Sunday, October 9, 2011

Instant Breakfast

My very first Extreme Couponing score was about 4 years ago, in my early weeks of couponing. Fry's was running a sale that made cereal $1.00/box when you purchased four. After purchase, a coupon spit out of the catalina machine offering $4 off 4 boxes of cereal. Not sure the details are exact, but that's pretty close. The store limited me to one transaction per shopping trip. I had coupons clipped from the paper which made the first four boxes about $2 total. After that, the cereal was free.

I passed a lot of Fry's stores in my daily commutes, and I ducked into every single one of them every single time I passed them. I did that all week, squirreling the boxes in my pantry, certain every time I walked out of the store, buzzers would sound, lights would flash and I'd find Phoenix's Finest waiting in the parking lot with handcuffs and a copy of my Miranda rights. They didn't. It was legal and legit and it yielded me something close to 200 boxes of cereal.

I was hooked. Sometimes, in the years that followed, boxed cereal would end up free, but never as free as it was in those heady weeks when I first discovered the power of coupon clipping. I got lots of other stuff free over those years - Toaster Strudels and granola bars, sweet rolls in a tube and Pop Tarts.

Fast forward to present day. Those 200 boxes of cereal are long-ago eaten or donated, and cereal hasn't been free with coupons for a very long time. Weird thing about clipping coupons, having purchased an item for free, I find it difficult to shell out cold hard cash for it in the future. The kids ate their way through the Cocoa Puffs, Fruity Pebbles and Cap'n Crunch, their expressions becoming more forlorn as they worked their way down through the Honey Bunches of Oats and Frosted Mini-Wheats until all that remained were Plain Cheerios, Shredded Wheat and Grape-Nuts.

The kids turned up their noses and ate leftovers for breakfast. They grabbed bananas, ate the occasional poached egg, begged off their friends and complained they were HUNGRY.

I didn't care. I'd read the ingredients list on all those boxes of free cereal, those free rolls of sweet biscuits, those free sugared fruit-filled pies and came to a conclusion: I'd overpaid. The kids weren't hungry, they were jonesing. In my desire to take the grocery receipt to zero, I was feeding my kids a daily sugar fix sprinkled with rice powder.

Time to go all old-fashioned on their backsides. I broke out the oatmeal. I jazzed it with fruit and nuts and plenty of honey. Most days, my husband and I were the only ones eating it, but in time, the kids came around. The Battle of Breakfast was over.

Today, I  buy our oat groats in bulk at the Honeyville Grain store in Chandler. The non-sale price on a 50 pound bag is $32.39. Given a 1-oz serving, the bag provides 800 servings, or enough for 200 days of breakfast for my family of four.

I cook the groats once a week in my slow cooker. I use my slap-chop to cut the apples and walnuts and almonds into bite-sized pieces. I add raisins and cranberries, sometimes a dollop of vanilla. Non-fat powdered milk powder provides additional protein, as well as a rich creaminess and enough natural sweetness, when coupled with the fruit, that added honey or agave nectar isn't always necessary. Prep time is about five minutes.

I store the concoction in mason jars in the fridge and every morning the kids scoop what they want into a bowl, add a little regular milk and eat happy.

Aside from the money, here's what I save by doing breakfast the old-fashioned way:

1) Hours spent clipping coupons and analyzing store ads to find the deals.
2) Time and gas expended ducking in and out of stores to purchase the deals.
3) Guilt over feeding my kids bowls of sugar instead of bowls of nutrition.
4) Pounds of cardboard cereal boxes clogging my recycling bin - the groats come in a single recyclable paper bag.
5) Acres of shelf space in my pantry on which I can store more nutritious options for my family.

Honeyville Grains sells online, but the prices in their retail locations are far cheaper. Retail stores are located in Utah and California. The Arizona location is in Chandler, an easy trip from both Phoenix and Tucson, and one well-worth making. Honeyville in Chandler does sales twice a month. Get on their mailing list. You won't regret it.

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