A foodie's quest to turn up the heat through strength and conditioning with whole food and a hungry mind.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Healthy and Thrifty – “Instant” Oatmeal

The latest report on America’s obesity rates and trends paints a gloomy picture for what’s to come if we don’t make positive changes. One finding on the report was that lower income households were more obese mainly because they choose cheaper, packaged food rather than more expensive fresh items.  Packaged foods might seem cheap at first, but they will cost you in the long run.  Although there are numerous packaged items we could easily make at home, I will start with the popular instant oatmeal packets. Do you enjoy the selection of flavors in the personal packets of instant oatmeal? Check the nutrition facts and you’re sure to find an unhealthy dose of added sugar, salt, and various starches or gums to create that thick consistency.
I am against the packaged convenience items like “100 Calorie” packets and instant oatmeal packs. You usually get less and pay more when just for a little time saved. The packets also seem to be lower quality ingredients too, so they’ll cost you in the long run. So what if you were to make your own “instant package” by assembling ingredients you buy in bulk? Buying rolled oats from a bulk department or a big canister of store-brand or Quaker rolled oats is the base to creating your own packages. I opt for the bulk department oats as they are the least expensive way to go. If you’re partial to a certain “healthy” brand of instant oatmeal, then buy organic rolled oats in bulk; problem solved.
Making your own of something is great because it allows you to actually know what’s in it and adjust to your personal tastes. To create a basic instant oatmeal package, you only need a few items; from there you can add extras for more flavor and nutrition.

Basic Instant Oatmeal Recipe
- 3 Cups Quick-Cooking or Rolled Oats*
- Non-fat Powdered Milk – If you’re lactose intolerant or vegan, it’s ok to leave this out
- Salt – Optional
- Small zip-up baggies
*Quick-cooking oats are more processed to allow for quicker cooking times; I find rolled oats still cook just fine and contain more of the “whole” oat. It’s up to you on which to use, but you will have a little extra fiber from the less processed rolled oats.
Put 1 cup of oats in a blender or food processor and blend on high until powdery. The powdered oats help create a thick oatmeal for that comforting, creamy oatmeal. Set the powdered oats aside in a small bowl. Put the following ingredients into each zip baggie: 1/4 cup un-powdered oats, 2 Tbsp. powdered oats, 1/2 Tbsp. non-fat powdered milk, and 1/8 tsp. salt. Fill each bag until you run out of ingredients. The powdered milk is a great addition for extra protein, but can be omitted if you desire.

To cook: Empty packet into a bowl. Add 3/4 cup boiling water. Stir and let stand for 2 minutes. For thicker oatmeal use less water, for thinner oatmeal use more water. You can also mix the packet contents with water and microwave for 1 minute, stir, and then microwave another 20 to 30 seconds.
Now you have a basic recipe to make your own oatmeal packets that can be kept at home, stored in your desk at work, or packed to take with you on the road. If you like plain things, you can stop here and be on your way with this recipe, but for extra flavor, I like to add a few things.

Variations – add listed ingredients to each packet

  • Apple-Cinnamon - 1 tsp. stevia granules, 1/4 tsp. cinnamon, and 2 Tbsp. chopped dried apples
  • Plain and Sweet - 1 tsp. stevia granules or 1 Tbsp. brown sugar
  • Brown Sugar and Cinnamon - 1 Tbsp. brown sugar and 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
  • Cinnamon Raisin - 1 tsp. stevia, 1/4 tsp. cinnamon, and 1 Tbsp. raisins
  • Health Nut - 2 Tbsp. of raw or toasted wheat germ, 1 Tbsp. of your favorite nuts (almonds, walnuts, peanuts, pistachios, etc.), 1/4 tsp. cinnamon, and 1 tsp. stevia granules
  • S'Mores - 6 mini marshmallows and 1 Tbsp. dark chocolate chips to each packet
  • Cocoa - 2 tsp. unsweetened cocoa powder and 1 tsp. stevia granules
  • Pumpkin Pie - 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, 1/2 tsp. ginger, 1/4 tsp. nutmeg, dash of allspice, 1 tsp. stevia granules
  • Pumped Up Protein "PrOats" - 1/2 scoop of your favorite flavored protein powder and 1 tsp. stevia granules; I use an all natural whey protein sweetened with stevia. My favorite brands are Energy First and Dymatize.

There are many combinations to use that will make flavorful and nutritious oatmeal. The variations above are not set in stone; try taking something from one and adding it to another as you see fit. I always stress that you should have fun with your creations in the kitchen and include family when applicable. Enjoying your time creating meals is a great way to ensure you make more food in the home than going out to eat. This translates to a healthier and happier life for you and your family.
Another option for those hot summer days is to make a no-cook oatmeal. This is not very transportable as refrigeration is needed, but is a nice change when something hot just doesn’t sound appealing when it’s 100+ outside. To make this version, just mix any of the combinations above into 3/4 cups of water or milk; or 1/2 cup of non-fat yogurt (I use plain, but vanilla or another flavor is a great treat) in an airtight container. Mixing pumpkin puree, applesauce, or peanut butter also makes for a great tasting breakfast, lunch, dinner, or dessert.  Place the mixture in the fridge and let sit over night or 8 hours. This will be ready to eat right out of the fridge in the morning; you can even grab it and go if running late. Add fresh or frozen fruit when mixing if you want; blueberries, strawberries, banana, or papaya are some of my favorite fruits to add.

This is a simple way to choose a healthier option and maybe enjoy your food more. I always go back and forth with my boss at work as he thinks he “needs” some of these convenience items. S.P., if you’re reading this, hope you give it a try before buying your gourmet instant packs! More healthy and thrifty tips will come in the near future, please continue to follow and share my blog with friend and family!

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