Why You Should Serve Oatmeal for Breakfast if at All Possible

I’m serious about this. Oatmeal is such a beautiful intersection of cheap, easy, healthy and delicious. If you’re shooting for a whole food plant-based diet, or just improved health, start with oatmeal for breakfast most mornings.

If you think oats are gloopy or boring, please keep reading. I’ll solve both of those problems for you.

If your kids don’t like oats? Trade them in for kids that do. Or, just keep trying with the kids you’ve got. They’ll come around eventually.

You’re going to save so much money over any kind of prepared breakfast food (bars, boxes of cereal, etc.), you’ll ditch the added sugar, and oats will keep you all full longer. There are even great hot weather options!

Getting the Oats Cooked Right

The first thing you need to know is that an intact oat is called an oat groat. Ok, you didn’t need to know that, but it’s helpful. An oat groat looks like a grain of wheat.

Steel-cut oats are simply oat groats that have been sliced up into a few pieces. Rolled oats, however, are oat groats that have been steamed and then rolled. Instant or quick oats are hardly worth mentioning here, but they’ve basically been pre-cooked, then dried, then rolled, and are processed beyond recognition. If you are judging oat potential by the little packets at hotel breakfasts, you are missing out.

Note: Some toppings you’ll want to cook in the oats, and you’ll add those when you add the oats. Some you add after. Be sure to scroll down for all the topping tips.

Option 1: Rolled Oats

Rolled oats are quick and easy to make in the microwave in a single portion, and they don’t dirty extra dishes… but my husband finds the texture off-putting. I make these for my kids often, and it’s easy to make my husband a bowl of matching muesli (see Option 3) at the same time.

Here’s the rolled oats microwave version:

  • 1 cup of rolled oats
  • 1 1/2 cups of water

Microwave for 1.5-2.5 minutes (just keep an eye on it so it does not boil over. Once you know the right time for YOUR microwave, you won’t have to watch it.). You can also cook it at 3/4 power to prevent an eruption.

You may find that you prefer 1 3/4 c. water, instead. It will thicken as it cools!

You can also make rolled oats on the stovetop:

  • 2 cups of rolled oats
  • 4 cups of water

Bring the water to a boil, add the oats and lower the temperature. Stir and simmer for about 5 minutes.

One cup uncooked oats is a standard portion size around here. That is the caloric equivalent of 3 of those lame little instant oat packets, but far less mushy.

Option 2: Steel-cut Oats

First, I need to advise you not to buy the steel-cut oats in the little metal cans at the store. They are heinously overpriced. If you plan to eat steel-cut oats on a regular basis, you need to find a reasonably-priced source. I pay less than a dollar a pound.

The texture is far superior to rolled oats, and the flavor is nuttier and tasty. They’re a win all around, except they seem more intimidating to prepare, until you know the secret!

The easiest way to cook steel-cut oats, the night before:

The night before, simply boil your oats on the stove for one minute. Give them a stir, turn off the heat, put the lid on. That’s it! In the morning your oats will be ready to warm up and eat.


  • 3.5 cups of water
  • 1 cup of steel-cut oats

For one meal, I’m making about .5 cups of steel-cut oats per person.

The easiest way to cook steel-cut oats, the morning of:

I don’t like standing at the stove stirring things. Usually my kids keep me hopping while I’m pulling breakfast together, so having to babysit something on the stove leads to spillover, burnage, or both.

Here’s the hands-off way to perfect steel-cut oats in the morning:

  1. Boil the water.
  2. Add the oats and turn down the heat until they’re barely simmering.
  3. Simmer unsupervised for 10 minutes.
  4. Turn off the stove, stir once, and put a lid on them. Come back in 20 minutes.
  5. Stir and enjoy!

Again, here your ratio is:

  • 3.5 cups of water
  • 1 cup of steel-cut oats

For one meal, I’m making about .5 cups of steel-cut oats per person.

Option 3: Muesli

In Switzerland and Germany this is very common for breakfast, but for some reason few Americans have figured out this excellent oatmeal alternative.

Basically, at our house muesli is rolled oats (or a rolled multigrain blend), plus dried or fresh fruit, plus plant-milk or juice.

