These Banana Oat Breakfast Muffins are vegan, gluten-free, and refined sugar free — they’re basically a bowl of oatmeal in muffin form, only they taste a million times better. Recipe at the bottom of this post.
Fact: I am terrible with routine. I should clarify, I am terrible at keeping a routine. I’ve never had a whole lot of structure in my life. As a kid I was homeschooled, which meant I chose my own schedule (I slept, ate, studied, and did everything else when I chose to, within reason), and as an adult, I have always been self employed (from being a nanny and dog walker as a teen, to working from home, now). Which is all to say, I’ve always been in control of my time and how I spend it.
I feel very blessed to say that, because in many ways it has shaped me and made me who I am. I would be lying if I didn’t say it was both a blessing and a curse, though. Being in control has a lot of advantages, but when the only person to answer to is yourself, staying motivated can be hard, if not impossible some days.
When you work for yourself, you aren’t just your own boss, you’re your own cheerleader, too. There’s no one else around to help you work through things, or take some of the load off, or to remind you why you do what you do.
I go in and out of phases where I struggle with this, and lately, I’ve struggled a lot. Which got me thinking about some of the things I’ve found which have helped me get and stay motivated in the past. To my surprise, the advice I had was pretty good, and made me realize I should be doing these things more often. (If you’ve ever struggled with being productive or motivated, hopefully some of these things will be helpful for you, too — and if you have any tips or tricks of your own, feel free to share them in the comments at the bottom of the page.)
So, without further ado, here is my (completely un-qualified) advice on how to motivate yourself and get stuff done:
1. Check in with yourself. I am not a morning person. When I start my day, I have a tendency to be in a bad mood by default. Not a really bad mood, mind you, just an I-wish-I-were-still-in-bed kind of mood. Which means I am pre-disposed to feeling overwhelmed, especially if I have a lot on my plate for that day. Instead of just putting my head down and powering through (or going back to bed and trying to ignore all the things I should be doing), I find that taking a moment to meditate can make all the difference. I know, I know, you’ve heard that already, but hear me out. When I say meditate, I don’t mean taking a big chunk of time to tune out and find your inner peace (that’s great, too, but let’s be honest, I don’t have that kind of time, or presence of mind first thing in the morning). What I mean is, taking a minute — just one minute — to breathe in, and out, and think about how I’m feeling and what I want to get out of the day. This quick little self check-in can turn my mood around completely, and helps me feel centered and focused. I’m terrible at remembering to do this, but when I do, I am always amazed by the difference it makes.
2. Breakfast. Breakfast is one of my biggest motivators in the morning, because, big surprise, I love food. My body does best with some kind of protein or whole grain goodness when I wake up, which usually means I have to put some effort into making something. The thing is, dirtying a bunch of dishes is not my favorite thing to do first thing in the morning, so more often than not I opt for something quick and easy, like breakfast cereal, or a few of those cookies from the night before. (Note to self: cookies for breakfast do not lead to a happy and productive Willow.) That’s where something like these muffins comes into play: I can make a batch in the evening, which ensures I have a healthy grab-and-go breakfast option for the rest of the week. (And because they’re vegan, gluten-free, and refined sugar free, I can feel good about eating more than one. They’re pretty much a bowl of oatmeal in muffin form, only so much tastier.)
3. Make a list. Sometimes I do this over breakfast to help motivate myself, and sometimes I do it the night before so I don’t stay awake anxiously thinking through all the things I need to get done. Either way, having a list helps keep me going. It frees up that space in my brain that would otherwise have to remember all those things, and gives me a sense of accomplishment when I check items off. (Confession: sometimes I add things to the list I’ve already done, just so I can cross them off. Seeing those completed tasks is like a visual guide to the progress I’ve made, and helps motivate me to take on the next thing on the list.)
4. Set an alarm. I don’t know about you, but I am really good at putting things off. If I give myself the option to get something done now, or later, I will always choose to do it later, and then it will never get done. Unless I set a timer, that is. The simple act of setting a timer (usually for an hour, but if I’m feeling especially lazy just 30 minutes), and telling myself that for that chunk of time, I can only do one thing (cleaning, writing, whatever is on my list), can all of a sudden make an impossible task feel manageable. After all, I only have to do it for an hour. When the timer is up, I reset it for another hour, and do something else for that time (usually something I want to do, like surf the web, take a nap, or read a book, but on a busier day it might be moving on to something else on my list that doesn’t feel as challenging). The trick is to keep resetting the timer, and moving from task to task. It constantly amazes me how I can spend an entire day procrastinating on something that I can get done in just an hour or two, if I set my mind to it. Breaking things up into bite sized chunks makes a big to-do list much less daunting. (As an added bonus, the timer helps me to actually enjoy the time I spend doing things I want to do, because I don’t feel pressure to be doing something else, or worry that I’m wasting time. I set the timer, and give myself full permission to do what it is I want, without feeling like I have to beat myself up for it later.)
