Among certain circles, oatmeal has reputation for being bland, boring, and old-fashioned--but I'm here to tell you, that's the furthest thing from the truth. While yes, it can be nostalgically comforting, oatmeal is an incredibly versatile superfood that provides fiber and nutrients to give your body a great start to the day. It's a filling breakfast and a friendly carb option for anyone following a gluten-free diet. And back to my initial point--there are so many ways you can run with it. Here the basics on how to say BYE to bland and make a oatmeal worth waking up excited for (and yes, that is completely possible).

Understand Oatmeal 101

If you've ever wandered the cereal aisle at the grocery store and wondered why exactly there seem to be so many different types of oatmeal, you're not the first. It can be confusing. They all come from the same base ingredient, but differ in how the oats are processed. The different levels processing make for variations in texture, cook time, and accordingly, best uses. Raw oats' flat shape isn't a natural occurrence. The term "rolled oats" comes from how the grain is processed to make it edible--the majority of the types of oats you see on supermarket shelves have been rolled and flattened, which makes them quicker to cook and soften. From longest cook time to shortest, here are the common oat categories to choose from:

  • Steel-cut oats: These oats haven't been pressed, only cut into smaller pieces. Cook time clocks in around 10-20 minutes and the texture will be more toothy and rice-like.
  • Old-fashioned oats: These oats have been steamed and pressed flat, which reduces their cook time to about 5 minutes.
  • Quick oats: These are pressed thinner than old-fashioned oats and take about 1-2 minutes to cook.
  • Instant oats: These are rolled even thinner than quick oats and only take about 1 minute to cook.

Prep Ahead

If you don't feel like you have time to stand over a stove and cook oats in the morning, you don't have to. Breakfast doesn't get much easier than overnight oats. Simply stir together a serving of uncooked oats, water or (dairy or alternative) milk, and whatever flavorings you want (sugar, honey, cocoa powder, cinnamon, vanilla, nut butters, etc.), then place in the fridge to soak overnight. In the morning, give it a stir and top with some nuts, fresh fruit, or whatever else you like. You can even prep your overnight oats in jars with well-fitted lids, so that you can just grab it and go in the morning. The overnight soaking makes for perfectly tender, creamy oatmeal without cooking. It's just about as easy, but infinitely more delicious, than taking a pack of instant oatmeal and microwaving it in a coffee cup once you get to the office. You can leave your overnight oatmeal chilled, or you can always heat it up if you want something a little more warm and cozy.

Overnight Oats
Overnight Oats with Kefir, Berries, and Toasted Coconut

Always Top It Off

OK, so this may some kind of duh, but it's worth a mention anyway. A key factor in keeping your oatmeal exceptional is piling some stuff on top--sweet things, or savory things, or all the things. This is where your creativity and appetite can have some fun. Yes, you need to season the oatmeal itself to your liking, but piling on the extras is what allows you to really make it something you look forward to eating. Throwing together a quick fruit compote or sautéing a big batch of apple slices at the beginning of the week can set you up for oatmeal awesomeness in the days to come.

Oatmeal Recipes for a Satisfying Breakfast

Don't Fear Entering Savory Territory

While oatmeal is often made as a healthy choice to satisfy the sweet tooth, there's no reason is has to be. Oatmeal is a mild base that pairs just as well with savory ingredients like fried or poached eggs, avocados, bacon, and even gravy. If you've never ventured into SavoryVille with a bowl of oatmeal before, think of it as you would a rice bowl. You can create virtually any flavor profile you want.

Crank Up the Oven

For an alternative to stove-top, microwave, or overnight oatmeal, give baked oatmeal a try. Beyond offering something a little bit different in terms of texture and requiring no standing and stirring, this is a great cooking method to make numerous servings at once (for guests or simply to prep your family's breakfast for the week). This recipe yields oats with a creamy rice pudding-like consistency when warm from the oven. It gets plenty of fall flavor from brown sugar, walnuts, and applesauce. Once you chill this breakfast bake, it's easily cut into servings and packed to go--delicious chilled, at room temperature, or reheated. In short, this is comfort food at its finest.