That’s it! You can (optionally) soak your fruit in the liquid overnight and then add the grains in the morning, but we usually just throw this together the morning of.

Option 4: Overnight Oats

This is basically muesli, but made ahead so everything is ready to go when you wake up in the morning. You can eat it cold or warm, and I’ll bet you’ve seen it made in cute individual mason jars on many blogs.

I made it once in cute little mason jars and then realized that cleaning out a half dozen individual mason jars was not worth the cute factor for me! You do you, though, and you could probably make up a batch and then scoop it into bowls the morning of pretty easily. Googling “Overnight Oats” will give lots of topping ideas, and I thought it worth including as an option.

Did I say cheap?

Saving money on your grocery budget is a high priority for many people, right up there with enjoying better health.

We buy both rolled oats and steel-cut oats from our local Winco Foods for $.75/lb. We can make 5 BIG, belly-filling servings of oats from one pound of dry oats. That’s 15 cents a serving, leaving plenty of wiggle room for spices and fresh fruit to put on top.

If you don’t have a good source locally, look online. If you were to order a 25 lb bag of steel-cut oats from Bob’s Red Mill online, you would be getting 125 servings of breakfast for $28!

Always different, always delicious

Just because you have oatmeal most mornings of the week does not mean it needs to be boring. In the colder months, we have cooked oatmeal 3x/week and muesli 2x/week, and we tend to flip that ratio around to favor muesli when the weather is warmer. It’s easy to change up the toppings so breakfast is yummy all year.

Here are 11 favorites to get you started:

  1. Every Monday, we have steel-cut oats with (usually frozen) berries or cherries. I like to streamline our menu plan and it’s nice to not make a decision for Monday mornings.

    Pro tip: I scoop a cup of berries or cherries in each bowl when I put the pan of water on to boil. By the time the oats are done the berries are partially thawed, so stirring a cup of piping oatmeal into each bowl makes it a perfect temperature for digging right in.

  2. Once a week, we add apples, raisins, cinnamon, vanilla, and walnuts to either oats or muesli.

    Pro Tip: I like to cook the raisins with the oats so they’re soft, but add the apples in afterwards. Try it both ways!

    I also sometimes have this combination in a muesli made with apple cider instead of plant-based milk. Mmmm.

  3. Most of us (my husband excepted) love banana, cinnamon, nutmeg, and walnuts in our oats. I mash up the banana with a fork and stir it in after the oats are cooked.

  4. In the summer, peaches, cardamom and pecan with fresh blackberries is as close to heaven in a bowl as I can imagine.

  5. Pear and crystallized ginger, again with the sliced almonds.

  6. Date crumbles, unsweetened coconut, sunflower seeds, and cinnamon

  7. Fresh fruit muesli with grapes, apples, oranges, and (optionally) bananas

  8. Chopped dried apricot with pumpkin seeds (AKA pepitas)

  9. Applesauce and cinnamon. One time I invented “applesauce muesli” out of desperation and it’s become a steady favorite. I just stir unsweetened applesauce into rolled oats, add some cinnamon and flax and voila. Happy kids.

  10. Blueberries, lemon zest and sliced almonds

  11. Pumpkin, sweet potato, or winter squash – If I have some in my fridge already cooked, I’ll add it along with cinnamon and some date crumbles.

Oatmeal. Make it your next breakfast!

And, if you have kids and they’re starving and the oatmeal is still too hot to eat, serve it spread out on a plate.

It’s less attractive but still every bit as yummy, cheap, easy and healthy.

Just keepin’ it real.

2 thoughts on “Why You Should Serve Oatmeal for Breakfast if at All Possible”

  1. Hi Anne,
    I have never been thrilled about oatmeal but I know it is good for you. I’m trying to have it more often now. How much oatmeal do you add to a bowl for just one person when making muesli and how much fruit and milk? I need specifics

  2. Yum!! I got myself hooked on oatmeal for breakfast years ago and sometimes I wonder why I haven’t gotten sick of it. Also I wonder if I should have more variety in my breakfast, so your variations gave me stuff to try. Never in 100 years would I have imagined pumpkin in my oatmeal, but good idea.

    My current fav: Goji berries!!

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