One of our favorite breakfasts is Greek yogurt topped with a little drizzle of honey and some granola. The frugal zealot in me objects to paying $4.50 for a 28-ounce box of granola because it works out to 16 cents an ounce, which is not within my acceptable price range for prepared breakfast cereals (see this post for more information). However, because we don’t eat it as a main dish, but rather as a crunchy garnish, a box lasts a long time. It’s worth it.
My real problem with store-bought anything is the ingredient list, and in the case of most commercial granolas, my concern is the oils used, namely canola and sunflower. In the last two years, as I’ve continued to study diet and health, I’ve completely eliminated canola (which I previously used quite a lot), and all vegetable oils from our diet because of their high levels of omega 6 fatty acids, which exacerbate inflammation in the body. The only fats I use in cooking are butter and olive oil, and occasionally coconut oil. My biggest stumbling block in eliminating canola oil was that I couldn’t find an acceptable substitute for baking until I discovered Bertolli Extra-Light Tasting olive oil. It’s true that light olive oil is more refined, and therefore not as healthy as extra-virgin olive oil, but in baking it’s more desirable because it imparts no discernible olive oil flavor, and it certainly beats genetically modified canola! I love it so much that I buy it in large, 1.5-liter bottles ($15 each at Target). I even use it to make my own spreadable butter, in lieu of buying expensive spreadable butters or oil blends like Smart Balance. It’s very easy – for every cup of softened butter, I gradually blend in 3/4 cup of olive oil with my electric mixer. I also add a little pinch of sea salt for flavor, since I always buy local, unsalted butter in large quantities at the Amish grocery.
Another problem I have with most store-bought granola cereals is that they contain nuts, which my husband can no longer eat because he has diverticular disease. He really loves granola, and I found a nut-free variety (Cascadian Farm Organic), but it also contains unhealthy sunflower oil and is even more expensive at 19 cents per ounce. So, as I always do, I decided that I should at least try my hand at making homemade granola. I have perfected homemade granola bars, so I figured it couldn’t be that difficult, and I was right. It’s actually super easy, and way more delicious than any brand of store-bought granola I’ve ever tried. But cheaper? No. Healthier? Absolutely.
I read the ingredients list on a box of Cascadian Farm granola, and it seemed very simple to duplicate at home. I also read several granola recipes online to get an idea of proper proportions, and went from there. This is what I came up with.
3 cups rolled oats (64 cents)
2 cups crisp rice cereal (27 cents)
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut (85 cents)
1/4 cup brown sugar (10 cents)
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons extra light tasting olive oil (88 cents)
1/4 cup pure maple syrup (99 cents)
1 teaspoon sea salt (9 cents)
Total price: $3.82 for 23 ounces, or 17 cents per ounce. Not as cheap as the cheapest commercial granola I’ve found, but 2 cents per ounce cheaper than Cascadian Farm, and there are no unhealthy oils so I consider this a win! The fact is that while foods made from scratch are frequently much cheaper than their store-bought counterparts, this is not always the case, which is why it’s important to know your unit prices and do the math. Homemade food IS generally much healthier though, and in my opinion this makes it worth the extra effort even if the savings are minimal (or non-existent). For example, on a post I wrote about how cutting convenience foods can help your grocery budget, a reader disagreed with me because she could buy Betty Crocker instant potato mixes for only 22 cents after coupons. My argument was that if this kind of food is a regular part of her diet instead of an occasional convenience, the insanely high amount of sodium, and the myriad of unpronounceable ingredients would make those 22-cent potatoes very costly in the long run in terms of health problems and medical bills.
Anyway, I guess I should step off my soap box now and tell you how to make granola, yes?
First, preheat the oven to 250 degrees F. In a large bowl, combine oats, rice cereal, coconut, and brown sugar.
In a measuring cup, whisk together the oil, maple syrup, and salt. Pour over oat mixture and toss with a large spoon to coat.
Spread on two large baking sheets, and bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, stirring once every half hour. I used Silpats, but the granola that fell off them didn’t stick, so I don’t think it’s necessary to grease your baking sheets.
A few tips:
– This makes a large batch, but it keeps very well in a Ziploc bag in the freezer.
– If you prefer, you can substitute honey for half the maple syrup.
– You can also substitute one cup of your favorite nuts (slivered almonds, cashews, pecans) for one cup of the rice cereal. Don’t omit it entirely though! It adds a wonderful, light crispiness to the finished granola.
– After baking, you can also mix in a cup of your favorite dried fruit (raisins, apricots, cherries, cranberries). My kids also enjoy adding semi-sweet chocolate chips.