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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A question from a reader: frugal winter breakfasts?

Breakfast Rice Pudding may look like oatmeal here,
but it's nothing like oatmeal
Kath writes:

"Help! My family H-A-T-E-S oatmeal, and I'm struggling to find something to make for school day breakfasts, that is cheap, healthy, filling, and quick. My husband, two kids and I go through 3 boxes of cereal a week! This is getting expensive. Can you ask your readers for breakfast ideas that are inexpensive, but healthy and quick to make? TIA, Kath"

I do get a bit of email each week. I do my best to answer questions, and help with various things. (I've had a fair amount of email on making yogurt, especially with non-dairy milk -- a lot of people must be trying to make their own soy yogurt!)

Anyway, here's my answer. The rest of you, can you add to Kath's school day breakfast repertoire?

Kath, don't despair, there are many frugal options that don't involve oatmeal. Here's what we're having this week for breakfast -- Breakfast Rice Pudding. If your family likes rice pudding for dessert, they may enjoy this for breakfast, as well.

It has milk, eggs, brown rice, dried fruit (I used prunes this week), nuts (I used toasted, chopped almonds), hardly any sugar (1 tablespoon for the entire recipe), and spices (cinnamon this week, but nutmeg would also be good).

I baked this on Sunday afternoon, and it keeps in the fridge for 3 or 4 days. To serve, spoon a single portion into a microwaveable bowl, microwave for 30 seconds (just until warm), add preserves, pancake syrup and/or milk.

My one daughter, who doesn't eat refined sugar, has hers plain. My other daughter adds milk. I add preserves and soy milk. In all cases, because the eggs, milk, nuts and fruit are baked in, I feel that we're getting a healthy start to the day.

It's not at all like oatmeal, in my opinion. Here's the recipe, if you want to give it a try:

Breakfast Rice Pudding

2 cups cooked brown rice, cooled (I just make extra rice with dinner one night)
2 cups milk
2 eggs
1 to 4 tablespoons sugar (I just use 1 tablespoon)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon, and/or 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup chopped dried fruit
1/3 cup chopped, toasted nuts (almonds are my favorite)

In a medium mixing bowl, mix until thoroughly combined, milk, eggs, sugar, salt, spices and vanilla.

In a 1-qt. greased casserole dish, combine cooked rice, dried fruit and nuts. Pour the milk and egg mixture over the rice, and stir.

Bake in a 300 degree oven for about 1 hour, until thoroughly set.

Any other suggestions for Kath? What's your favorite weekday winter breakfast?


  1. How about making up a batch or so of pancakes and waffles on the weekend, then cool, and freeze... a couple minutes in the toaster or microwave has them ready to go for jam or syrup. Or making an egg bake, cooling, cutting in squares, and either refrigerate or freeze, then they can make their own egg biscuits... can cook ham, sausage bacon and have that ready to go as well. Easy peesy and although it takes a bit of time up front, but big time savers during the week! Good luck. Lisa

  2. We love our cold cereal here and while it is not as cheap as oatmeal, its not too bad. When I find a good deal on it, I stock up. I have found that Aldi's has very good cereal prices. Otherwise, we sometimes bake bacon in the oven because you can do a lot that way and have it ready to eat with toast and cheese. Add some fruit or juice and you should be good to go.

  3. I make something very similar in my slow cooker. I don't pre-cook the rice, and just add everything to the slow cooker just before I go to bed, then cook it on low all night. When I get up, it's ready to be eaten. Then I keep the rest in the fridge and reheat it in the microwave.

  4. As anonymous mentioned, pancakes are super easy to make and you can add so much to them, both in the batter or after they are cooked. We often make a double batch and freeze the leftovers, and reheat in the toaster as needed. Another idea is to make breakfast cookies, something that I do often for one of my children who is a vegan. Again, you put whatever you want into them to make them substantial and healthy -- dried fruit, whole wheat, oats, other grains, dried fruit, juice as part of the liquid, ham or bacon if you want, etc. Google the internet and you'll get many recipes.

  5. Muffins! You have to be careful with these, as many recipes can get heavy on the fat/sugar/all-purpose flour content. I have played around with recipes and here's what I've found to "health them up"--oh, and I'm assuming you are making regular size muffins, not jumbo.

    Fat--I use canola oil instead of butter. Don't try to substitute ALL the fat with applesauce or another fruit puree--you'll get rubbery muffins. My rule of thumb is 1/4 cup oil per 12 muffins and then I make up the remainder of the fat called for in the original recipe with applesauce.

    Sugar--I stick with 1/2 cup or less of sugar per 12 muffins. If they have fruit in them (pumpkin, banana, etc.) I find I can get away with using less sugar, but sweetness is an individual taste.

    Whole grains--I like the taste of whole grains in muffins in a heartier muffin, for instance, pumpkin or peanut butter. I tweak these recipes by swapping out half of the all-purpose flour for whole wheat, white whole wheat, or quick oats. Again, this is an individual taste preference. I would be more likely to add a little sugar if it made the whole grains more palatable but everyone has different dietary preferences.

