I have, in my kitchen, an enormous bag of thick-cut, organic oatmeal, which cost me $28.60; $1.14 per pound. We eat it for breakfast three or four times a week, and I put the leftover oatmeal in our bread, and occasionally make a batch of granola or a fruit crisp. I can't be sure, but I think I spend about 15 cents per serving, not counting milk and maple syrup or honey we drizzle on top (or pour, in the case of my sweet-toothed little boys).

At most, for the most luxurious glug of organic maple syrup: 50 cents per bowl. And yes, it takes time: at night I dump the oatmeal in a bowl with warm water and leave it on the counter to soak overnight (this takes all of 30 seconds); and I have to heat up water in a pan in the morning (15 seconds) and then stir it occasionally (another 30 seconds).

Run the numbers on instant oatmeal, as Chaz did at PayLess for Food. A similar-sized serving of Quaker's instant microwaveable oatmeal (two packets equals one of my six-year-old's typical bowls) costs about 75 cents, plus milk; round up to a dollar per bowl. Twice as much, and way more convenient, right?

Well, not so much. You still have to dump oatmeal in a bowl with milk or water (30 seconds), microwave for a minute or two, stir (15 seconds) and serve. You save 30 seconds of active time (and no, you don't have to think ahead, except by buying the oatmeal in the first place). You pay 50 cents per serving for 30 seconds of your time (and untold loss in quality of product and nutritional content). Use it well.

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