I remember eating instant oatmeal almost every morning growing up. My favorite flavor was maple brown sugar. If the dark brown packages were gone, I’d choose cinnamon and spice next. It was a special occasion if we had any of the fruit and cream ones (I’d choose blueberry).
I’d gently rip open a package (after learning the hard way what happens if you tear too fast), pour it into my favorite bowl and cook it myself in the microwave. I’d sit on one side of a massive, round, farmhouse-style table in the kitchen and watch “The Bozo Show” on a small, black and white TV sitting on a bench on the other side of the table.
I felt like such a big kid being awake before everyone else, making my breakfast all by myself. Like my mom trusted me (and my cooking skills) enough not to set the house on fire.
My heart certainly isn’t ready for my kids to grow up (will it ever?), but I know it’s in their best interest to teach them how to be a more independent. The first day of school is next week, and I figure there’s no better time nor no better starting place than homemade instant oatmeal for breakfast.
Of course they’ll learn a bit of independence from packing their own school lunches, but that’s different. I’ll still be there, preparing some of the options, helping them make right choices and showing them how to make everything fit in their lunchbox.
But opening a packet of oatmeal, pouring it into a bowl, adding water and cooking it all by themselves… well, that’s different. I know what that feels like, and I’m ready for them to experience this like I did each morning before getting ready for school.
Nostalgia aside, I think this might help our mornings go a bit smoother too.
I didn’t know it at the time, but store-bought instant oatmeal contained quite a bit of sugar… at least much more than what was needed in each 3 tablespoon serving. It’s no wonder that maple and BROWN SUGAR was my favorite flavor and that the plain packets would sit untouched in the boxes for weeks.
Now, I’m not condoning sweetener in oatmeal. Oh no no no… in fact, adding a teaspoon (or two) of brown sugar was the ONLY way I could get the kids to eat oatmeal for breakfast for a REALLY long time. It was a small concession I had to make when we first started transitioning to real food.
Gradually though, the amount of brown sugar in each bowl became less and less. Now (3+ years later) the kids don’t add any sweetener at all (I still add maple syrup to mine though – old habits die hard).
My point though is that I like to be able to control the type of sweetener in the oatmeal and how much we add. This is MUCH easier to do when we make homemade instant oatmeal ourselves rather than trying to do some crazy math conversion of grams per serving into teaspoons so we can tangibly understand how much sugar is in each little packet… all before we’ve had a full cup of coffee, no less.
By the way, ever notice that there isn’t a percentage daily value for sugar on nutrition labels? Food for thought…
Plus making our own homemade instant oatmeal packets means making whatever flavors we want, never running out of our favorite flavor, avoiding unnecessary additives and saving money. Truly a win all around!
The Ultimate Guide to Homemade Instant Oatmeal Packets
The Basic Recipe
I like to use rolled oats because they’re less processed than instant oats and more affordable than steel cut. I did a write up on the difference between the types of oatmeal here, if you want to read more.
The amount of oats you use will depend on the age of your kids, but I’ve found these measurements worked for our family:
- 1-3 years old: 1/4 cup
- 3-5 years old: 1/3 cup
- 5-7 years old: 1/2 cup
Tip: Want your oatmeal to taste more like the commercial kind? Add 1 tablespoon oat flour per 1/2 cup of oats!
Dried Fruit (vs. Freeze Dried vs. Fresh)
A good rule of thumb is to use a ratio of 1:2 for dried fruit to oats. For example, my kids are eating 1/4 dried fruit with 1/2 cup of oats for breakfast. The dried fruit measurement should be total, so reduce as necessary (or not!) if you’re mixing/matching flavor combinations.
I use dehydrated fruit in this recipe because the point is to make several bags ahead of time. If your kids don’t mind adding fresh fruit to oats (and you’re comfortable with them potentially needing a knife without you supervising), feel free to use whatever fresh fruit you have on hand. For weekdays and fostering independence at my kids’ young age, I personally prefer the dried fruit route.
You can also use freeze dried fruit, although it’s pricier. Homemade dehydrated fruit is by far the most frugal option.
You have two options to turn any recipe into an “and cream” version:
- Add 1 Tbsp powdered milk to the dry components, OR
- Substitute 1/4 cup milk for water in cooking
Adding powdered milk to the individual packets is easier for the kids. They continue to choose a packet and make it the same, every time.
Using milk in cooking is the healthier option, since you eliminate the slightly processed powdered milk, but is likely more difficult for smaller kids with both measuring and pouring from a potentially heavy and full container of milk. (Tip for pouring liquids at the bottom of the post!)
Simply choose whichever is best for you in this season. Either option is better than store-bought!
If you add nuts, add them after cooking otherwise they loose their crunch and don’t taste nearly as good. We only add nuts on purpose when making the Amish flavor (my favorite right now, recipe below), otherwise we wait until there’s only crumbs left in the packages of nuts and then add those to the packages.
You can increase the nutritional value of oatmeal by adding 1 tablespoon of chia seed, flax seed, oat bran, hemp hearts, sunflower seeds or any other seed you have.
Chia seeds will absorb quite a bit of moisture as they cook and sit, so you might need to add more liquid up front. Flax seed and oat bran will absorb a little, hemp hearts and sunflower seeds won’t absorb any at all.
I mentioned earlier that you should not feel guilty for adding sweetener if it means oatmeal for breakfast. I’ve found that one teaspoon of brown sugar OR 1 tablespoon of maple syrup tends to be sufficient when you’re combining it with the naturally sweet dried fruit.
