Thursday, February 15, 2007

Oh, the things you can bake!

Nutrition experts tell us that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. For the frugal set, breakfast is often the last meal considered when trying to trim grocery expenditures. There are good reasons for this: breakfast is usually eaten at home by most members of the family; we're often in a big hurry in the morning, with little time for anything but a convenient meal. Still, there are good ways to economize on this meal without resorting to junk food. In fact, it's pretty easy to improve on the nutrition offered at breakfast with a homemade baked good.

As I became a more frugal person, changes happened gradually. First I looked for the best unit price on the cereal I liked to eat. Then I looked for cheaper cereals. But at some point, I got my calculator and my kitchen scale out and worked out that even at the best prices I could find for cereal and milk, my modest breakfast portions were costing us about $1.30 per day. That's when I decided to find out what a few home baked alternatives would cost.

I started with morning glory muffins, because I knew that my husband and I liked them. I also knew that they contained good things: shredded carrots and apple, dried fruit, nuts and eggs. If your not familiar with morning glory muffins, think of them as something like a gourmet carrot cake in miniature form. After making a double-sized batch of these delicious treats, I divided my ingredient costs by the number of muffins I got, and found that each muffin had cost me about 36 cents. And I had paid for organic products for almost every ingredient. In other words, each muffin represented a savings of almost $1 per breakfast, per person. Now, I'll grant you that these muffins were not huge. And their sheer deliciousness sometimes makes my husband and I want more than one for breakfast, especially if we're gearing up for a day of physical activity. Yet even if we each had two muffins per day, we still saved about $1.16 between the two of us. Assuming that we each ate two of these muffins every single day instead of a bowl of cereal, that's almost $425 saved in our household per year - with organic ingredients.

I soon cut the nuts out of my recipe, because I didn't feel they added all that much to the muffins, and they're a very costly ingredient. This resulted in further savings. If you choose not to bake with organic ingredients, your own savings using this recipe would be even higher. I also started costing out some other baked goods that would be suitable for breakfasts. It was clear that even 36 cents per serving could be improved upon without causing any apparent hardship. In fact, my husband vastly prefers one of my baked goods to breakfast cereal. He can grab a muffin or a scone on his way out the door and he's good to go.

I have started to keep a steady inventory of morning glory muffins, buttermilk scones and also sourdough English muffins in my chest freezer. I've costed out each of these, and the morning glory muffin is by far the most expensive of them. It's true that it takes some time and effort to make all these items. But because they all freeze so well, they can still be convenient breakfasts if you can devote part of a weekend afternoon to making big batches to store away for later in the week or month. So now, instead of looking at home-baked muffins and scones as special treats, we see them as healthy, thrifty and convenient staples of our diet.

Tomorrow I'll post some of my recipes, along with an explanation of how I cost out a recipe.

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