    I agree with the above comments about making pancakes ahead. Have you tried steel cut oats? The texture really is different from whole oats or quick oats. I make steel cut oats in the crockpot overnight and I love the time-saving aspect. I also buy cereal at Aldi's or I wait for sales and use coupons at the grocery store.

  6. I'm with Kris... muffins! Or you can also do zucchini bread or pumpkin bread. It's easy to make ahead of time and you can always serve it with some cream cheese or peanut butter to add some extra protein.

    When I lived in Norway breakfast was a simple yet delicious meal of open faced sandwiches. The Norwegian bread is much firmer than ours - like the consistency of bagels, and they just serve bread with butter and thinly sliced cheeses or sometimes cold cuts - and generally everyone got a soft boiled egg in a cute little egg cup too. Sometimes they'd have cold waffles prepared ahead of time instead of bread - and of course a big glass of ice cold milk!

    Another thing you could do is make homemade quiche. Eggs are pretty cheap and if you make the crust yourself it's cheap too. Since quiche is meant to be served at room temperature you could make it ahead of time and just take it out of the fridge when you get up, or in a pinch warm it a tiny bit in the microwave.

  7. Oh... one more thought. Homemade granola is very cheap and easy to make. If your family is used to eating cereal in the mornings, granola is an easy substitute.

  8. Thank you all so much for your ideas. Keep 'em coming.
    I forgot to mention, I've only got about $40 a week for groceries to feed myself, my husband and 9 year old twins. My husband and I are paying down some serious debt, and helping his mom out with her bills. Again, thank you so much. This group is awesome.

    1. Hi Kath,
      Your budget is much like mine, for groceries. Is this amount for food only, or also including cleaning/paper supplies?Do you have to buy pet food as well on this?

      A couple of thoughts, ham goes on sale at it's lowest price of the season, just before Christmas here. It also goes on sale for Thanksgiving, but not nearly as low as the Christmas sales. To give you an example, shank portion hams, bone-in were 99 cents/lb last Christmas. Meat prices are up this year, so I expect it will be around $1.29 to $1.39/lb this year, for my area (PNW of the USA). I will buy 2 or 3 hams at this price, and freeze 2 of them (they keep in the fridge , in their original packaging, for a few weeks, check the sell-by/use-by date, and then can be frozen). If you have access to a meat slicer (friends, family perhaps?), you can thin slice the ham, freeze in packets, and use for breakfast meat through the winter.

      Also, think outside the box. Turkeys are at their lowest price of the year in the US, right now. Turkey hash, made with chopped turkey, potatoes, sage, salt and onions can be cooked on the weekends, and reheated during the week. Turkey may not seem like breakfast meat, but our family enjoys this hash for breakfast.

      Potatoes should be on sale for close to $1 for 10 lb bag at at least one of your area stores this week. Albertson's near us has them for 99 cents/bag. There's a limit of 1 bag per transaction, but I'll be stopping by the store every day to pick up my one bag. This works out to about 10 cents/lb.

      Yams are at their lowest price of the year, in our area, right now. Sweet potato pancakes, made with grated sweet potatoes, eggs, flour and spices, can be pan-fried over the weekend, and heated during the week, as needed. Google recipes for "sweet potato latkes". A couple of these would make a hearty breakfast.

      Also, I don't know what your income is, but remember, you have children to think of. If you have a particularly tight month, don't be too proud to visit a food pantry. Food pantries and food banks are there to help folks who find themselves in a tight spot.

      Try to skip buying most paper supplies. If you have cloth napkins, use them. Use rags instead of paper towels. Clean with white vinegar and baking soda. If there's a cleaning supply that you want to buy, check your dollar store before other stores. Our Dollar Tree carries laundry and dish detergent, as well as all kinds of household cleaners.

      If you haven't already, start using coupons. There are cereal coupons out there. You could buy cereal with coupon, and matching to a sale, and save for special breakfasts.

      Good luck! Keep us posted in how things go.

  9. Couple of other thoughts ... grits can be cooked ahead and served with a bit or sugar/honey/preserves and milk. Cream of Wheat cooks quickly and also can be flavored, too.

  10. You could make a big batch of onion and potato hash one morning and re-heat it several mornings. You can make the hash into breakfast burritos one morning, mix with an egg or two one morning, and serve it with a side of fruit one morning. Potatoes are inexpensive and filling. Plus, they're so easily seasoned to ones taste!

    You could make a double batch of muffins and freeze them in family-sized portions to be pulled out the night before.

    Also, have you tried baking your own bread, or a bakery outlet for inexpensive, more nutritious bread? I usually bake my own bread, but sometimes I go to the outlet and buy a bunch and double wrap it in plastic bags for the freezer.

    Good luck with your debt and breakfasts! We're making progress on ours as well. My family only likes to eat sugary cereal, so I'm constantly trying out new breakfasts to try to give them healthier options. I wish they didn't know that it was pretty cheap to get with coupons if you wait for a deal.

  11. Hash brown with onions and greens is really cheap. I get potatoes at $0.15 to $0.20 per pound.
    I also make my own granola. I buy 25lb bags for $14 and it lasts 3 to 4 months. The honey i buy at Costco 3lbs for $12.
    I also make pancakes from scratch.
    Making your own bread saves lot of money and when we are in a hurry we have toast with homemade jam and tea.


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