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The Deliciously Versatile Oat

The first breakfast I made for Andy was a bowl of steel-cut oats topped with apples, walnuts, and maple syrup.

He ate it. We had recently started dating and he didn’t want to be rude. He later admitted, “I don’t like oatmeal.”

Oatmeal is one of my favorite breakfast foods. A whole-grain powerhouse, it’s high in fiber, folate, and is indisputably on the top of numerous health food rankings in the whole grain food family. Never mind its on-paper nutritional benefits, steaming hot oats topped with fruit and nuts is simply comfort in a bowl, especially on chilly days.

“It’s a texture thing, I think,” he said when I asked what he didn’t like about it. He didn’t dispute the nutritional benefits, but that didn’t make him like it anymore. So, I began to experiment with ways to incorporate more oats into our diet beyond a porridge-consistency. Don’t get me wrong, I love my oats in a bowl, especially the chewy texture of steel-cut oats, but what’s most amazing to me about oats is their simple versatility. You can have oats incorporated within breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and not even realize that they’re there.

Before veering off into the versatility of oats, three main kinds are available in the store: steel-cut oats (also known as Irish oats), rolled oats, and instant oats.

As far as the greatest amount of fiber and nutritional benefits, steel-cut is the way to go. The downside to steel-cut is potential time-investment in the kitchen. They are best cooked on the stovetop in a ratio of 4 cups liquid (water, milk, or a combination) to 1 cup steel-cut oats. If cooking stove-top, plan to spend about 30 minutes at the stovetop, occasionally stirring with a wooden spoon. For busy weekday mornings, this may be too much time, but recently, I started setting my rice cooker on a delay timer. It has a whole grain setting and cooks steel-cut oats perfectly without needing to be physically at the stovetop.

Rolled oats are the most versatile for baking, cooking, and other uses. Of course, it can be made stove-top or with a rice cooker (my rice cooker has an oatmeal setting designed for rolled oats), but culinary options with rolled oats far exceed that of steel-cut oats. Rolled oats typically have a one to one ratio of oats to liquid (water, milk, or a combination). On the other hand, instant oats have been ground down and stripped of many of the nutrients that require additional cooking. I don’t use instant and I’m not a fan of those instant packets that are full of sugar and other additives.

Whether using steel-cut oats or rolled oats, the following are a few of my favorite combinations and add-ons.

  • Apple, cinnamon, & walnuts

  • Summer berries, vanilla & almonds

  • Pumpkin & pecans

  • Banana-raisin & walnuts

Rather than reinvent what has been deliciously made by others, these are few other breakfast oat options that I refer to regularly.

During the summer, I typically find it too hot to enjoy a steaming bowl of oats so I opt for overnight oats. Check out the link to WholeFully ( With the number of flavor combinations, you won’t be bored any time soon.

I also enjoy oatmeal pancakes. Using a blender, combine rolled oats and cottage with a few other ingredients for a high protein pancake breakfast. My favorite recipe to use is this one:

Granola is also an easy make-ahead option for both breakfast and snacks. Add half a cup of fruit and yogurt for a simple breakfast parfait. Flavor combination for granola is just as versatile as any of the aforementioned oat recipes. Regardless of what flavors I’m going for, I think this Build Your Own Granola chart from Recipe Tin Eats is the best base recipe (

In addition, if you enjoy bread pudding, this Amish-Style Baked Oatmeal with Apples Raisons and Walnuts taste like dessert for breakfast. (

Oats also bakes well in muffins and quick bread recipes. The options are endless.

Oats take center stage for breakfast, but they can also be used in dinner recipes. For instance, most recipes that call for breadcrumbs could be substituted with ground oats. My favorite substitution is in the classic meatloaf. I’ll have a future blog on meatloaves, but generally, you can use rolled oats as is. I’ve never tried with instant oats but rolled oats work well. Another option is grinding up the oats in a food processor and using it instead of breadcrumbs as breading for chicken nuggets or any other breaded meal. Spice it accordingly for whatever flavors you’d like. As a general rule, oats are fairly flavorless on their own so they need seasoning for savory dishes. I’ve also seen recipes for savory oats for dinner, similar to shrimp and grits.

For dessert, oats can be used in several baking recipes. There are oatmeal cookies, of course, which can include combinations of dried fruits and nuts. My favorite oat dessert is baking fruits (the choice of fruit will depend on season and availability) and making a streusel topping with oats, brown sugar, and cinnamon.

I hope you enjoy some new ideas for using the deliciously versatile oat. Enjoy!


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