As far as whole grains go, oats are underrated and neglected! Stick with me on this one. I’m here to assure you that oatmeal isn’t your run-of-the-mill breakfast. Not only is it packed with fiber, protein, and minerals, but it’s also inexpensive, gluten-free, vegan-friendly, heart-healthy, customizable, and totally convenient. It keeps you full much longer than a bowl of cold cereal, and it warms you up while you eat it, too.
Making the perfect bowl of oatmeal is my favorite healthy breakfast option for a crisp winter morning, whether you’re snuggling up at home or working in the office.
Flavored Packets vs. Homemade
I grew up tearing open those little brown packets each morning before school — a fast meal that I could make myself without missing the bus. But I now know that those flavored packets are often filled with sugar and artificial flavors. With a little preparation on the weekend, it can be just as fast and easy (and a lot tastier) to make the real deal.
Each week I prepare about ten servings of oatmeal for my daughter and me to eat for breakfast before school and at work. You can reheat it in a microwave-safe bowl by adding a splash of water, covering, and microwaving for about two minutes. Then we each add our own favorite flavors. She loves to sprinkle on dried cranberries and slivered almonds, and I like eating mine with pomegranate arils or berries. You could also add other toppings, like sliced bananas, chia seeds, dried fruit, chopped nuts, peanut butter, cinnamon, or unsweetened coconut flakes. If you like your oatmeal a little sweeter, try using a small amount of a natural sweetener.
The winner: Homemade
Steel Cut vs. Rolled Oats
If you’re in the cereal aisle buying your oats, you may notice there are several canisters to choose from. To know which one to pick, you’d have to understand how oats are processed. When harvested, oats have an inedible hull that is removed, leaving the oat “groat.” If you were to just cook the groats, they would take an incredibly long time to soften, which isn’t very convenient! The groats are processed in a variety of ways:
- Steel cut: The groats are cut into smaller pieces with a sharp blade
- Rolled (aka “old-fashioned”): The groats are steamed and rolled into flatter flakes
Some prefer steel-cut oats because they retain the most texture when cooked, and I agree that they are very tasty! However, they take a lot longer to cook, are more expensive, and don’t have added nutritional value. On the other hand, rolled oats cook up fairly quickly, have a nice consistency, and reheat well.
You may also see instant or “quick” oats, which you may want to avoid. They are rolled oats that are steamed again and chopped up into small bits. They’re the most processed and have the least amount of flavor and texture when cooked (that is, they’re mushy).
The winner: Rolled
Cooked in Water vs. Milk
Many like to make their oatmeal using milk because they think it makes a creamier final product, but I only use water. Cooking in water keeps the calories lower, is less likely to scorch or burn, and produces a better texture in my opinion (milk can get glue-like). If you like milk in your oatmeal, try adding a splash once you have it in your bowl instead.
The winner: Cooked in water
Final Tips for the Perfect Bowl of Oatmeal
The way I make the perfect bowl of oatmeal is super simple. I follow the suggested ingredients (oats, water, salt) and measurements on the canister of rolled oats, add everything to my pot over high heat, and bring it to a boil. As soon as it starts to bubble, I turn the heat to low and give it a good stir. The whole process takes about ten minutes from beginning to end, and you’ll know your oatmeal is ready when you see that most of the water has been absorbed.
- Use a pot that is bigger than you think you need. Oatmeal bubbles up a lot and can make a mess if the pot is too small!
- Make sure you give it a couple vigorous stirs while it’s simmering. Stirring helps the oats release extra starch, which makes it creamier.
- Don’t skip the salt! It’s a critical ingredient that changes the flavor of your final product, making it nutty and delicious. Just be sure you add it at the beginning of the cooking process — if you add the salt at the end, it’ll just taste, well, salty.
- If you don’t want hot oatmeal, try making overnight oats to switch up your breakfast.