The following is a weekly feature brought to us by Sumiko from Near to Nothing. I’ve asked her to share tips and tricks (and recipes!) that show us ways to replace the items we’d typically buy canned or frozen from scratch at home for less! You’ll find a new From Our Pantry post each Monday.
As a family of six, we really have to be careful about where we are spending our grocery money. A while ago I realized we were going through about a box of cereal every two days (and that was before the baby was eating solids!). At that point, I made the decision to (almost) stop buying cold cereal. Gasp! Yes, it was a big change for us, but one that needed to be made. I say I “almost” stopped buying cold cereals—occasionally I splurge on a box that I find at a really good price and Robbie and I enjoy it for dessert after the kids go to bed.
So what do I feed my family for breakfast instead of cold cereal? Hot cereal. Hot cereals are much more economical than cold cereals and they are generally healthier. (Ok, I know sometimes you can get cold cereal for really cheap or even free, but here in no-doubles-land, that happens once in a lifetime.)
There are a variety of ways oats are sold:
- Groats: whole oat kernels with the hulls removed; contains the oat bran, germ, and endosperm
- Steel-cut oats (Irish oats): groats that have been cut with steel into two or three pieces
- Rolled oats (old-fashioned oats): groats that have been rolled flat
- Scottish oatmeal: steel-cut oats that have been steamed and ground
- Quick-cooking oatmeal: steel-cut oats that have been rolled
- Instant oatmeal: same as quick-cooking oats but processed to smaller flakes
Steel-cut oats are by far my favorite way to make oatmeal. When cooked, they have more texture than rolled oats, kind of the al dente version of oatmeal. And the flavor is nuttier than rolled oats. Nutritionally, all oatmeal is good for you, but steel-cut oats are better for you than the more processed varieties. They have a lower glycemic index which means you don’t get hungry as quickly after eating them.
The one inconvenient thing about steel-cut oats is that they take 30-40 minutes to cook on the stove. I’m not a morning person, so I cook them in the slow cooker over night. The house smells so good in the morning and we have fresh, hot oatmeal ready to eat.
I think steel-cut oats are good enough to eat plain. Even my toddler boys scarf it down plain. But I really love them with some banana slices and cinnamon. If you want, you can add dried fruit to the slow cooker at night or in the morning, depending on how re-hydrated you want the fruit.
Oatmeal is definitely a great way to stretch your grocery budget if you stay away from packets. WinCo carries many types of oatmeal in the bulk bins. When I went last week, steel-cut oats cost $0.83/lb. and rolled oats and quick oats were $0.65/lb. I then went over to the cereal aisle and compared those prices to packets of instant oatmeal. Quaker original instant oatmeal cost $2.68/11.76 oz. which comes to $3.65/lb. Hy-top instant oatmeal was better at $2.42/lb., but nowhere near the cost of the oatmeal from the bins. If your store does not carry items in bulk, canisters are also an economical way to buy oats. Quaker old fashioned and instant oats cost $1.14/lb. in a canister; Hy-top old fashioned and instance oats cost $1.07/lb.
I also took a look at the cost of Cheerios, America’s favorite oat cereal. They happened to be on sale but the cost still came to $2.26/lb. The generic version came to $2.15/lb. You also have to consider that 1 lb. of Cheerios yields 1 lb. of Cheerios. One pound of steel-cut oats, however, yields about 6 lbs. of oatmeal. That’s $0.14/lb.! Just switching from cold cereal to hot cereals could save a lot of money.
Slow Cooker Steel-Cut Oats
- 1 c. steel-cut oats
- 4 c. water
- Dried fruit (optional)
Place oats and water in slow cooker. Add dried fruit, if desired (may need a little extra water).
Heat overnight on low. The top layer will be a little dried out. Just stir it in. Refrigerate leftovers and reheat in microwave, adding milk or water to achieve desired consistency.
I usually make a double batch in my 2.5-qt. slow cooker. If you have a large slow cooker, you’ll want to make at least two batches at a time.