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Tips for Cutting Costs at Breakfast

Frugal Parenting (featured column)
by Rachel Keller

Do you cringe every time you go to the store to buy a gallon of milk, a dozen eggs, and a few boxes of cereal? Even if you use coupons and buy cereal on sale, you will still spend a significant amount per year just to feed your family breakfast. Did you know that you can save significant money on your grocery bill by switching to hot cereal?

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I'm not talking about those little packages of instant oatmeal. (They're a waste of money since you can make your own instant oatmeal packets for much less... see recipe below.) Neither am I referring to those one or two-pound cylinders of Quaker oatmeal (though that costs less per serving than a box or bag of dry cereal).

Through Co-ops or country stores, you can purchase larger quantities of oats at greatly reduced prices. I buy 25 pounds of oats at a time for about $10. (You can buy 50 pound quantities for greater savings if you really like oatmeal.) If you buy a large quantity, you will need to divide the oats into containers (preferably air tight). Keep in a cool place (basement, refrigerator, or freezer) for later use.

Our family eats hot cereal (oatmeal and oat bran) about four mornings a week (sometimes more in the winter) and I also use the oatmeal in pancakes, homemade granola cereal, granola bars, as well as cookies, other desserts, and bread. (You can even use oatmeal in meatloaf and ham loaf.) We have a family of six, but both the oats and oat bran lasts us several months.

For health reasons, our family has learned to eat hot cereal without sugar. We add chunky peanut butter, raisins, and a variety of fruit to our cereal, though we have eaten it plain as well. If you are like most people who prefer sweetened oatmeal, try adding flavored honey or raw sugar.

If you cook oatmeal in milk rather than water, the oatmeal will taste creamier. Apple juice, peach syrup, or mixed fruit juice, or even a combination of juices and milk make wonderful new flavors without having to add much extra (if any) sweetener. Cinnamon and nutmeg with chopped apples make a delicious combination. Use your imagination to add whatever you like. (Once, I added hot chocolate mix. That was good!)

If you're too busy to cook a hot cereal for breakfast, try making oatmeal in the crockpot (recipe at the end of this article). By using the crockpot, everyone can have a hot breakfast even if you don't eat breakfast together. You can also prepare oatmeal the night before and just quickly heat in the morning. Baked oatmeal is another option.

My family still enjoys cold cereal, and I occasionally buy our favorite unsweetened whole grain cereals, but only if on sale. You can easily make your own granola cereal. (See recipe at the end of this article.) Homemade granola is less expensive and much healthier and lower in calories than what you buy in the store. Just by experimenting with different recipes and ingredients, you can make several varieties of tasty granola. Raisins, dried fruit, sunflower nuts, flaxseed, wheat germ, almonds, and peanut butter are some wonderful additions.

One last tip for saving money at breakfast: use powdered milk either in part or whole to save money. When powdered milk is cold, you hardly notice a difference, especially on cereal or in recipes. If you think your family will be skeptical about drinking powdered milk, mix it with regular milk. I've served powdered milk with cereal to extended family, and when asked about it later, they never noticed the difference.

Even if your family doesn't want to drink powdered milk, keep some on hand for using in recipes. An added benefit to using powdered milk is convenience. I don't have to run to the store each week for fresh milk since I buy powdered milk in large quantities and make as needed.

Following are various oatmeal recipes. This is only a sampling. If you look in cookbooks or on the Internet, you can find so many granola bar and granola cereal recipes. I have not included any oatmeal cookie recipes, you can visit the Cookie Club or All Homemade Cookies for those.

Overnight Oatmeal

This is a creamy, delicious easy oatmeal!

In a saucepan or microwaveable bowl mix together:

1 cup oatmeal
1 ½ cups milk
½ cup apple juice
apple pieces (optional)
raisins, nuts or wheat germ (optional)

Let sit overnight in the refrigerate. The next morning, warm the oatmeal on the stove or in the microwave.

Crockpot Oatmeal

2 cups milk
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 T. butter, melted
1/4 t. salt
½ t. cinnamon
1 cup oats
1 cup finely chopped apple
½ cup raisins and/or dates
½ cup chopped walnuts or almonds

Grease or spray the inside of the crockpot. Put ingredients inside and mix well. Cover and turn on low heat. Cook overnight or 8-9 hours. Stir before serving. Makes 4 cups.

Instant Oatmeal Packets

3 cups oats (quick cooking works best)
8 small zip-like baggies

Process ½ cup oats in a blender (or 1 cup oats in a food processor) on high until powdery. Set aside. Repeat with additional ½ cup oats if using blender. Put the following into each baggie: 1/4 cup regular oats, 2 tablespoons powdered oats, and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Store in an airtight container.

To serve, empty packet into a bowl. Add 3/4 cup boiling water. Stir and let stand for 2 minutes. Adjust water amount for thicker or thinner oatmeal.

Try some of the following variations:

Sweetened Oatmeal: Add 1 T. sugar

Brown Sugar/Cinnamon Oatmeal: Add 1 T. brown sugar and 1/4 t. cinnamon

Raisins and Brown Sugar: Add 1 T. packed brown sugar and 1 T. raisins.

