Oatmeal is probably the cheapest breakfast food on the planet. Give your kids a couple "toppings" options and they'll think they are eating ice cream sundaes for breakfast. Ok, not really. I'll be honest, oatmeal, even the good steel cut stuff, is not the favorite breakfast food for my family, but they still eat it. Everyone has their favorite toppings. Sometimes I give options, other days not.
Here's what we put on our oatmeal:
butter, of course!
fresh fruit, like strawberries or diced apples
whatever seems like it might taste yummy
You're probably wondering why the quotes around the maple syrup. Well, it isn't real maple syrup. It's my homemade version. Real maple syrup, while very delicious takes a big hunk out of the food budget. We use syrup for oatmeal, pancakes, waffles and french toast. A jug of syrup does not make it long with 7 people, 5 of whom are under 18, using it.
For a while, I bought the generic fake syrup from the grocery store, but the fact that high fructose corn syrup was the main ingredient just kept eating at me. We are not HFC purists; we still eat foods that contain it, but we do try to avoid it when we can. I started looking for options and found one which is much better for us (not as good as real maple syrup, I know), is EASY to make and tastes really great. My version also costs less than the fake syrup from the store. Bonus!
1 c dark brown sugar (light works too, but dark tastes better)
1 c white sugar
1 c water
1 T butter
1 t vanilla
Put everything into a medium saucepan and stir over medium heat until dissolved. Bring to a boil for a minute or two. Turn the heat down to very low, just above simmer, and let it cook for about 20 minutes. Put a lid on the pot when the mixture has stopped boiling. Don't stick the lid on right when you turn the heat down - TRUST ME ON THIS! Your syrup will boil over and it is not fun to clean up burned sugar from the crevices of your stove top. I speak from experience unfortunately.
The syrup will thicken as it cooks.
After about 20 minutes, remove from heat and add butter and vanilla. That's it! You can use it right away or store it in the fridge. If I'm not using it right away, I let it cool and then pour it into a 1 quart canning jar and pop it into the fridge. When we need syrup for pancakes and such, I pour some into a small pitcher or glass measuring cup to warm it up and serve it.
I always double this recipe when I make it...we use lots of syrup. The double batch fits into a quart sized jar. I'd suggest only making a single batch to start to allow you to get the hang of it. If you cook it longer, the syrup will be thicker. However, if you don't use the syrup in a reasonable amount of time, it will start to crystallize a bit in the jar. Syrup that looks longer will crystallize faster. Real maple syrup does this, too. That's just part of being a sticky liquid whose main ingredients are sugar and water.