Friday, January 7, 2011

Food Budgeting Part Five: Breakfast Cereals

This one will have to be short, but I did want to mention it. 

I came from a family that ate cold cereals for breakfast.  We were never allowed "sugar cereals" such as the obvious Froot Loops and Cap'n Crunch (not that we didn't try asking!)  The selection was either Cheerios, bran flakes, or Wheat Chex, or something along those lines, with lowfat milk.

These days, I still occasionally crave a crunchy bowl of Wheat Chex, but cereal buying is one small area I've changed completely from my former practices.  In the past couple years, I've been carefully reading labels due in part to blood sugar issues and also in wanting to be aware of what foods have preservatives and high fructose corn syrup.

It was an eyeopener that a lot of cold cereals touted as "healthy" have a lot of sugar in them...a lot.

The other concern is what we get for our money....Packaging, and very little else.  If you lift the inner bag from the eye-catching cereal box, you basically get a small amount of actual cereal slumped forlornly in the lower half of the bag, and if you read the "serving size" it may vary from 1/2 cup portion to maybe 1 cup portion size.  And though we all need to watch our portion sizes, you just don't get a LOT of cereal usually for the money spent.  

I seldom see any cereal on the shelf in a family-sized box for less than 4 or 5 dollars.   For a single grocery item, in our house, that's off my chart...and I'm feeling cheaper by the minute!   I see a lot of young families cruising the cereal aisle ( and it's an entire aisle, yes) at the store and the children being asked what they want for the breakfast cereal. 

Well, I'll cut to the chase.   Except for the rare occasion, we just don't buy cold cereals any more.  We either eat hot cereals or we make our own granola, or granola spin-off.  We also just don't buy dairy much any more, either.

We use regular oatmeal...any kind that's on sale without any fillers and preservatives, for a lot of things.  Instead of those little flavored packets that have nothing but a few tablespoons of oatmeal and a lot of artificial flavorings, we just make a quick bowl of real oatmeal and stir in real spices, sweetners, nuts, fruits, whatever suits.  For days when we do want cold cereal with milk (those days are fewer and farther between),  oatmeal is the base ingredient in granola I've made and kept in jars...and can be as simple as just the oatmeal and dried fruit or as complex as multiple grains/nuts/sweeteners/fruits/spices.   There are limitless easy granola recipes online, and they are fast and easy.

Oatmeal is one of the ingredients it usually does pay to purchase in the generic label or in larger quantities if you eat cereal a lot.  I have yet to do a comparison ounce to ounce with cold cereals cost-wise, but I KNOW it comes out to pennies for a serving of oatmeal, and a WHOLE lot more for boxed cold cereal. 

There are plenty of other seed and grain options out there besides oatmeal too, especially for hot cooked cereals.

A sprinkling of dried cranberries or a drizzle of real maple syrup is so much more satisfying and healthy a flavoring than chemical flavor counterfeits that come in boxed cereals.  I make up individual portion packets of oatmeal and dried fruits, with a pinch of brown sugar and cinnamon, for Jack to take to work for a warm cereal on those cold night shifts.  Just open a sandwish bag, add boiling water, stir for a few seconds and let it soften about a minute...a better tasting hot oatmeal than any flavor packet.   Add a handful of chopped nuts for added protein for those who like some crunch.

Anyway, avoiding the cold cereal aisle has trimmed our budget dramatically, but we don't have to go without REAL cereal...a few simply steps take hardly any additional preparation time, and are really worth the money saved.

Plus..there are a lot of other foods to have for breakfast...!

Any thoughts?


Wendy said...

I'm not a fan of cold cereal, although my daughters enjoy it (too much). I love (LOVE) granola with yogurt, though, and I'm trying to convince my daughters to make the switch.

I make the granola here at home, and I'll include chocolate chips and sweetners, but it's all whole ingredients, and I can pronouce everything that's in it. I "know" it's healthier for them, and as you've observed, much cheaper - even with the chocolate chips. I think the fact that we use our own maple syrup cuts the cost, too ;).

There are too many things that my girls eat as just snacks that would make good "meals" like the granola - paired with milk or yogurt makes a good morning cereal alternative - and my favorite breakfast food ... popcorn! Who said it has to be relegated to "snack"? I air pop it on the woodstove, and yum, yum! Plus, it's one of the few grains I can actually grow on my quarter acre.

It's funny when we start really looking at what we eat.

Carol said...

We use a lot of Oatmeal..touch of Maple Syrup and half a spoon of brown sugar...wonderful...and good for you. Honey is another great sweetener. I use white sugar to make hummingbird food..

fullfreezer said...

We have a few cold cereals but we buy the big bulk plastic packages- never the name brand boxes. Never anything too sweet- I think the most sugar we get is on mini-wheats. And we eat a LOT of oatmeal.
When the apples and pears are plentiful in the fall and we can't eat them all before they go bad, I make diced, spiced fruit and can it (hot water bath). So this week, I opened a quart of spiced apple chunks. I sweeten it with sugar syrup so I just have to spoon out a few scoops of apples and syrup, add my oatmeal, a bit of water and microwave it. Instant hot breakfast much, much better than any little packet you could buy.
My other breakfast option for the children is waffles. A few years ago I invested in a waffle iron. On the weekend, I make a double batch of waffles (chocolate chip is a favorite, as is pumpkin spice). We eat breakfast and then I freeze the extras. The children pull them out of the freezer and pop them into the toaster to warm. Much healthier than store bought.

Paulette said...

My son is dating a girl with a 3 year old little boy. The mom has been feeding Little One flavored oatmeal from the packets all of his life. My son is a personal trainer, and very specific about his diet. He eats oatmeal by the box...he's hungry all the time, and it's healthy, just add fat-free milk. Little One has seen him eat it, and wants 'what Adam has'. He now eats only real oats, non fat milk, with NOTHING ESLE ADDED! And half the time, he eats it cold, because Adam does. Funny.

Robbyn said...

Wendy, man, your own maple syrup...YUM. I'm not much of a breakfast eater myself unless it's a late one on a slow day. The popcorn sounds perfect!

Carol, isn't it interesting how satisfying the less processed sweetners are? I know sorghum is a product of an older form of processing...still crave it on biscuits now and then with butter :)

Judy, I bet the spiced apple chunks were GOOD. I usually make more than what we'll need of things like pancakes, etc, if they freeze well because you're so's so easy to just warm 'em up and go :)

Paulette, wow, isn't it so cool how much kids will follow the lead of someone they admire ? It's so interesting you mention that he'll eat the oatmeal with milk and nothing else even cold sometimes, because I used to help with the kids of an Israeli family who were living stateside for a couple years teaching. They had a lot of mouths to feed, and the little boy and girl of theirs I watched during some school hours would eat an after-school snack of uncooked instant oatmeal, poured right from the box, with milk...and no sweetner no cooking, nothing. Made me realized how spoiled I've become!