Start with hearty steel cut oats (or gluten-free steel cut oats). They're firm and have a nice mouth feel. Because they are less processed, steel cut oats have a lower glycemic index than rolled oats. This means they take longer for your body to break down-- keeping you fuller longer-- and causing a slighter sugar spike than rolled oats, leading to less chance that you'll be reaching for a snack before lunch.
Both old fashioned rolled oat and steel cut oats are leaps and bounds better for you than instant oatmeal. And don't even get me started on that sugary crap in the paper packets. Yuck! You don't need that. You can make truly fancy oatmeal yourself with real nutrient dense ingredients.
Here are my favorite mix-ins for yummy oatmeal packed with plant-based protein, satisfying healthy fats, and filling fiber:
Warming spices like cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, clove, and nutmeg are perfect for a cold season breakfast. Sprinkle some in your oatmeal. These spices curb sugar cravings because they are sweet and because they enhance the sweetness of the natural sugars present in foods.
I find sprinkling a little sea salt on my cereal helps to bring out the sweetness of whatever sweet things are in there too.
Do you like chocolate? How about adding some cocoa powder (baking kind, not hot chocolate mix) or raw cacao for sugar-free chocolately goodness? Or how about stirring a few semi-sweet chocolate chips to your bowl of warm oatmeal? Yeah!
Raw apples and raisins are a pretty typical fruit topping for oatmeal. Make your oatmeal interesting by cooking it with diced fresh seasonal fruits like apple or pear and non-seasonal dried fruit like blueberries, apricots, or prunes. Frozen fruits like dark cherries or peaches are another delicious thing to toss in while the oatmeal is cooking. Cook fruit into your oatmeal and add a splash of vanilla extract and you'll get results that are reminiscent of pie. Mmm!
Dried unsweetened shredded coconut or coconut flakes make a fun tropical oatmeal topping.
Have a high protein breakfast by adding protein powder, seeds, nuts or nut butters to your oatmeal. I like adding walnuts and flax seeds to get Omega 3s. Recently, I discovered I love a spoonful of maple cashew butter in my warm cereal. Nut butters are an excellent source of healthy fats.
Speaking of healthy fats, coconut oil is not only a good dairy-free substitute for butter; it also beautifully accentuates sweet flavors present in a dish like any fruit that's in your oatmeal.
I like my oatmeal a little on the creamy, slightly thinner side so I add a splash of almond milk or coconut milk to it. Friend of the blog Melissa B. stirs in soy yogurt, which sounds dreamy.
Why wait until lunch to begin to get your daily veg in? Savory oatmeal is the cat's pajamas because it's a fantastic way to eat veggies for breakfast. My favorite savory oatmeal is a winter squash (or sweet potato), kale, and black-eyed peas combo with a fresh (or dried) herb like sage or thyme. Top that with olive oil, freshly ground black pepper, and some anti-inflammatory turmeric. Or maybe top it with this magically delicious savory blend of hemp and flax seeds. OMG, so good! (Get my recipe for savory vegetable oatmeal here.)
If you're not ready to go savory but still want some veggies, try carrot cake oatmeal. Cook some shredded carrots, fresh ginger, and raisins with your oats. (Get inspiration from my recipe for Carrot Cake Breakfast Cereal, made with leftover rice.)
The things you can add to oatmeal are unlimited. I hope I inspired you to be more adventurous and creative with this classic breakfast staple.
Did I miss anything? What's your favorite oatmeal topping or mix-in?
Olivia Lane is a Blogger, Green Living Educator, and Health Coach trained at The Institute for Integrative Nutrition. She's also author of Baking Soda & Bliss: The Healthy & Happy Guide to Green Cleaning.