Apple-Cinnamon Oatmeal: Add 1 T. sugar, 1/4 t. cinnamon, & 2 T. Chopped dried apples

Fruit and Cream Oatmeal: Add 1 T. non-dairy coffee creamer and 2 T. dried fruit

Health Nut Oatmeal: Add 2 T. any kind of wheat germ

Homemade Granola Cereal Recipe

The total cost of this recipe depends on which and how many extra ingredients you add. I usually buy sliced or slivered almonds, walnuts and pecans inexpensively at a country store and keep them in the freezer. I’ll alternate between adding almonds and sunflower nuts, though sometimes I add none or both. You can add raisins and/or other dried fruit or none at all. Adding some wheat germ (raw or toasted) will increase the nutritional value without affecting the taste. (Store wheat germ in the refrigerator or freezer to keep it fresh.)

If you choose not to add all the extra ingredients, you will need to add extra oats. The granola mixture should be moist before putting in the oven, but you don’t want extra syrup. (I nearly always add either extra oats or oat bran.)

½ cup canola oil
1/3 cup honey
1/4 t. salt
3/4 t. cinnamon
1/3 cup skim milk
3/4 cup brown sugar
5 cups whole oats
½ cup each of any of the following: sliced almonds, chopped walnuts, pecans, sunflower nuts, raisins, craisins, dates, dried fruit (Mix and match whatever you like.)
Wheat germ, flaxseed (optional, but a great nutritional boost)

Mix first 6 ingredients together in a saucepan over medium heat until sugar melts and everything is blended. Remove from heat. Add oats and mix well. Spread over 2 cookie sheets sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. (Use sheets with sides.) Bake in a 375 oven until brown (about 10-15 minutes). Watch carefully and stir a few times for even browning and to prevent burning. Let cool on sheets. When cool, add other ingredients (nuts, dried fruit, etc.). Store in a covered container.

Homemade Lowfat Granola

The grape juice concentrate adds a unique flavor to this granola!

9 cups rolled oats
½ cup wheat bran
1/4 cup nuts or seeds (such as slivered almonds, chopped walnuts, sunflower seeds)
3 t. cinnamon
½ t. nutmeg
1 1/4 cup honey
1/4 6-oz. can frozen grape juice concentrate, thawed
1 cup dried fruit

In a large bowl, mix together the oats, wheat bran, nuts, cinnamon and nutmeg. In a small bowl, beat together honey and grape juice concentrate. Thoroughly mix wet and dry mixtures. Spread mixture on baking sheets that have been lightly oiled or sprayed with cooking spray. (Use sheets with sides.) Bake at 350 for approximately 20 minuets, stirring often to avoid burning, until light to medium brown. Mixture may seem moist, but will dry as it cools. When cooled, add dried fruit. Store in airtight container.

If you look, you can find so many granola bar recipes. I wish I could share many more. This recipe calls for butter, while some call for oil. If you wish you can add ½ cup (or more) of peanut butter. You can also add crispy rice cereal, crushed cornflakes, graham crackers or any other cereal for a nice “crunch” and different. Try the recipe as is first, and then experiment with adding other ingredients. I usually add less sugar than listed in my recipes, for health reasons and because we’re used to a less sweet taste.

Homemade Chewy Granola Bars

3 cups oats
1 cup flour
1 t. baking soda
2 t. vanilla
2/3 cup butter, softened
½ cup honey
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 cup mini chocolate chips or M&Ms
Optional: raisins, dried fruit, sunflower seeds, chopped nuts

In a large bowl, combine oats, flour, and baking soda. In another bowl, combine vanilla, butter, honey, and brown sugar; add to oat mixture and stir until combined. Stir in the chocolate chips and pour into a lightly greased 9x13 pan. Lightly press mixture into the pan with the back of your spoon. Bake at 325 for 22 minutes or until lightly golden brown. Let cool for 10 minutes then cut into bars. Let bars cool completely in pan before removing or serving.

Cinnamon Oat Pancake Mix

I’ve made this mix several times, but I’ve never tried the syrup since we usually eat pancakes without any type of syrup. I include it for you to try.

4 cups oats
2 cups flour (I use oat flour.)
2 cups wheat flour
1 cup non-fat dry milk
2 T. cinnamon
1 ½ - 2 t. salt
2 Tablespoons baking powder
½ t. cream of tartar

Cinnamon Cream Syrup

5 T. butter
1 cup heavy cream
3 T. brown sugar
1 t. cinnamon
½ t. maple extract

Combine pancake ingredients in a large bowl and blend well. Store in an airtight container in refrigerator. Make 4 batches of pancakes.

To make the pancakes, beat 2 eggs in a mixing bowl. Gradually beat in 1/3 cup of oil. Alternately stir in 2 cups of the pancake mix and 1 cup of water. Cook on lightly greased griddle. Yields about 12  5-inch pancakes.

For the syrup, melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir in remaining ingredients, whisking constantly until sugar dissolves and the mixture thickens slightly, about 3-4 minutes. Store extra in refrigerator Reheat to serve with pancakes.

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Copyright © 2004 by Rachel Keller. All rights reserved.
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