Oatmeal retains its popularity

Old-fashioned hot cereals seem a nostalgic memory, since today's technologists have shaved preparation time down to a matter of seconds, offering consumers time savings.

But shoppers pay a rather hefty price for those savings, according to studies at the Cooperative Extension service of Cornell University.

Mix-in-the-bowl cereals packed in individual servings cost about three times as much as comparable products.

Flavoring added by the manufacturer adds to costs, usually about 3 cents per serving.

If you read labels carefully, you can save some money on the packaging costs without losing time. Some ''quick'' or ''instant'' cereals require no cooking, even when packaged in large containers. They may be mixed in a bowl and allowed to stand for a few minutes.

Other ''instant'' hot cereals do require cooking a few minutes. Cereals can also be cooked in microwave ovens following directions on the package or those from the ovenmaker.

Oatmeal is the most popular hot cereal, and there are more oatmeal products than cereals from other grains. Yet consumption of oatmeal, on a per capita basis, is about three ounces a year, which indicates that not many people eat it. Those who do are either quite young, under eight, or seniors over 65.

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