While convenience products provide tasty shortcuts, it's good to know how to make things yourself. This time of year, families tend to buy more boxed, flavored instant oatmeal and canned cream soups. I'm sharing two recipes you can make at home.

Instant Oatmeal
3 cups quick-cooking oats
8 small zip baggies

In a blender, blend 1/2 cup oats on high until powdery. Set aside in a small bowl and repeat procedure with an additional 1/2 cup oats. If you're using a food processor, you can blend 1 cup of oats in one batch. Put the following ingredients into each zip baggie: 1/4 cup un-powdered oats, 2 tablespoons powdered oats, and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Store in an airtight container.
To serve: Empty packet into a bowl. Add 3/4 cup boiling water. Stir and let stand for 2 minutes. For thicker oatmeal, use less water -- for thinner oatmeal, use more water.

-- Apple-Cinnamon Oatmeal: To each packet add 1 tablespoon sugar, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, and 2 tablespoons chopped dried apples.
-- Brown Sugar/Cinnamon Oatmeal: To each packet add 1 tablespoon brown sugar and 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon.
-- Oatmeal with Raisins and Brown Sugar: To each packet add 1 tablespoon packed brown sugar and 1 tablespoon raisins.
-- Health Nut Oatmeal: To each packet add 2 tablespoons wheat germ.
-- Fruit and Cream Oatmeal: To each packet add 1 tablespoon non-dairy coffee creamer and dried fruit.
-- Confetti Oatmeal: To each packet, add 1 teaspoon decorative ice cream/cookie sprinkles.
-- S'mores Oatmeal: Add miniature marshmallows and 1 tablespoon milk chocolate chips to each packet.
-- Cookies and Cream Oatmeal: Add 1 crushed Oreo cookie and 1 tablespoon non-dairy coffee creamer to each packet. -- Ashe, Florida

Added flavor tip:

I make homemade applesauce every few weeks. To store the applesauce, I pour it into ice cube trays and freeze it, then I store it in Ziploc bags (easier to thaw than having one huge chunk of apple ice). One morning, I ran out of regular ice cubes, which my kids use to cool off their oatmeal. I tossed in an applesauce ice cube with just a little cinnamon sugar, and it was an instant hit! They request it that way often! -- Sarah, Illinois

Homemade Cream-Soup Mix:
2 cups powdered nonfat milk
3/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup vegetable or chicken instant powdered bouillon
2 tablespoons dried onion flakes
1 teaspoon celery flakes
1 teaspoon basil leaves
1 teaspoon thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 cup mashed potato flakes

Combine all ingredients, mixing well. Store in airtight container until ready to use. To substitute for 1 can of soup, combine 1/3 cup dry mix with 1-1/4 cups cold water and 1/2 tablespoon butter in a saucepan. Cook and stir until thickened. Use as you would canned soups. Makes the equivalent of nine cans of soup. -- Angela, New York

-- Vegetable: Add 1 cup cooked mixed vegetables.
-- Mushroom: Add 1/2 cup sauteed chopped mushrooms.
-- Celery: Add 1/2 cup sauteed, minced celery.
-- Potato: Add 1 cup diced, cooked potatoes.
-- Broccoli: Add 1 cup chopped, cooked broccoli.
-- Asparagus: Add 1 cup chopped, cooked asparagus.
-- Chicken: Add 1/2 cup finely diced, cooked chicken.
-- Roasted Garlic: Add 1 or 2 roasted garlic cloves.
-- Onion: Add 1/4 cup sauteed, chopped onions.

You can combine ingredients such as chicken and broccoli or mushroom and garlic for added flavor

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