Does that “eye-opening” bowl of hot cereal actually lull you back to sleep? Does the prospect of eating one more bowl of oatmeal smack of morning torment? Are you trapped in an insipid cycle of breakfast ennui?
Drop the doughnuts and unhand that barely palatable energy bar! Rethink your oats. Not only are whole grains – oats included – one of the most natural, healthiest foods around, they are eager to be transformed into interesting, appetizing, and satisfying meals. Oats and other whole grains are 100% natural with no added sugar, salt, or additives and they are naturally low in calories.
So what does it take to make this stellar whole grain a food of hungry intrigue? A little imagination, a few new techniques, and eating outside the bowl.
The Breakfast Bowl
Oats, like all grains and grain flakes, can be toasted to deliciously boost their flavors. For example, put oats in a dry skillet set over medium heat and stir frequently until they begin to smell toasty and take on a little color. Immediately remove them from the heat so they don’t burn. Cook them as you normally would.
Instant oatmeal and cream of wheat can be cooked in the microwave in a flash but neither are as flavorful or as nutritious as whole grains. However, standing over the stove stirring a pot of whole grain hot cereal is irritating and eats up your morning shower or workout time. Save yourself the hassle and use a slow cooker or even a thermos. For the slow cooker, add oats (other whole grains, if desired), a pinch of salt, and water the night before and cook on LOW until morning. For the thermos, pour boiling water, a pinch of salt, and oats (other whole grains, if desired) and tightly close lid the night before. With either method, you’ll have breakfast waiting for you upon awakening.
Embellish your cooked cereal with tasty ingredients that tantalize your tastebuds and make your mouth water. After cooking your hot cereal, flavorize it with a medley of textures and flavors. Choose one or two from the following list:
- Ground flax seeds or other toasted seeds and nuts
- Raisins, dried cranberries, dried papaya, or chopped dates
- Apples, pears, peaches, or bananas sautéed in a little butter and lots of spices
- Butter, yogurt, or sour cream stirred with maple syrup or molasses
- Fruit juices or milk, cream, half and half, soy milk, almond milk, or coconut milk
- Spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, all spice, ginger, and nutmeg
- Vanilla or almond extracts
- Crystallized or fresh minced ginger root
- Honey, sorghum, brown sugar, or sugar substitute
- Your choice of protein powder
Instead of opting only for familiar grains like oats or wheat, give spelt ( Western Asian wheat) , barley, or rye flakes a try. Other great grains are quinoa, amaranth, couscous, millet, wild rice, brown rice, and stone-ground cornmeal. You can find these packaged or in bulk at most natural food stores and increasingly in supermarkets.
For the Health of It
If you still can’t get motivated to eat your oats, think about the proven health benefits this common grain has to offer.
- Prolonged energy release – The complex carbohydrates and soluble fiber in oats allow a slower digestion, which sustains your blood sugar level to energize your morning activities.
- Lower cholesterol and risk of heart disease – Though cholesterol is a naturally occurring and essential substance in the body, too much of it can be detrimental. Oats are like tiny sponges that soak up cholesterol and carry it out of the bloodstream.
- Vitamins, mineral, and fiber – In addition to a bevy of micro nutrients, oats contain folic acid which is essential in healthy fetal development.
Eating breakfast is a smart way to start your day and one of the easiest steps to improving your diet and lifestyle.
Sure, you may faithfully work out and watch what you eat during the rest of the day, but the breakfast meal may be the most important.
- According to the American Dietetic Association, a healthy breakfast can actually help you lose and/or maintain your weight, compared to breakfast skippers.
- The National Institute of Health recommends breakfast because it tends to thwart overeating later in the day. Studies have shown that breakfast eaters who have dieted and lost weight, are more successful in keeping their weight off.
- Include protein in your morning meal. Have a small bowl of hot cereal with a plate of eggs or an omelet. Add a scoop of protein powder or low-fat dairy products like milk or cheese to your oatmeal to further sustain your blood sugar level and energy.
- Don’t forget fat. The body needs fat to function properly and it will help you feel full longer. Choose primarily unsaturated fats. Drizzle flaxseed oil, walnut oil, or olive oil over your oats and scatter in a handful of chopped toasted nuts or seeds.
