Thursday, April 7, 2011

Cereal Sort of Smackdown

Cheap Eat Challenge: How does a family of 6 eat on $6/day (or, you know, pretty close)? Find out.

For the last 3 months, I've been buying 4-6 boxes of breakfast cereal from Aldi. Four to six boxes equals about 10 mornings, and that's if not everybody eats cereal (I personally cannot stand most cereals, especially of the Aldi variety). The other 20 or so days, I cook something. I don't usually mind. It's been good--very good--for my kids to realize that they can eat something besides cereal for breakfast and live to tell the tale. In fact, if nothing else, I'm glad I've been cooking breakfast (and I will continue to sometimes cook breakfast) just so my kids remember that they can be flexible, that they can try different things, and that they can be gracious and grateful when someone puts forth some effort to make something for them. And if they're not, they can not eat. Which is an option they sometimes choose. They live to tell that tale too. And usually the next time they eat what is given to them.

However, there have been days--those days. I'm pretty sure you know the kind I mean. On those days, it's been hard to drag out of bed and whip up some pancakes so we can keep on our cheapskate track. And I started wondering just how much I was saving through suffering through those days.

In addition to assuming that making breakfast is cheaper, I've also assumed it to be healthier. But I thought I ought to take a look. This list is imperfect and certainly incomplete, and I'm sure it doesn't take every factor into account. The amounts figured below are for what would feed our whole family for 1 morning. It doesn't include sides like milk, unless stated. I've listed them in order of frequency eaten as breakfast in these parts.

Aldi honey nut cereal with milk: $1.75
This is the cheapest whole grain choice at Aldi. It's about 12 oz. of cereal. These have about 2 tsp sugar per serving.

Pancakes with enough syrup to satisfy my crew: $1.35
My crew needs a lot of syrup to satisfy it. I estimated about 1/4 C syrup for the kids per serving, which is a whopping 4 Tbsp (10 tsp) sugar, or the recommended daily amount (per the World Health Organization). My pancakes are 100% whole wheat.

Breakfast Cookies: $1.50 (for 15 double chocolate cookies)
These usually have 1 tsp sugar per serving and are all whole grain. The chocolate ones contains some antioxidants from the cocoa. (Some of the others have vegetables/purees in them and some of the others have peanut butter.)

Muffins: $1.20 (oatmeal)
About 1 tsp sugar per serving and half whole grain. Other muffins we make are also low in sugar and usually 100% whole grain, but adding bananas, pumpkin, or zucchini to the muffins takes the price up quite a bit as well.

Oatmeal with enough brown sugar to appease the minions: $.70
Again, the minions need lots of brown sugar. I don't even want to know how much Kip uses. He pours it on, eats of the top layer, pours more on, eats that off, etc. The kids probably eat 1-2 Tbsp per serving on theirs or 2-5 tsp sugar. The other problem with oatmeal is that not all my kids will eat it. Mark will refuse it outright all the time and Elizabeth is spotty in her willingness to consume something so wholesome looking.

Toast with butter and jam: $.83
About 1 tsp sugar per serving and entirely whole grain. Again, Mark won't eat it and Elizabeth only under dire circumstances. (Are we spoiled? Yes, we are.)

Blender waffles with butter and syrup: $1.75
As much sugar as the pancakes and these are not whole grain the way I make them, although they are a good source of protien and even calcium. However, I don't make them in the mornings. I don't wake up early enough, so for us they remain a dinnertime treat. Considering the amount of sugars we place atop them, they should be relegated to dessert fare, but then I'd have a mutiny on my hands.

Eggs (10) with ketchup (ketchup is a necessary egg accompaniment in this house): $1.20
Again, this is dinner food in my house. Mostly, because I don't like eggs in the morning--they just don't sit well with me first thing in the day, ketchup or no ketchup (I usually eat mine without, for the record). If we did, they would be cheap, high protien, and low sugar. But folks might want some toast to go with.

Below you'll find them listed from most expensive to least:

1. Aldi cereal.
Blender waffles.

2. Breakfast cookies.

3. Pancakes.

4. Eggs.
Oatmeal muffins.

5. Toast with jam.

6. Oatmeal with sugar.

Now, before I go any further, let me say this: Cereal can break your budget. I am using Aldi cereals, which are super cheap compared to most others. You can buy cereals using coupons and save a lot of money in that way, but I've noticed that the cereals most often couponed are high sugar and low or no whole grain, so coupons can be great, but must be used carefully. Furthermore, cereals are often chock full of sketchy ingredients like corn syrup, artificial colors and flavorings and who knows what else. The other problem I have had with cereal is that, for children (and possibly husbands as well), it can be addictive. Your family will start to only want cereal--coupon or no coupon, Aldi or no Aldi. Manners and frugality will be thrown to the wind and you'll all wind up at the WIC office begging for Fruit Loops while the CEO's at Kelloggs snorg pink milk through their noses in triumph. And I don't think anyone wants to see a scene that messy.

However. Some cereal some of the time certainly has its place, even in a cheapskate's budget. It's a place I plan to take advantage of.

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