With summer in our rear view mirrors, and everyone back to school and work, we are all trying to find normal again. It can get a bit overwhelming at times, and some days just seem to be crazy from the get-go. However, when everyone starts the day with a satisfying breakfast, the whole family will be in a better mood, have more energy to learn, play and work, and even find it easier to make nutritious choices all day long. While the statistics regarding breakfast habits in the U.S. are sobering, you can make health a priority in your house each morning by enjoying a smart breakfast. It doesn’t have to be complicated, actually, I recommend the opposite. Make breakfast as simple as possible! Now, you are probably thinking that everyone has different food preferences and you struggle to make everyone happy. Don’t worry! Why not set up a breakfast bar with a whole grain hot cereal and different mix-ins, so that everyone can make the perfect bowl for themselves?
While oatmeal is a wonderful choice, don’t pay extra for the unnecessary processing and added sugar in instant packets. Save money and with the five minutes it takes to cook up some old-fashioned oats, you can cut up some fruit, pack your lunch or track down your keys. For some variety, stop by the bulk section of your favorite supermarket or health food store and buy a cup of a few different types of whole grains to experiment with. The options are nearly endless: steel-cut oats, multi-grain hot cereal, bulgur or cracked wheat, whole wheat couscous, quinoa, kamut, kasha, whole grain cornmeal/polenta, millet, spelt, brown rice, farro and barley. I am sure that you will find a few that hit the spot.
When it comes to most grains, the shorter the cooking time, the quicker you may find yourself hungry again. When you discover a longer cooking grain that you really enjoy, simply make a big pot over the weekend, during one evening while you are doing the dishes or in a slow cooker at night. Each morning, you can just warm up the portion you plan to eat and add your mix-ins. Extra cooked grains can also be frozen and then thawed in the fridge. If you have family to feed, delegate! Get everyone involved and let them experiment. While you cook/warm the whole grain, have the kids set the table and assemble the mix-ins.
Whole grains cooked in water are a wonderful source of needed starch (fuel for your body), fiber and fluid that will fill you up, keep you going for hours, and protect you from disease, while the mix-ins can keep it interesting and boost your nutrient intake even more. Some of us are perfectly happy eating the same combinations every morning (oatmeal, banana, cinnamon, pecans), while others like to keep changing it up. Make a list of mix-ins that sound appealing to you, and if you like variety, let your imagination run wild. Here are some mix-ins to consider having in small containers for your breakfast bar: spices — cinnamon, mace, nutmeg, turmeric, ginger, cloves, allspice, apple pie spice, pumpkin pie spice; extracts — vanilla, butterscotch, coconut, chocolate; fruit — any fresh or frozen berries, apple, pear, melon, apricots, plums, cherries, pineapple, grapefruit, orange, kiwi, mango, papaya, cranberries, peaches, nectarines, banana; a small sprinkling of nuts or seeds — almonds, cashews, pistachios, macadamias, pecans, walnuts, flax, chia, sunflower or hemp seeds; a few other potential additions — cocoa powder and a bit of stevia, minced dates or raisins for sweetness, pureed pumpkin, orange zest and cranberries with a touch of vanilla, maple syrup and cinnamon, oh my!
Since Monday was a holiday, I made our week’s worth of oatmeal on Monday evening, while doing dishes from dinner. My basic recipe works well for making it ahead, as there is plenty of liquid for the oatmeal to absorb and it does not get too firm in the fridge during the week. I boil 2 1/2 cups of water and then add 3/4 cup old fashioned rolled oats, and cook for 5 minutes, then cover and turn off the heat. The mixture will have quite a bit of extra liquid, but don’t worry, simply add fruit (I added 1 apple and 1/2 cup of frozen blueberries), 1/2 tsp of cinnamon and let it sit, with the lid on. Transfer to appropriate containers and you can sprinkle with some freshly ground flaxseed or walnuts, if desired. I quadrupled this recipe to make 12 cups, plenty for four breakfasts for me and five meals for my daughter, either breakfast or lunch, since she loves to bring this cooked oatmeal to school. For this quantity, I added three diced apples and one pear, along with two cups of blueberries. It is so nice to be able to just wash one pot and scraper and know that we are set for breakfast all week.
Timaree Hagenburger, is a registered dietitian and certified exercise physiologist with a master’s degree in public health. She is a nutrition professor at Cosumnes River College, conducts corporate wellness work, professional speaking engagements, and has a regular segment on California Bountiful TV. This delicious recipe, as well as a fun Oatmeal Foodie Bar, is part of her innovative cookbook – The Foodie Bar™ Way: One meal. Lots of options. Everyone’s happy. available at www.FoodieBars.coms