The Savvy Way I Make a Box of Cereal Last Nearly Twice as Long

published Oct 3, 2023
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Cereal being poured into bowl.
Credit: Joe Lingeman

When money is tight, there’s no stretch I won’t try to save a buck or two. Who hasn’t added water to their soap dispenser before realizing how ineffectual that is? Suds aside, there are some practical ways to dilute pricey staples — like bulking up meals with cheaper ingredients (lentils, beans, rice, or pasta) or swapping meat for beans or mushrooms — that can even (*gasp*) improve them. 

For me, it’s mixing expensive breakfast cereals with good-quality plain or generic ones. Not only does it taste better, but it’s also cut my cereal budget by roughly a third. 

Credit: Su-Jit Lin

Why I Started Mixing Cheap Cereals with Pricey Ones

Inflation has hit nearly every square foot in our grocery stores, and the cereal aisle is no exception. Just in the last year, the price of cereal (and bakery products) rose seven percent, according to an August report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Many of us are now paying up to seven dollars for a standard-sized box of cereal! If you didn’t see the $$$ on your bill, you may have felt it in your pantry, thanks to shrinkflation, aka when companies reduce the quantities while prices remain consistent. 

I may live in the South now, but the native New Yorker in me can’t help but go, “Get outta here.” 

Yet I won’t give it up. I absolutely adore cereal. I eat it for breakfast, of course, as a snack, dinner, dessert, you name it. I also find most are at least a tad too sweet (and this isn’t just my inner Asian grandma coming out!). Mixing any number of my favorite cereals with a less sweet variety helps significantly with flavor balance; I can customize the bowl based on my preference that day. It also helps cut down on my sugar intake.

Credit: Su-Jit Lin

My Favorite Cereals to Buy for Mixing

I’ve been doing this for more than four years, and in that time I’ve curated a selection of three plain, easy-to-acquire, low-cost cereals — corn flakes, bran flakes, and Original Cheerios — for my extensive library of 10+ name-brand cereals (I told you I liked cereal!). They each represent some of the textures and flavors most commonly found in pricier cereals, but are neutral enough to bulk up my bowls. Plus, they’re typically easy to find across the country.

  • Corn flakes: Personally, I like Aldi’s Millville brand corn flakes; at under $2 for 18 ounces it’s one of the most budget-friendly options I’ve found. Plus, the use of milled corn versus finer ground cornmeal offers a more robust corn flavor.
  • Bran flakes: I keep Millville bran flakes (another Aldi buy) on hand for the fiber boost, its earthy taste, and hearty structure. It costs a few cents more than the corn flakes, but is still considerably less than other high-fiber flakes from other brands.
  • Original Cheerios: I grab the generic brand when I’m out and in a pinch, but these Cheerios go on sale often enough that I can usually stock up at a price that’s comparable to less-expensive versions.
Credit: Su-Jit Lin

The Best Cereal Mash-Ups

Big cereal manufacturers have entire teams of food scientists mixing and matching ingredients to create the most appealing combos. So rather than reinventing the wheel, I follow their lead and think of the plain cereal as an enhancement to their original recipes.

For instance, corn flakes are a natural choice for pairing with sweeter, lighter flakes, like frosted flakes, any boxes with honey granola clusters, and airy corn-flavored cereals, like Crispix or Corn Pops. They go really well with cereals that have a variety of mixed textures, including various kinds of Special K, Great Grains, and, my latest favorite, Sweet Dreams Blueberry Midnight, a cereal designed specially for midnight munchers like me. Corn flakes also lighten up heavier, denser cereals, like ones with added protein in their flakes, organic blueberry clusters (another pricey favorite), or any granola-like type, like Kashi’s GO line or a classic that has neither grapes nor nuts

Similarly, I use bran flakes to make lighter cereals more robust and, therefore, more filling, as well as to increase my fiber intake. They’re also an obvious add-in to Raisin Bran, and go a long way when mixed with organic fancy multigrain flakes and the “breakfast of champions,” and add textural interest to those tiny boxes of Wheat Chex. My personal favorite combo, however, is pairing generic bran- and corn flakes with extra-juicy Dole raisins for a blend that’s lower in added sugar but higher in natural sugar (I like a lot of raisins).

Credit: Su-Jit Lin

Finally, Cheerios (or the generic equivalent) play well with any flavored namesake: Honey Nut, Multigrain, frosted, seasonal varieties, and the entire Oat Crunch line. That’s an obvious win, but you should also consider making Lucky Charms more magically delicious by cutting them with Cheerios. The frosted oats found in the rainbow-adorned box are essentially the same thing as the original Os, just lightly glazed; Cheerios level that sugary spoonful right out, as they do for Apple Jacks, Froot Loops, Honey Ohs!, and Kix.

If your primary goal is to stretch that cereal budget, I found a one-to-two ratio (budget buy to name-brand fave) helps the star cereal shine. (You can save even more coins by using store-brand dupes that ring up for a fraction of the price. There might be some minor flavor differences, but the ratio disguises them seamlessly.) To dial back sweetness further, a one-to-one ratio often does the trick. 

What smart tips are helping you stretch your grocery dollars? Tell us in the comments below.