A bowl of oatmeal in the morning can help you rev up your metabolism, maintain your cognitive focus, fuel your workouts, and get you through the rest of your day. And oats aren’t just for breakfast…
Think Outside the Bowl
Whole grains, particularly oats, can be used in a near endless array of both sweet and savory dishes – beyond the breakfast bowl. Following are a few dynamite recipes that will give you the food you need to be convinced that oats are well worth eating. Apricot Honey Oatmeal for breakfast. Salmon Cakes and Herbed Yogurt Sauce for lunch or dinner. Crispy Coated Baked Apples for dessert. Rethink your oats and eat well.
Apricot Honey Oatmeal
3 ½ cups water
½ cups chopped dried apricot (or other dried fruit)
2 tablespoons honey (or sweetener of your choice)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
2 cups steel cut or old fashioned or rolled oats
¼ cup toasted sunflower seeds
In a large saucepan, bring water, apricots, honey, cinnamon, and salt to a boil. Stir in oats and return to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat and let oatmeal stand for a few minutes to finish thickening. Embellish with sunflower seeds. Stir in milk or half and half or coconut milk for extra flavor and richness.
**Toast oats in a dry skillet until fragrant and lightly browned for a wonderful toasty flavor.
Nutritional Analysis (per serving): Calories 202 (23% from fat); Protein 6 grams; Carbohydrates 35 grams; Fiber 3 grams; Total Fat 5 grams (Saturated Fat less than 1 gram; Monounsaturated Fat 1 gram; Polyunsaturated Fat 4 grams); Cholesterol 0 milligrams; Sodium 250 milligrams.
Salmon Cakes and Herbed Yogurt Sauce
½ cup plain lowfat yogurt
1 shallot, finely chopped (or 2 tablespoons finely chopped onion)
Juice of an orange (3 to 4 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
Pinch of dried dill
Pinch of sugar or sugar substitute
Pinch of white pepper or more to taste
1 pound smoked (or cooked) boneless, skinless salmon (or other fish of your choice), flaked
¾ cup old fashioned or rolled oats (uncooked)
½ cup milk
2 egg whites, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons finely chopped green onion (white and green parts)
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh herbs such as dill, tarragon, marjoram, or parsley
White pepper to taste
Pinch of salt or more to taste
Whisk sauce ingredients together and set aside. If making ahead, store covered in the refrigerator.
Combine all ingredients for salmon cakes in a large bowl and mix well. Let stand for 5 minutes. Shape into 4 oval patties about 1 inch thick. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Lightly coat with nonstick cooking spray. Cook salmon cakes for 3 to 4 minutes then flip. Cook another 3 to 4 minutes or until golden brown and heated through. Serve with sauce and sprinkle with additional finely chopped herbs.
Nutritional Analysis (per serving): Calories 327 (37% from fat); Protein 37 grams; Carbohydrates 13 grams; Fiber 1 gram; Total Fat 14 grams (Saturated Fat 3 grams; Monounsaturated Fat 6.5 grams; Polyunsaturated Fat 4.5 grams); Cholesterol 108 milligrams; Sodium 251 milligrams.
Crispy Coated Baked Apples
6 medium baking apples, cored, thinly sliced
Juice of ½ lemon (about 1 tablespoon)
1 tablespoon maple syrup, warmed
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 cup old fashioned or rolled oats
½ cup whole wheat flour
4 tablespoons melted butter
¼ cup lightly packed brown sugar (or sugar substitute)
¼ cup finely chopped toasted pecans or walnuts
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground clove
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
Pinch of ground nutmeg or mace
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. and lightly coat a 9- x 13-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.
Toss apples with lemon juice, maple syrup, brown sugar, and melted butter until ingredients until apples are well coated. Pour apples into prepared baking dish. Combine remaining ingredients in a medium-sized bowl and mix with a fork until crumbly, evenly distributing butter. Sprinkle over fruit. Bake uncovered for 45 minutes or until the crust is golden and apples are tender. Serve warm with a dollop of plain whole-milk yogurt or a drizzle of coconut milk.
Nutritional Analysis (per serving): Calories 280 (37% from fat); Protein 4 grams; Carbohydrates 42 grams; Fiber 6 grams; Total Fat 11.5 grams (Saturated Fat 5.5 grams; Monounsaturated Fat 3 grams; Polyunsaturated Fat 3 grams); Cholesterol 23 milligrams; Sodium 118 milligrams.
Written By Shelly Sinton, MS
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