Monday, November 10, 2008


What do you think of when you hear the word oatmeal? Pasty stuff in a bowl? Cookies with raisins? Perhaps granola?

A Healthy Choice
I know there are many people who do not think very highly of oatmeal, but oatmeal is a very healthy food. Oatmeal that we buy in our local grocery store is rolled oats. The oats grains are processed by running them between heavy rollers to "flake" them. Therefore, oatmeal is a whole grain food.
Whole grain foods are vital to a healthy diet. The 2005 American dietary guidelines recommend that we eat 3 serving of whole grains each day. Whole grain foods differ from refined "white" foods in the fact that the germ and bran are still intact. Refined white foods (white flour) have these parts removed. Studies show that whole grains reduce the risk of heart disease, help in weight management, and are a better choice for those with diabetes.
Oatmeal is naturally free of sodium and cholesterol and low in fat. In addition to this, it is a great source of water soluble fiber which functions to lower blood cholesterol levels.

Old-Fashioned vs. Quick Oats
When you visit your local grocery store, you will most likely see two kinds of plain oats on the shelf: Old-Fashioned and Quick-Cooking. Old fashioned are plain rolled oats, while quick-cooking have been processed by partially cooking them, drying them and packaging. I personally tend to steer clear of these. The are less nutritious and cook up to the consistency of glue. Their advantage is that they cook quicker. Old-fashioned oats only take about 5 minutes to cook anyway, so the time savings is minimal.

What To Do With Oatmeal
The simplest way to eat oatmeal is as a cooked cereal. About 1/2 cup of oatmeal equals a serving. For each 1/2 cup serving use 1 cup water. Place water and oats in a pot. bring to a boil and simmer for a few minutes until it is the desired consistency. I let it cook about five minutes after the water boils. If you like really chewy oatmeal, wait to add the oats until after after the water has come to a boil.
Now you can eat it just like this, but we like to add a little sweetness and fun to our bowl of oatmeal.
Things we like to add are:
  • Sweeteners (sugar, brown sugar, honey, maple syrup)
  • Fresh fruit (berries, apples)
  • Dried fruit (raisins, Craisins, dried cherries or blueberries)
  • Milk or cream
  • Apple butter
  • Jam
  • Cinnamon
Now, if you want a real treat, make sure you prepare extra and make Fried Oatmeal. Take the plain leftovers and pack them into a loaf pan and place them in the refrigerator. After a few hours, the oatmeal will have gelled into an unappetizing loaf. Don't be put off by this. Pop it out of the pan, slice it and fry it in a skillet with plenty of butter until the outside is all crispy. Serve it with maple syrup. Fried oatmeal is a delightful treat that my kids love. My oldest is not a big fan of oatmeal, but gets excited about it when she sees that I have made extra to fry up the next day.
Now, what if you just don't have time in the morning to prepare this? There are a couple a options you can try. Oatmeal can be prepared ahead the night before so it is ready to eat by morning. One simple option is Slow-Cooker Oatmeal done in the crock pot. If you are looking for something more elaborate and dressed up from your crock pot, Christmas Morning Oatmeal sounds delightful.
If you are desiring the simplest and most frugal method to make your oatmeal ahead of time, try the Thermos method. For a personal serving of oatmeal on the go, measure 1/2 cup rolled oats into thermos. Add 2 cups boiling water and close. The oats will be ready to eat any time the following day.
Another idea for quick oatmeal on the go is the instant version. You can go out and purchase those expensive sugary packets at the grocery store, or you can make your own with 1/4 cup quick cook oats, 1/2 teaspoon of sugar and a pinch of salt in a zip-lock baggie. To eat, place this in a bowl with 1/4 cup of water or milk and microwave for 60 seconds. To jazz up the flavor of your packets, add some powdered milk or non-dairy creamer, cinnamon or other spices, raisins, or other dried fruit.

