Help me eat a healthy breakfast
February 4, 2015 8:15 AM   Subscribe

Every day I make a cup of instant oatmeal at the office. This is the ideal breakfast setup for me - quick, easy, cheap, low-calorie, fairly non-perishable food that I can store in my desk drawer - except I'm not sure it's all that healthy. Is there a nutrient-rich alternative to this?

In addition to the criteria that it must be: 1) quick to make, 2) easy - no prep work, 3) non-perishable or at least very long lasting, 4) low-calorie (I'm pretty small so I need to stay well under 2000 Kcal/day), I'll also note that I don't like fruit and do not want to eat it every day, especially fresh fruit. The texture grosses me out. I don't have any other strong preferences or dietary restrictions. I do have access to refrigerator and freezer space.

If there is a brand of oatmeal that is vitamin/nutrient enriched that would work. I don't know a lot about nutrition and health so I'm not good at evaluating label/package claims.
posted by capricorn to Food & Drink (19 answers total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
You could up the nutritional content by buying a canister of real oatmeal, not instant - I do this and it's really not any more difficult than the instant packets. Just bring a 1/2 cup measuring scoop from home so you get the proportions right. Then keep nuts at your desk to mix in, or even peanut butter. I personally also use dried cranberries or raisins but not sure if that violates your fruit rule.
posted by something something at 8:23 AM on February 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

You can make this decently healthy (depending on what you are going for) by making overnight oatmeal using real oatmeal which will get you less sugar and more ability to put what you want in it. You can google "overnight oatmeal" but the basic gist is you put it in a jar at night, and the oats have soaked up all the liquid by morning. So you can make it with milk, for instance, or water and some protein powder, or a handful of nuts, or peanut butter, or brown sugar and coconut. Lots of options. It does let you keep track of nutritional value since you can measure what you put in. It's a little carb-heavy so you'd want to make sure you have something with protein in it.

When I was doing this I'd have oats, some skim milk, some greek yogurt, some nuts and some light sweetener. Shake it, leave it overnight. The next day you can heat it up or not.
posted by jessamyn at 8:23 AM on February 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

Instant oatmeal is actually a good thing to eat. "Real" oatmeal would probably be better, but I don't think instant is bad at all. It has complex carbs that are a bit harder to break down and give you energy throughout your morning, and it has a bit of fiber and protein that makes it satisfying and filling. Oatmeal has vitamins in it too. All I would do is cut out or reduce the sugar, if you are eating one of those packets that is maple syrup or apple cinnamon or whatever flavored. Sugar is very bad for you in a whole bunch of ways. It will make you hungry quickly, but sugar is also toxic, we are learning.
posted by AppleTurnover at 8:23 AM on February 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: How sugary is your oatmeal? A good, healthy breakfast is some oatmeal, a minimum amount of sugar/maple syrup (more nutritious), a tablespoon of almond or other good nut butter, and some ground flaxseed. The almond butter will increase the calories, but more importantly, will provide the protein that you should be getting at breakfast. You can keep the almond butter and the flaxseed in the fridge.

Greek yogurt without a lot of sugar/artificial gunk + some good quality granola is also a winning combination for me. Scoop some yogurt out of one of the big containers (check ingredients; get one with high protein, less sugar, and no fillers) into a bowl, top with whole-grain granola, eat.
posted by wintersweet at 8:24 AM on February 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Shelf stable items that are super great nutrition boosts for topping/mixing into oatmeal:

freeze dried coconut chips
chia seeds
any other nut (i'm allergic to most of them but you'd know if you were, obvs)
ground flax seed
PB2 (less fat than nut butters)
dried apricots snipped up with scissors
raisins or other dried berries

All of these are available for relatively low prices at Trader Joe's. You can also smush a banana in there. Banana + PB2 = Elvis Oatmeal!!!
posted by Juliet Banana at 9:15 AM on February 4, 2015 [10 favorites]

It's hard to beat oatmeal.
I use regular quick rolled oats, pour boiled water on top, mix it up, add 1 tsp- 1 tbsp of virgin coconut oil (healthy and helps keep you full through the morning, the hot water melts it), add ground flax, a dash of cinnamon and brown sugar. You could milk (dairy, almond, or soy) to it if you like.

