Nutrition Articles

No More Boring Oatmeal!

20 Ways to Turn Ordinary Oats into Something Special


Know Your Oats

There are four different kinds of oatmeal, which each undergoes different levels of processing:
Instant oatmeal is typically packaged in envelopes with sweeteners, flavorings and other additives. It takes almost no cook time, just the addition of hot water. This is the most processed oatmeal and tends to have more calories (due to added sugars) per serving than unprocessed oatmeal. It also tends to be lower in fiber.

Quick oats are processed to remove the outer bran for faster cooking. Less processed than instant oatmeal, these take minimal cook time (between 1 and 5 minutes).

Old-fashioned or "thick" oats are steamed and rolled flat. These oats take about 10-12 minutes to cook on the stovetop. They're higher in fiber and slightly less processed than quick oats.

Steel-cut or "Irish" oats are minimally processed and retain all the inherent fiber and vitamins of whole oats, but take longer (about 25 minutes) to cook. Unlike the flat oats or instant oats you're probably used to seeing, steel-cut oats are round in shape.

Whenever possible, stick to the old-fashioned or steel-cut oats for nutrition’s sake—and know that old-fashioned oats require little to no more cooking time than the quick variety. Quick, old-fashioned, and steel-cut oats all allow you to create your own flavor combinations and control what goes into your bowl.

If you're used to opening a packet to "make" your oatmeal, you'll need to learn the basics of cooking oats. But don't worry. It's easy!

Prep Basics for Oatmeal

Cooking oatmeal is simple: Cook oats in water at a ratio of 1:2 (1/2 cup of old-fashioned oats, 1 cup of water). Add a tiny pinch of salt (unless you’re on a low-sodium diet) to enhance oatmeal’s toasty flavor. Put everything in a small saucepan, bring to a boil and cook for 4 minutes, or until the consistency suits you (less time for “soupier” oatmeal, more time for firmer). If you have an extra minute, then try this to enhance the flavor: Place 1/2 cup oats into a dry saucepan, and toast the oats over medium heat. Then add the water and salt.

Steel-cut oats take longer to cook, because they’re not rolled thin and they retain their intact hulls. But they have a wonderful nutty flavor and toothy texture that makes for an especially hearty breakfast. You can reduce cooking time by soaking the oats in water (in the refrigerator) overnight. Some people prefer using the microwave to prepare Irish oatmeal. As a time-saver, you can prepare a big batch on the weekend and refrigerate the oatmeal to use during the week. For more instructions on cooking steel-cut oats, click here.

No time to cook in the morning? Oatmeal is the perfect slow cooker food. And what better way to wake up than to the smell of cinnamon and brown sugar? Simply dump all the ingredients in the pot before bedtime, and you’ll wake to a hearty breakfast. Here’s a great recipe.
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About The Author

Bryn Mooth Bryn Mooth
Bryn Mooth is an independent copywriter and journalist focused on food, wellness and design; she's also a Master Gardener and enthusiastic green thumb. She shares seasonal recipes, kitchen techniques, healthy eating tips and food wisdom on her blog

Member Comments

  • Oatmeal for breakfast just leaves me hungry all day.

    I always have eggs and fruit or vegetables for breakfast instead. - 4/14/2015 10:49:41 AM
  • Great ideas! I like to either add an egg while I am cooking quick oats in the microwave, or add raisins. Be sure and break the yolk, and that it's heated through and firm, before you eat it. I make a crater in the oats, add the egg, then add just enough water until the water level is just to the egg. That only takes about a minute and it's really good. - 3/30/2015 10:43:48 PM
    I add a healthy dose of cinnamon to my oats before cooking, don't stir. & they cook up in the microwave wonderful! - 7/10/2014 8:31:24 AM
    Living in Canada means oatmeal with maple syrup. If you haven't tried it (with blueberries, raw sunflower seeds, cinnamon, etc. etc.), well, you must! - 5/13/2014 10:42:25 PM
  • I add a tablespoon of natural peanut butter to mine each morning. I put a spoonful in the bottom of my bowl and pour my hot oatmeal over it. It's additive ! - 11/18/2013 6:13:44 AM
  • I like apple cinnamon. I cook for one and do not like opening a large jar of applesauce or bottle of apple juice. I use the one snack pack size applesauce. I also buy the toddler size juice boxes, 6 oz., and will replace part of water with juice for apple flavor.

    also, try sugar free pancake syrup instead of maple syrup - 11/17/2013 1:33:43 PM
    Love oatmeal! I have a bowl most mornings. Quick to fix and delicious. And funny enough my dear mother would, as a child, practically have to force me. - 8/28/2013 8:19:50 PM
  • Quaker now has "perfect portion" with no sugar, LOVE IT. I add 1 1/2 TBLS Peanut butter, ups my protein, and OH so good!!! YUMMMMM, eating breakfast now! - 8/28/2013 8:15:17 AM
    I remember, as a kid, Thursday mornings were always oatmeal days. My Mom had to cook them on the stove. (It was the 60's!) I use the microwave; old-fashioned oats only take 3 minutes! It's true, they can boil over easily in the microwave and make a mess, the trick to avoiding this is to use a wide, shallow bowl (like a soup bowl) instead of a regular cereal bowl. - 8/27/2013 8:19:43 AM
  • JNJ300
    I sometimes mix in a flavored protein powder with my oatmeal. - 8/27/2013 8:09:35 AM
  • I love steel cut oats. They have a firmer texture and nutty flavor that keeps me full till lunch. Yum! - 8/27/2013 12:21:17 AM
  • I love oatmeal and this article gives some good ideas/recipes for fixing it. I might try making some steel cut oats ahead of time and freezing them for future breakfasts. - 6/17/2013 9:01:36 AM
  • Try Country Choice oatmeal. Good stuff! - 6/2/2013 7:58:17 AM
  • I tried oatmeal but I just can't handle it. - 5/12/2013 7:35:20 PM
    I eat oatmeal every day. We call it porridge here in the UK. The easiest way to make it is in the microwave. It means you can still use the unprocessed variety but it doesn't take as long and you don't have the saucepan to deal with! I use half a cup of oats per person to 3 cups of milk and water (in any ratio you like). Make sure you put everything in a big enough container. Microwave on full power until it comes to the boil. That's about 2 minutes for one portion. Then leave it to stand while you go and have a shower, walk the dog, etc. Microwave again to heat and its ready. It takes some experimenting until you get the timings right because it can easily spill over the dish. People also prefer different consistencies. But once you have worked it out its so easy and quick. - 2/3/2013 2:53:18 AM

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