Published on September 18, 2018

No two days of oatmeal need to taste the same

Bonnie Brost, licensed and registered dietitian

By Bonnie Brost, licensed and registered dietitian at Essentia Health.

With cool fall weather on the horizon, putting oatmeal back on the menu is a healthy, warming idea.

Oatmeal has been touted as a nutrition powerhouse but it has not always been a star. In ancient Rome, oats were called a diseased form of wheat. Oats became popular in Scotland where the plants thrived in the cool, damp climate and Scots soon valued it as a major food source. British colonists brought oats to America.

Immigrants, especially the Scots, Germans and Irish, were loyal to oats. A German, Ferdinand Schumacher, founded the German Mills American Oatmeal Company in 1856. He promoted oatmeal as an inexpensive breakfast option that was gentle on the digestive system. Schumacher did not realize the nutrition powerhouse he created.

Oats made health history in 1997 when it became the first food with an Food and Drug Administration health claim label. A soluble fiber component of oats, known as beta-glucans, reduces circulating cholesterol in our bodies. Research has also shown beta-glucans help lower insulin resistance and blood cholesterol, reduce the risk of obesity and boost the immune system to fight cancer. The grain’s polyphenols have been shown to decrease inflammation.

All forms of oats are whole grain. Neither the bran nor germ is removed during cutting, rolling or drying. The amount of whole grain varies, depending on the portion size or density of the oats. Whole grains are a great source of magnesium, selenium and zinc, which help with blood sugar control, heart health, wound healing and muscle health.

There are many forms of oatmeal:

  • Oat groats are oat kernels toasted after the hard, outer husks are removed. Groats are the least processed form and take the longest to prepare.
  • Steel-cut or Scotch oats are oat groats that have been cut into two or three pieces. Like groats, they have a chewy texture.
  • Rolled oats, or old-fashioned oats, are groats that have been steamed, pressed with a roller and dried.
  • Quick-cooking oats are rolled oats that have been cut into smaller pieces and rolled thinner. They cook quickly, in about one minute.
  • Instant oatmeal is precooked and dried. Sodium may be added to absorb water more quickly when cooked in the microwave. It also may have added sugars or sweeteners and along with natural or artificial flavorings.

Choose the type of oatmeal that’s easiest for you, but remember to look for varieties with little added sugar, such as four grams or less. Use fruit to sweeten your porridge, which eliminates the added sodium that comes with instant fruit varieties. Quick-cooking oatmeal cooks as fast as instant in the microwave and is less expensive per serving.

Make a larger batch of oatmeal to have extra servings to microwave the next day. Try the recipe below for baked oatmeal, which reheats well or serves a group. While we usually think of oatmeal as a hot cereal, try the refrigerator oatmeal recipe for a change. To enhance the grain’s earthy flavor, experiment with a variety of toppings or ingredients to stir in.

No two days of oatmeal have to taste the same.

Baked Oatmeal

This recipe is a great source of fiber, protein and whole grains with more than 25 grams of whole grain per serving. Top with fresh fruit and Greek low-fat vanilla yogurt for a morning treat. This dish can be prepped the night before, then mixed together and baked in the morning.

2 cups of rolled or quick-cooking oats

2 tablespoons brown sugar

¼ cup raisins, craisins or other dried fruit

2 tablespoons chopped walnuts or other nuts

2 tablespoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon baking powder

1½ cups skim milk

½ cup unsweetened applesauce

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 egg, beaten

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. In a large bowl, mix oats, brown sugar, dried fruit, nuts, cinnamon and baking powder. In a separate bowl, combine milk, applesauce, oil and egg and stir until well blended. Add to dry ingredients and mix gently. Pour batter into 8-inch baking dish. Bake for 20 minutes, until firm. Serve warm.

Nutrition Facts: Servings: 6; serving size: 1/6 of pan; calories, 210; total fat, 5 grams; saturated fat, 0 grams; cholesterol, 30 milligrams; sodium, 50 milligrams; potassium, 170 milligrams; carbohydrates, 34 grams; fiber, 5 grams; protein, 7 grams; calcium, 110 milligrams.

Banana Chocolate Chip Refrigerated Overnight Oats

This is a great source of protein, fiber, omega 3 fatty acids and whole grains.

1/3 cup plain Greek fat-free yogurt

½ cup rolled oats, old-fashioned or quick-cooking

½ cup skim milk

1 tablespoon chia seeds or ground flax seed

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1 dash of salt

½ ripe banana, mashed

1 tablespoon dark chocolate chips or chopped dark chocolate pieces

Mix all ingredients in a small bowl. Cover with a tight-fitting lid or place in container with a tight-fitting lid. Place in refrigerator overnight. Enjoy the next morning with a little bit of sweetener of your choice.

Nutrition Facts: Servings: 2; serving size, 2/3 cup; calories, 210; total fat, 7 grams; saturated fat, 2 grams; cholesterol, 7 milligrams; sodium, 140 milligrams; potassium, 310 milligrams; carbohydrates, 26 grams; fiber, 4 grams; protein, 14 grams; calcium, 300 milligrams.

Slow Cooker Steel-cut Oatmeal

Steel-cut oats provide almost 30 grams of whole grains per ¾ cup serving.

1 cup steel-cut oats (do not substitute old-fashioned or quick-cooking)

4 cups water

1/8 teaspoon salt

Dried fruit is optional such as raisins, apricots, dates and prunes

Combine all ingredients in a small slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours or overnight. Serve with milk, honey, maple syrup, fruit or other options.    

Nutrition Facts: Servings, 6; serving size, ¾ cup; calories, 115; total fat, 2 grams; saturated fat, 0 grams; cholesterol, 0 milligrams; sodium, 50 milligrams; potassium, 150 milligrams; carbohydrates, 20 grams; fiber, 3 grams; protein, 5 grams; calcium, 10 milligrams.

Five-spice Sugar

This is a great way to perk up a hot cereal.

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground nutmeg ½ teaspoon ground ginger

½ teaspoon ground cardamom

½ teaspoon ground coriander

Combine all ingredients and put in a spice jar. Add to hot cereal or toast.

Nutrition Facts: Servings: 14; serving size, 1 teaspoon; calories, 10; total fat, 0 grams; cholesterol, 0 milligrams; sodium, 0 milligrams; potassium, 2 milligrams; carbohydrates, 3 grams; fiber, 0 grams; protein, 0 milligrams.