food52.com/recipes/31033-old-school-bircher-muesli ;o)
HalfPint September 25, 2014
I've been on a muesli kick for the past few months and I like it much more than regular oatmeal which I find way too mushy. My version is equal parts oats & milk, with Craisins and sliced or chopped almonds, a little brown sugar and a light sprinkle of cinnamon. Takes less than a minute to assemble into a mason jar and into the fridge it goes. I have read that you can soak the oats for as little as 30 minutes and it will soften as well as overnight. I usually add any fresh fruit right before I eat because I don't really like mushy fruit.
Nicholas D. September 25, 2014
Me neither with the mushy fruit. I add it in the morning.
EmilyC September 25, 2014
Oh -- this is perfect timing for me because I'm learning (like all parents out there) how to do breakfast and get my Pre-K'er to school on time. Fingers crossed that he'll dig mush.
Nicholas D. September 25, 2014
I am so learning too. I think I may need to find an alternative school that starts at 4pm.