One of my favorite parts of fall is the return of warming, stick-to-your-ribs comfort foods. And for me one of the all-time classics is oatmeal. I practically lived on the stuff all through elementary and middle school; now I find it to be the perfect cool-weather start to my day.
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And that's not just a matter of taste. Oatmeal is one of the healthiest breakfasts there is. It's high in soluble fiber, which may help to lower "bad" LDL cholesterol and helps keep you feeling full longer. It has a healthy amount of protein, which, in conjunction with fiber, will help you feel satisfied too. Plus oatmeal is a low-glycemic-index (GI) food--and research suggests that eating a low-GI meal before you exercise may help you burn more fat.
So, oatmeal is really the ideal breakfast for the cooler months. And if you're going to enjoy it every day (like me), my philosophy is to make it as tasty and healthy as possible. Here are my tips for the best bowl of oatmeal around:
1. Use Steel-Cut Oats. Yes, I know they take a lot longer to cook than quick-cooking oats or old-fashioned "rolled oats," but, wow, are they worth it. The texture of steel-cut oatmeal it truly delicious, creamy and chewy at the same time. Plus most instant oatmeals in packets have added sugars and I'd rather be in charge of adding any sweeteners myself so I can control how much and what kind.
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2. Pay attention to the water-to-oat ratio. Many people just eyeball the amount of water they add to their oatmeal, but that's a surefire way to mess up. Put too little in and you end up with a pasty, sticky mess. Put too much in and you wind up with soupy mush. Instead, pay attention to the instructions on the side of your oatmeal container and do what they say. For steel-cut oats, the ratio is 1 cup of water per 1/4 cup of oats. If you insist on ignoring my first tip, then keep in mind that for quick-cooking or rolled oats the ratio is 1 cup of water per 1/2 cup of oats.
3. Think beyond water (use milk or juice). For a boost of calcium and creamy flavor, make oatmeal with low-fat milk instead of water. Or, try making it with apple cider instead. When cooking this way, the ratio of liquid to oats stays the same, so it should be an easy switch to make. Once you've tried oatmeal with a hit of flavor infused into the cooking, you'll never go back.
4. Design your own flavors. You can make any oatmeal better-tasting with add-ins, but you can also make it more nutritious. Topping it with your favorite fruit adds more fiber and nuts add healthy fats and make it more filling too. Here's how I think about oatmeal add-ins:
- Add a fruit:
- Dried fruit (such as raisins, cranberries, cherries or chopped apricots or dates)
- Fresh or frozen berries
- Jam or preserves
- Chopped or sliced fresh fruit (such as bananas or apples)
- Add nuts and seeds (toast nuts to bring out their flavor):
- Almonds, pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, pistachios or peanuts
- Sesame seeds, ground flaxseeds or chia seeds
- Add just a little bit of sweetener:
- Maple syrup
- Brown sugar
- Season with spices:
- Sprinkle with cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger or cardamom
- Top with dairy:
- Add more calcium by topping with a little bit of yogurt or milk
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5. Try making it ahead. What's better than having delicious, comforting oatmeal in the morning? How about having it premade and waiting to be eaten! Make a big batch of steel-cut oats (seasoned with your favorite add-ins) on a Sunday and then keep it in your fridge. Each morning, simply spoon up a serving's worth in a microwave-safe bowl, add a tablespoon or two of water and then microwave until hot (1-2 minutes). It's a simple, tasty way to have your favorite breakfast ready and waiting any day of the week.
What are your tricks for making delicious oatmeal?
By Matthew Thompson
Matthew Thompson is the associate food editor for EatingWell Magazine.
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