Although healthier, I purposely don’t use coconut sugar, palm sugar or any other less processed granulated sugar in oatmeal. I’ve found that these sweeteners aren’t as sweet, which means having to use more to please the taste buds.
Personally, I’d rather use less sugar than more, even if it means using a less healthier option during the transition. Plus the “healthy” sugars cost twice as much, a fact you can’t overlook when you’re trying making one of the most frugal breakfasts known to man.
Whichever you decide, add dry sugar to the dry packets or maple syrup (or honey, if you prefer) just after cooking. Like adding cream, choose whichever fits the cooking capabilities of your kids right now.
A little bit of spice goes a long way in a small package of oatmeal, so start with 1/4 teaspoon and add more from there. Cinnamon is the most popular spice, but you can add pumpkin, apple pie spice or mix/match cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and all-spice from the cabinet.
Salt is also an option, although personally we don’t add any. A pinch per packet will enhance the flavor, but anymore will simply make it salty. Use cautiously and remember that you can always add more if you want.
This is totally optional, but one tablespoon of butter or coconut oil is a tasty option. My daughter likes butter in her oatmeal, but my son doesn’t. Obviously this is something you can’t add to dry packets, so your kids should be old enough to be able to measure butter or coconut oil on their own if you want this in their oatmeal (as well as get it down from the pantry or find it in the fridge).
With the basics out of the way, here comes the fun part! Homemade instant oatmeal comes with UNLIMITED flavor combinations. My kids helped me choose the flavors for these photos, and it was so neat watch their little wheels turn as they paired fruits and spices, each to suit their own unique personality.
The most frugal option is to make your oatmeal based on what you already have in the house, but I’ve also together a few combinations for those parents who struggle with creativity in the kitchen.
Basic Homemade Instant Oatmeal Flavors
- Strawberries / Blueberries / Peaches & Cream: 1/4 cup dehydrated fruit + cream option
- Apples & Cinnamon: 1/4 cup dehydrated apples + 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- Raisins & Spice: 1/4 cup raisins + 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- Banana Bread: 1/4 cup dehydrated bananas + 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- Amish Style: 2 Tbsp raisins + 2 Tbsp dehydrated apples + 1/4 tsp cinnamon + 2 Tbsp chopped pecans
If you’re looking for fancier flavors, search the web. From cherry almond to caramel cashew, there are some seriously awesome ideas out there.
In the end, add whatever you want – that’s the beauty of doing it yourself! Besides, we’re not that fancy. Sticking to basic dried fruit + spice and/or cream makes it easier to make a big batch of these up front (meaning less work for breakfast with each subsequent week!).
Assembling the Packets
The easiest way is to mix it all up in a big huge bowl and portion out a heaping scoop into a plastic baggie (which you can re-use for future batches of instant oatmeal, by the way). But if you’re looking for a more hands-on activity, or are type-A when it comes to the ratio of fruit to oats (like me), here’s the method I use:
- Pull out all of your coffee mugs from cabinet and set them on the floor.
- Either you or a bigger kid, measure oats into each mug. (I don’t recommend letting the little ones do this part. Tiny flecks of rolled oats on the floor is a HUGE pain to clean up.)
- Let the smaller kids measure the dried fruit and/or nuts into each mug. Tip: Give them the appropriate measuring tool and tell them how many scoops per mug.
- Finish off with the sweetener and/or powdered milk (if using either).
- Have a child hold open a baggie while you empty each mug into it. Using a funnel makes this easier.
- Seal the bags and store in a basket, on a shelf in the pantry that the kids can see and reach.
I once timed this process to see how long it took to make homemade instant oatmeal packets. In one hour, we made enough for six weeks worth of breakfast. How’s that for time well spent!
Tip: Reader Cheri shared this awesome tip – instead of measuring into the mug and then pouring into the baggie, place the baggie INTO the mug – essentially lining the mug with the baggies – and then measuring the ingredients directly into the bag. When you’re done, pull it out, zip it up and your mugs are still clean. Pure genius if you ask me – thank you Cheri!
Making the Oatmeal
You can always boil water on the stove and add it to the dry oatmeal, but I don’t let my kids cook on the stove without me so that won’t work for us.
Instead, I showed them how to:
- Empty a oatmeal packet into a bowl
- Add 3/4 cup water and stir
- Place bowl in the microwave and cook for 1 minute
- Open microwave and stir
- Cooking again for 30 seconds, if needed
- Removing hot bowl from microwave, stirring and letting it cool
- Moving the oatmeal from the counter to the table
We’ve walked through this process – step by step – a few times this past week so that next week they’ll know how to do it on their own.
More Tips to Make it Easier in the Morning
- Set out everything the kids will need for breakfast the night before: bowls, spoons, measuring cups and basket of oatmeal.
- Plug in the microwave if you know the kids will be awake before you.
- If your keep your water in a large jug or something that isn’t very kid-friendly, consider pouring some into a glass for them to measure from.
- Even better, measure the water for them into glass the night before. Then in the morning they simply empty the glass into the bowl and they’re done!
If you’re not sure if your kids are ready to handle breakfast on their own, another awesome option is to make these packets but cook them individually in the slow cooker. You empty the packet and add water. They take the jar out in the morning. Shoot, we might do this option anyway since it’s so easy!
Homemade instant oatmeal packets are an easy way to fuel the kids before their day starts, and with the prep work done ahead of time, it makes mornings a bit smoother too!
What was (or is!) your favorite flavor of oatmeal?
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