Transform your bland bowl of gruel into a high-flavor breakfast hero.
Too bad it usually tastes like cardboard.
Good news: It doesn’t have to. There are dozens of ways to spice—or sweeten—up your bowl so you can enjoy oatmeal multiple times per week without ever getting bored.
Opt for a base of rolled oats, also called old-fashioned oats, instead of instant versions, suggests Anne Mauney, M.P.H., R.D. “Instant oats are more processed than regular rolled oats, so they’ll have less fiber,” she says.
Rolled oats take only about five minutes to cook on the stove, so this switch won’t add much time to your morning routine. Steel-cut oats are an equally healthy choice, but they require about 30 minutes to cook.
Once your pantry is stocked with rolled oats, try these tips for transforming bland oatmeal into the high-flavor breakfast hero it’s meant to be.
1. Whip in Thinly Sliced Banana for Creamy Sweetness
This is what Kath Younger, R.D., describes as “the ideal bowl of oatmeal.”
“The banana helps make the oatmeal sweeter and creamier without the use of table sugar or cream,” she says.
Use a ripe banana and slice it thinly, then whisk it into the oats as they cook. Beyond making it taste amazing, the banana adds a dose of potassium, which helps lower blood pressure naturally.
2. Cook Oats in Milk to Boost Flavor and Protein
“Not only does oatmeal made with water taste bland, but you’re also missing out on the extra protein that milk adds to your breakfast,” Mauney says.
One cup of 2 percent milk has an impressive 10 grams of protein, plus up to 30 percent of the daily recommended amount of calcium for adults over 50. If you’re looking for a lower-calorie option, use equal parts water and milk: ½ cup each. It will still provide a flavor and nutrition boost to your bowl.
3. Add Apple and Spices for a Bowl That Tastes like Pie
In the mood for a dessert-like breakfast? Vincci Tsui, R.D., uses apple pie as inspiration.
“I add diced apples; cinnamon, ginger, a bit of nutmeg and cloves [or a store-bought blend like pumpkin pie spice]; and chopped nuts,” she says. “Then I sweeten with maple syrup or brown sugar to taste.”
The apples and spices add a little sweetness, so you don’t need much maple syrup. Plus, the fruit adds extra fiber and nutrients to your breakfast.
4. Prefer Carrot Cake? Toss in Shredded Carrots, Walnuts, and Coconut
“Add some finely shredded carrots while cooking your oatmeal,” suggests Shamera Robinson, M.P.H., R.D.N.
“It may sound weird to have carrots for breakfast, but it will all make sense once you mix in a pinch of brown sugar, ginger, cinnamon, and hint of vanilla extract,” she says. “You can also top with shredded coconut or walnuts for added crunch.”
Bonus: Walnuts come with a dose of healthy monounsaturated fats, which will help keep you satisfied even longer, Robinson says.
5. Use a Spiced Tea Bag to Add Serious Flavor
“I love to infuse a bowl of hot cereal with a little spice by putting a chai or ginger and cinnamon tea bag into my water or milk before I turn on the fire,” says Kendra Tolbert, R.D.N. “Once the cooking liquid reaches a boil, I fish out the bags, add in the oats, and cook as usual.”
You could also stir in a spoonful of instant coffee or use brewed coffee instead of water. Just prepare to be wowed by the burst of flavor in every bite.
6. Whisk in an Egg for High-Protein Breakfast Pudding
A single egg packs six grams of belly-filling protein, but the best part of adding it to your oatmeal is that it’ll make the whole bowl taste like pudding, Mauney says.
If you’re cooking oats in the microwave, she suggests beating the egg with the rest of the ingredients before nuking.
If you’re cooking them on the stovetop, cook oatmeal as you usually would, take the pot off the heat, and whisk in the egg until it’s combined. Then cook everything for another minute over very low heat, stirring constantly so that the egg doesn’t scramble.
7. Mix Up a Pumpkin Spice Oatmeal Bowl with Thanksgiving Leftovers
Baking with canned pumpkin puree makes for delicious seasonal treats, but you often end up with a negligible amount left over. Instead of letting it get moldy in the back of your fridge, stir ⅓ cup of canned pumpkin, or however much you want, into a serving of oats as they cook.
Mauney also adds a pinch of cinnamon, ground cloves, and nutmeg to really evoke fall flavors. Last, layer sliced banana or a drizzle of maple syrup on top for a sweet finish.
8. Try Overnight Oats Instead
If you’re in the mood for cold oats or know you won’t even have five minutes to spare one morning, overnight oats are a great option. And they couldn’t be easier to make.
Combine one cup rolled oats, one cup milk of your choice (unsweetened coconut milk adds great flavor), and a pinch of cinnamon, nutmeg, and brown sugar in an airtight container, then refrigerate overnight, says Kamaria Mason, M.P.H., R.D.
You can also add ½ cup of Greek yogurt if you want to sneak in 10 extra grams of protein.
Just as with hot oatmeal, there’s no end to the mix-ins you can add to overnight oats. Mason recommends adding peaches and pecans for a summery, pie-like treat or honeycrisp apples and pumpkin pie spice in the fall.
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Photo: Christine Byrne.