Thursday, August 19, 2010

Cheap Eats: Oatmeal!

The Topic: The Cheapest Breakfast Around

The Dish: Sitting down and tallying up how much I actually spend on eating eating out (hello, sandwiches and Thai food), it seems overwhelming to think of cutting my food budget to an actual budget. I have friends attempting to spend only $21 a day who report struggling; I can't begin to imagine eating on a dollar a day. But there are plenty of versatile staples that cost pennies, and my co-worker Liz recently reminded me of a tried-and-true favorite: oatmeal. Skip the boxed variety with its excess packaging and budget-breaking sticker price. An 18-ounce canister of quick oats goes for $4.09 at my local Safeway. Grab a bag and fill up at the bulk bins—you can take home a pound for only 99 cents, which is about 11 servings. At less than 10 cents per serving, that's hard to argue with, especially considering oats have magical staying power to get me through midmorning snack time.

If you're a plain oats type of person, that's one cheap meal. Even if you like to jazz things up, throwing in what you have handy or investing in a few add-ins from neighboring bulk bins won't raise your cost too much. Personally, I'm a peanut butter and raisins fan. Liz's signature bowl takes things to the savory side, which I had never through of before (surprising, considering my love of savory breakfast dishes). A touch of salt, pepper, and 1/4-cup nutritional yeast is all you need for a filling breakfast.

A final tip for the best oats ever? Skip the microwave. I'm not here to lecture you on its potential dangers or domination of counter space. In my opinion, I just dig oats made on the stovetop more. Start with this simple base for the best breakfast ever.

The Best Stovetop Oats
This water-to-oats ratio makes for a more porridge-like base, so feel free to adjust the liquid to your liking.

Serves 1

What You Need:
1 cup water
1/2 cup rolled oats
Salt, to taste

What You Do:
In a small pot, bring water to a boil. Add oats and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add a pinch of salt, sugar, or any other add-ins, and enjoy!

The Final Word: Oats are also great for bulking up morning smoothies to keep you full longer if that's more your morning routine. Any way you have them, they're a cheap, healthy way to start the day.


  1. Great reminder! I eat rolled oats, raw, every morning (I can't be bothered with cooking them, I just let them soak in some oat or rice milk while I settle in at work.) I just bought 25 lbs. of organic oats for 91 cents/lb from a local co-op. (I split a 50 lb bag with an friend). Bulk is cheapest!

  2. To jazz it up you can add toppings like raisins or other dried fruit, chopped nuts, hemp seed, chia, fresh chopped fruit -- my MIL loves to top her oatmeal with yogurt. My three little boys love oatmeal and we make a pot full a couple times a week.

  3. I like to cook our oatmeal in the rice cooker. It comes out nice & fluffy.

  4. Using 1/2 C water and 1/2 C soymilk makes a creamier oatmeal. I'm very picky about oatmeal and only like the creamy, sweet kind so it helps to add some soymilk. :)

  5. What ratio of water to oats do you use for the rice cooker? That sounds great, because I'm always too lazy to cook in the morning!

  6. Nice! Oatmeal's awesome... that's gonna be my new goal: budget food via buying bulk!

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  8. I would recommend getting rolled oats/old fashioned oats instead of quick cooking oats. They don't take that much longer but the texture is much better and they're less processed (and they cost the same). Also, the oats from the bulk bin at my local market are $.79/pound, and often go on sale for half the price, so it is extremely cheap! Since it's summer, I don't feel like making a hot cup of oatmeal in the morning, so I've been doing Vegan Overnight Oats ( almost every morning! I can't get enough of them. Oatmeal is so versatile, I put different toppings on mine every morning. So yummy.

  9. Great tip on the savory variety. I had somehow never thought of that either, and I usually prefer savory over sweet early in the morning. Always looking for something else to stir nutritional yeast into. Thanks! :)

  10. Overnight oatmeal! Whole oats, no cooking. Combine equal quantities whole oats & liquid (water, your favorite "milk" or a combination), sitting overnight in the fridge (or on the counter, if using water)=ready-to-go breakfast. I make mine in a glass container, ready to pop in the micro at work. (If you don't wish to microwave, a splash of boiling water left over from the teakettle will also heat things up.) Add your toppings the night before or in the morning.

  11. I chop up an apple and sprinkle with pumpkin pie spice for extra fiber!