5. Remember why you do what you do. This is a big one for me, and I think it is especially important for people who work for themselves, or creative types who are carving out their own path in life. When you’re working towards a goal, the steps required to get there aren’t always clear. It’s easy to lose sight of where you’re going, or to give up because you don’t see how the things you’re doing now lead to where you want to go. How important is it that I photograph muffins today? Some people might say it doesn’t matter at all. What’s the point? Why bother? But for me, it’s building on my passion, developing skills as a cook and a photographer, and sharing something with the world which I believe is meaningful about nurturing our bodies and caring for what goes into them. When what I do seems silly or meaningless, usually all I need is to remind myself why I started down this path in the first place. I fall into the trap of getting caught up in the little things, the often difficult or tedious things, when what I need to do is step back and look at the big picture — where I started, and where I want to go — in order to remember why I am where I am. I know that sounds cliche, but it’s true, and it’s one of the things I struggle with the most sometimes. Nobody else can tell you why you should be doing what you’re doing (in fact, there will be people who try to belittle what you do, and tell you you should be doing something else), so you have to be your own biggest supporter, and remember why you chose to do it in the first place. If it matters to you, it will become a whole lot easier.
Note to self: you suck at doing these things. Come back to this list often, remind yourself why you do what you do, and eat more muffins. So many more muffins.
(P.S., I’ve been eating these muffins for two weeks straight, now, and I am still looking forward to having one for breakfast tomorrow. Hello, healthy habits and a tiny bit of routine!)
- 3¾ cups gluten-free rolled oats, plus extra for sprinkling on top
- 1 tsp. psyllium husk powder
- 2 tsp. baking powder
- ½ tsp. baking soda
- ¼ tsp. fine grain sea salt
- 1 cup dairy free milk (I like almond milk, but you can use what you like, or sub in regular cow's milk if you aren't vegan)
- 1 TBSP finely ground chia seeds (or 2 TBSP ground flax seeds)*
- 4 large, very ripe bananas, mashed (about 2 cups)
- ½ cup pure maple syrup (preferably grade B, but grade A will work, too)
- 3 TBSP coconut oil, melted
- 1 TBSP apple cider vinegar
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1 cup walnuts or pecans, roughly chopped -- optional (or you can use other add-ins, like chocolate chips, crushed banana chips, coconut flakes, or dried fruit)
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F., and lightly grease a non-stick muffin tin (using coconut oil, or non-stick baking spray). Set aside.
- In a bowl or measuring cup, stir together the dairy-free milk and ground chia seeds. (I like to grind my chia seeds myself, using a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder, or you can buy them already ground.) Let sit for at least 5-10 minutes while you prepare the rest of your ingredients.
- In your blender or food processor, add 3 cups of the oats. Process until the oats are finely ground into an almost flour-like consistency. Add the remaining ¾ cup oats, psyillium husk powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, and pulse a couple of times to combine.
- In a large bowl, mash together the bananas, maple syrup, apple cider vinegar, coconut oil, and vanilla extract. Add the chia/milk mixture and mix well, making sure there are no clumps of chia seeds.. Add the dry ingredients from the food processor, and any nuts or other add ins you choose, and mix until everything is evenly combined.
- Scoop the batter into the prepared muffin tin, filling each one to just below the rim of the pan. Sprinkle the tops of each muffin with a few extra oats, and bake on the center rack for 20-23 minutes. If your oven heats unevenly, be sure to rotate the pan once during baking.
- Remove from the oven and let cool for 5-10 minutes before removing the muffins from the pan. They should come out easily. Re-grease the muffin tin, and repeat with the remaining batter. Once completely cooled, muffins can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week, or frozen for up to a couple of months. (I like to pull one out of the freezer and microwave it for about thirty seconds or so. Alternatively, you could thaw frozen muffins in the refrigerator overnight, and reheat them in an oven or toaster oven.)
Just like with banana bread, the bananas you use for these muffins should be super ripe and brown-speckled. I like to save over-ripe bananas in a zip-top baggie in the freezer (just peel them, then freeze), this way I always have them on hand. Frozen bananas will be very dark and slimy once thawed (appetizing, I know), but don't worry, they're perfect for baking. (Bonus tip: if you don't have any overripe bananas, you can take underripe bananas and bake them on a baking sheet (peel on) at 350 degrees F. for 5-6 minutes, or until the skin has turned black. Scoop out the insides, and you're good to go!)
*I recently made a batch of these and totally forgot to grind the chia seeds... and they turned out perfectly anyway. Feel free to skip the grinding and use whole chia seeds instead. (If you'd like to use flax seeds, I still recommend grinding them since they're larger and more noticeable in flavor and texture.)