Cereal and breakfast are nearly synonyms in most of America. Probably the vast majority of breakfasts are made up of some kind of cereal, from ready-to-eat & pre-sweetened to instant to cooked and then the bar version. Cereal, like everything else, has seen some dramatic price increases, and probably higher than most foods in the supermarket. Manufacturers try to cuts costs, and consumers seek cheaper brands, creating a cycle that results in minimal quality for everyone.
So, how can we beat this?
The most expensive versions of cereals are the ones that are processed the most and have the most highly decorated boxes with the best known brands on the front. Often, they don’t pack an equal punch in the nutritional department either. It’s only logical that we then have to wonder who produces the least expensive per serving cereals with minimal processing and whole grain goodness?
Obviously, that would be the cooked cereals. These are the cereals most similar to those eaten a hundred or more years ago, and often wearing labels such as porridge or even pudding. Cheap and filling, they have long provided ample nutrition and energy for millions of people. There is only one problem.
Few families have the time to spend cooking a pot of brown rice, cracked wheat, or even oatmeal in the morning. They look for faster meals of ready to eat or instant versions.
So, the other day, I was looking at a bowl of instant oatmeal before adding water, and began wondering how this was different from “quick” oatmeal. Some differences are blatantly obvious. Quick oatmeal doesn’t have individual envelopes, nor does it come pre-flavored and pre-sweetened. It’s a do-it-yourself sort of thing.
So, I tried it. I dumped a half cup of plain quick oatmeal into a bowl. I added a dash of cinnamon, a handful of raisins, and a spoonful of sugar. I stirred it up. I then poured in hot water, straight from my coffee pot, the same way I usually make instant oatmeal. I stirred it, I set it aside for a minute or two, and I tasted it.
It’s the same thing. It’s a LOT plainer, but the texture was virtually identical. It isn’t as “milky” even though I don’t think instant oatmeal contains actual milk. (Maybe stirring in a spoonful of artificial creamer would duplicate it?) There’s one other difference.
Quick oats are purchased by the POUND, not the serving. Want fruit in your cereal like the ones from the envelopes? One big difference here…you can use the real deal, instead of “artificially flavored peach flavored apple pieces”. You can use a spoonful of jam, and get your sweetener at the same time too. You can have chocolate swirl oatmeal, or vanilla cream…or cherry royale…or lime flavored or whatever flavor suits you. Want creamy yogurt and flavor too? Try a few tablespoons of yogurt! Mocha cappuccino oatmeal anyone? (quarter teaspoon of instant coffee and a tablespoon of chocolate syrup).
The variations are infinite, and the cost can be pennies per serving on up, depending on the quantity and price of the “additives” chosen. It’s ideal for fast meals, convenient for after school snacks, and cheap enough for every day use. It’s great when you go camping, hiking, biking too…oatmeal and dried fruit can provide complex carbohydrates for enduring energy, unlike sugary and highly refined foods.
For those trying to avoid unpronounceable ingredients or suffering from food allergies, it is an opportunity to have more control and still keep the meal simple. Simply measure the quick oatmeal (1/4 c. is equal to the average envelope) and then add boiling water. Let it sit for 1-3 minutes to “cook” and you’ll be ready to eat. Most additives can be put in before adding the water or after with little difference in flavor. (I like to add dried fruit before adding the water, so it rehydrates some.)
For convenience when camping/hiking or just to keep mornings simple, the oatmeal can be combined with desired dry ingredients in small plastic bags or re-usable containers ahead of time, allowing the diner to simply add the hot water and go. If you use re-usable bowls with lids, it is super simple. Just add water to the container!