Another wonderful way to use oatmeal is to make granola and granola bars. Now you can buy these from the store, but the homemade version tastes great, is healthier, and costs way less. What's better is that you can make it using what you have available in your pantry, saving you even more. Now, because we have allergy issues with nuts in our house, I spent some time trying to find a good granola recipe without them. That is actually kind of tough to do, but I found this recipe for Cinnamon Raisin Oatmeal that the whole family LOVES. I have come up with a basic recipe for granola that you can use what you have on hand.

Trish's Basic Granola
Mix together
Dry ingredients:
3-4 cups old-fashioned oats
1-2 cups dry add-ins (nuts, coconut, seeds)
Mix together
1/4 cup oil
1/2 sweetener (This can be a combination of honey, pure maple syrup, white or brown sugar. If you use sugar, you will need to cook this on the stove until the sugar granules dissolve. I like to to use 1/4 cup honey and 1/4 cup maple syrup and skip the heating step.)
Add syrup to dry ingredients and mix through thoroughly. I usually end up using my hands for this. Spread out on a jellyroll pan (cookie sheet with sides) and place in a preheated 350 degree oven. Bake for 20-30 minutes stirring or flipping the granola occasionally.
Remove from oven and allow to cool.
Add up to 1 cup extra goodies which may be a combination of raisins, dried fruit, or chocolate chips.
Enjoy! We eat this like cold cereal with milk or plain as a snack.

If granola bars are more your speed this is my favorite recipe I have found: Playgroup Granola Bars. These are delicious and don't hang around long in this house.

Oatmeal in Baking
If you do a search on my favorite recipe site,, for "oatmeal," you come up with oodles of cookie recipes. Oatmeal cookies are wonderful, but you can use oatmeal in so many other baking projects. I have found that you can substitute 1 cup of oatmeal for 1 cup of flour in almost all of your baking recipes. I have tried it personally in muffins, breads, quick breads, and cookies. I imagine that it would also work in cakes and pancakes, too. I think it would be delicious in an applesauce cake. This is a great way to sneak in some whole grain goodness to baked goods using white flour. Usually the oats don't even get noticed, but if they do they don't affect the overall taste and give things a nice texture. We are especially fond of them in muffins.

Beyond Breakfast
Now, you may be thinking that oatmeal is just for breakfast and baking, but they can even be incorporated into dinner. Whole, unrolled oats called oat groats may be cooked and served in place of rice. Oat groats can be usually be found at your local health food store. Locally, I have a natural foods coop store that sells them in bulk. To cook oat groats, use 2 cups of water or broth to 1 cup oats. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 40 minutes. Here is a recipe for Oat Groat Pilaf I found, but have not tried. A couple other dinner items I found online were Oatmeal Soup and Scot Oatcakes.
While perusing my cookbooks I also came across this unique recipe. It sounds like something my family would enjoy and I plan to try it.
Oriental Oats
2 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
4T. oil
2 cups chopped or sliced mixed onions, sprouts, mushrooms and broccoli
3/4 cup water
1 T. soy sauce
Combine eggs and oats in a bowl; mix well. Cook in 2 tablespoons oil in skillet for 3 to 5 minutes or until dry and separate. Saute vegetables in remaining oil in small skillet. Add to oats with water and soy sauce. Simmer until liquid is absorbed, stirring occasionally. May add 1 cup chopped meat. May substitute butter for oil; may substitute broth or stock for water and soy sauce. Yield 6 servings. (From "Whole Foods for the Whole Family" LeLeche League International)

Just How Cheap is Oatmeal?
I can purchase a 42 ounce container of store brand old-fashioned oats regularly for $2.99 ($1.14/pound). Occasionally, I can get it on sale for $1.99 (76 cents/pound). I can do even better buying it in bulk at the health food store where I can get it for as low as 69 cents/pound. Even the organic oatmeal is only 89 cents/pound there. If you figure that one serving of oatmeal is 1/2 cup (40 grams) dry oatmeal (1 cup cooked), you can get over 22 servings per pound of oatmeal. That is 22 servings for just 69 cents or just 3 cents per serving! Isn't that amazing?

If you are trying to cut your food budget, don't forget to buy the oatmeal. It will be easy on your pocketbook, good to your body and delightful on your tongue. Oatmeal is truly CHEAP EATS.

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