Breakfast for a Buck: Ode to the Common but Mighty Oatmeal
This article originally appeared in HumbleDollar.
Like everyone else, I’ve been experiencing sticker shock lately when I step into the grocery store.
Meats, vegetables, paper products, canned goods—everything is costing a lot more than it used to. As just one example, my favorite brand of Good’s thin pretzels now costs $2.50 a bag—seventy-five cents more than I was paying a year ago. Compared to the other brands in the snack aisle, those Good’s pretzels are still a relative bargain, but it sure doesn’t feel that way.
Along with higher prices for gas, utilities, and other necessities, higher food costs are making it hard for retirees and semi-retired folks like me to stick to a budget. The good news is that core food prices dropped for the sixth straight month in September, but it will take some time for those lower costs to show up at the supermarket.
In the meantime, this value-seeking frugalist is doing everything he can to stretch his food dollars while making sure to eat healthy. And those choices start with breakfast.
Rachael and I do most of our grocery shopping these days at the local Aldi’s. We figure we save between thirty to forty percent on groceries by shopping at Aldi’s rather than the chain supermarkets, and the quality of the food is every bit as good or better.
I also find Aldi’s stores to be less overwhelming than big-box supermarkets like Costco’s, albeit without the yummy handouts. Just remember to bring a quarter for a shopping cart (you’ll get it back when you return the cart).
My day always starts with coffee, and so does my shopping list. With even mass-market brands like Seattle’s Best and Dunkin’s now going for seven to eight bucks a package, we’ve been picking up the Aldi’s store-brand Barissimo dark roast ground coffee for about five bucks for a 12-ounce package.
It’s not Starbucks, but it’s darn good coffee, and certainly a lot better value. We get about 16 cups of coffee for each package, so my two cups of coffee in the morning cost roughly around 60 cents.
As for the main meal, we eat a lot of oatmeal. Yeah, I know—porridge is boring. But cooked with an apple and topped with cinnamon, a touch of brown sugar, walnuts, and blueberries, that bowl of oatmeal is not only tasty but also packs a nutritional punch. Think whole-grain carbs, soluble fiber, and other juicy goodness.
In fact, oatmeal is one of the most nutrition-dense meals you can eat. It’s good for the heart, lower blood sugar and bad cholesterol, and promotes healthy bacteria in the gut, helping to keep that digestive machine running like a clock. Rachael and I also mix in a spoonful of milled flax seed to provide protein.
We avoid instant packaged oatmeal with all those artificial flavors and additives, preferring instead the real stuff that comes in a box and requires cooking. Our favorite brand is Aldi’s Millville store brand of steel-cut oats. An 850-gram box of Millville oats costs $3 for six and three-quarters cups of milled oats. At a quarter-cup of oats per serving, each box yields a whopping 27 bowls of oatmeal.
That means each bowl of healthy oatmeal I’m eating in the morning costs about a quarter. Throw in the cost of the other ingredients and that figure goes up to maybe forty cents.
Which means that overall, including my two cups of coffee, I’m spending about a buck for a healthy breakfast. Now, that’s value.
Some may say that, in my quest for value, I’m missing out by not stopping at Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts in the morning and spending twelve bucks for a fresh-brewed cup of coffee and an egg-and-cheese sandwich.
I would beg to differ. I grew up eating oatmeal and consider it to be one of life’s simple pleasures. Our mother used to make a big pot of Quaker oatmeal for us six kids to chow down for breakfast before heading off to school. After setting the piping hot oatmeal in front of us, she would circle the table with a paring knife, cutting slices of banana into our bowls. That hot oatmeal sure felt good in the stomach as we waited to board the bus while blowing steam into the frosty morning air.
These days whenever I smell oatmeal cooking in the pot in the morning, I think of my mother stirring that pot of goodness on the stove. I think of warmth and home and abundance. I think of all the ways our parents provided for us, despite not having two nickels to rub together. We didn’t go on fancy vacations, didn’t eat at fancy restaurants, but we had always enough, and it was because of things like oatmeal that stretched the dollar.
As I describe in my book The Long Walk Home, memories of those cozy mornings in the old kitchen eating oatmeal with my siblings helped bring me out of a dark period years later when I was going through a grueling divorce.
It’s the simple things, I firmly believe, that not only also provide the greatest value in life, but also leave the best memories. Who remembers going to Starbucks?
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. For me, I get a healthy one for about a buck. Now, if only I could cut down on those snacks …