HOW TO: For the love of oatmeal

by April Fortner

Few foods are more inviting than a steaming bowl of oatmeal in the morning. For centuries, the Scottish people have used oatmeal to fight against their chilling climate.

Research proves that oatmeal is not only a tantalizing breakfast cereal, but it can actually help lower the risk for heart disease. Many families use oatmeal as a means to stretch their food budget, but now they have additional reasons to love it.

According to doctors Mark Andon and James Anderson (American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, Jan. 2008) in the article, “The Oatmeal-Cholesterol Connection: 10 Years Later,” oatmeal has multiple health benefits. Oatmeal lowers overall cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, high blood pressure and the risk of diabetes. It also helps prevent obesity because “oats consumed in the form of cooked oatmeal is a high-volume, low-energy-density food.” Eating oatmeal provides more fullness than eating cold cereal or bread, even when they are made with whole grain.

When my great-grandmother Gibson married, her husband gave her a grocery budget every week. He told her that whatever was left over was hers to spend on whatever she wished. Needless to say, she got creative in lowering the cost of their family’s groceries. Her daughter (my grandmother) grew up with oatmeal for breakfast every morning and passed on the tradition. 

While my family eats other things for breakfast too, oatmeal has become a favorite in our house. I figure that a box of old-fashioned oatmeal makes about three times as many meals as a cereal box of similar cost. When feeding a family of six, it makes a difference!

But what about the taste, you ask? I have met some people whose only association with oatmeal is the pasty, glue-like instant variety, giving rise to the idea that it is hardly worth eating. In fact, oatmeal consumption has declined since its peak in the late 90s during the “oat-bran craze.” However, when made right, oatmeal becomes a different product altogether: chewy, nutty and full of character. 

The Cooks Illustrated Cookbook says the best oatmeal is made from steel-cut oats, although old-fashioned rolled oats are good enough for me. They suggest cooking your oatmeal with a mixture of milk, water, butter and salt. I add brown sugar to my bowl and sometimes cinnamon.

A variety of ingredients can be added to keep oatmeal interesting. Fruit, both fresh and dried, and nuts are my favorite, but sometimes adding yogurt or applesauce is fun, too.

Another complaint I’ve heard about oatmeal is the time it takes to make it. Ten minutes from pot to table can seem like an eternity when you have somewhere to be. My solution? Make your own granola! Granola takes about 30 minutes to make, but it can be made ahead and last the whole week. It is slightly less expensive, effective and healthy, but a good way to introduce heart-healthy oats to an oatmeal skeptic.


3 cups old-fashioned oats

1 cup walnuts

1/2 cup shredded coconut

1/2 cup mixture of sliced almonds, sesame seeds, 

    sunflower seeds and/or toasted wheat germ

1/4 cup canola oil

1/41/2 cup of maple syrup or honey (depending on 


1 cup dried fruit (raisins, dates, bananas, 

    cranberries, etc.)

Mix the first four ingredients. Boil oil and syrup/honey together and pour over mixture. Bake at 325 degrees for 20 minutes on a baking sheet, stirring every five minutes. Remove when the granola browns slightly. Cool and add dried fruit. The granola will crisp up as it cools. 

This recipe is extremely flexible. Be creative! If cost is an issue, go easy on the nuts and dried fruit and make syrup with brown sugar (and a tiny amount of water) to replace the more costly honey and maple syrup.