I keep peanut butter cliff bars in my desk for emergencies (the best tasting cliff bar in my opinion), I wouldn't eat them every day because they're high in carbs and sugar but they're great in a pinch, full of vitamins and soy protein.
posted by lafemma at 9:31 AM on February 4, 2015

I make oatmeal every morning. My challenge is to pack as much good stuff in it as I possibly can. I make it with milk instead of water, and add a spoonful of powdered milk to up the calcium. Honey and cinnamon go next. I choose the happy medium between steel-cut oats and instant by using old fashioned, takes about five minutes to cook. Pour it over a sliced banana, a handful of walnuts, and whatever extra I bought on sale. Could be hemp seeds, chia, ground flax. The object of the game is to balance convenience with as much good stuff packed in as possible.
posted by raisingsand at 9:33 AM on February 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: There are various types of instant oatmeal. The worst are packets with added flavorings and sugar; don't eat them. But most quick-cooking or instant oats are simply cut up into smaller pieces or precooked. See this guide to the different types. The processing does not affect the nutritional value unless part of the oat is removed. Quaker quick oats and steel cut oats both have the same amounts of fiber listed on their nutritional labels, suggesting that they don't remove any bran.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 9:37 AM on February 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

Similar to what Juliet Banana said, what I like to do is add a small amount of trail mix to the oatmeal. It already has a good mix of fruits, nuts, and seeds, and you can get different blends depending on your taste. It also would save time over purchasing the ingredients separately.
posted by Gneisskate at 9:53 AM on February 4, 2015

My understanding is that instant oatmeal has just the same nutrition as other sorts. Where you can run into trouble is if you purchase a type that has tons of added sugar. If you pick a plain variety and add your own toppings, I think that's a very healthy breakfast.
posted by rainbowbrite at 10:13 AM on February 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

You actually can make your OWN instant oatmeal really easily! I'll need to confirm the recipe at home, but all you need is something like 6 cups of rolled oats, a half a cup to a cup of brown sugar (that's the part I'm not sure about), a sprinkle of cinnamon, and whatever other "stuff" you want - I usually use a couple handfuls of crushed-up freeze-dried berries, and maybe a little powdered milk.

You dump the oats into a baking sheet and bake them at about 350 (that's another thing I need to check) for about 15 minutes (last thing I need to check). Then you dump two cups into a bowl and save it aside; dump the rest into a food processor with the sugar and cinnamon (and powdered milk if you're using that too). Process that until it's powdery, then dump that into the bowl and add whatever dried or freeze-dried fruit you're using, and mix it up. Dump that all into a big jar.

The water-to-oatmeal ratio is 2-to-1, so it'd be a cup of water if you use a half cup of oats, 2/3 cup of water for 1/3 cup of oats, etc.

Doing it this way would let you control the amount of sugar; although the recipe as is doesn't use that much. I find that the freeze-dried fruit they sell at trader joes or in camping stores is PERFECT for this.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:49 AM on February 4, 2015 [4 favorites]

Most of the stuff people add to oatmeal to make it "taste good" is essentially sugar. A little sugar is nice, but if you work on it you can eventually get away from sugar, or at least reduce the amount.

Packaged envelopes of oatmeal are _full_ of sugar. So is most trail mix, fruit, and granola bars. Furthermore, they tend to reduce costs by not including as many nuts as you, if you were trying to get a healthy high-protein snack, would.

So, get some bulk rolled and/or quick oats from Whole foods, get some dried fruit in little pieces or cut it yourself (apples, raisins, apricots -- raspberries are low in sugar if you can get them), get some nuts -- without the brown coating is best for some people, so I suggest cashews or blanched almonds. Add a lot of nuts for protein goodness (plus the fat in the nuts will fill you up and help you get vitamins). Cinnamon and nutmeg are optional.

Mix the whole thing up with just a touch of salt, maybe 1/4 tsp for 5 cups mixture (makes a subtle but important difference).

Measure out a portion of it; pour some hot water over it, let it sit a minute, and then try it. If you don't like it, add just a little brown sugar at a time until you _do_ like it.

Once you've figured out your minimum sugar threshold, add the correct amount of sugar to the rest of the instant oatmeal you made. Mix it all up, then divide into individual serving sizes for yourself.

Maple syrup, agave, and brown sugar are really no healthier for you than white sugar. I specified brown sugar because I think it tastes better than white sugar for this type of food, and because it will mix better than liquid sweeteners.
posted by amtho at 1:48 PM on February 4, 2015

Instead of nuts or nut butter, I add a scoop of protein powder to my instant oatmeal packet at the office.
posted by CathyG at 2:41 PM on February 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

try buying just a bag of oats and adding fruit. 
posted by nathanm at 2:59 PM on February 4, 2015

I used to bring a huge bag of homemade muesli to work. Muesli is slightly different from oatmeal in that oats are not really the focus. I just put traditional rolled oats, hazelnuts, sliced almonds, dried blackcurrants, flax seeds, and shelled sunflower seeds into a freezer bag and left a container of almond milk (you can use whatever milk) in the fridge at work. Dump some in a bowl, pour over some milk, and microwave for about 2 minutes. It's chewier than oatmeal but more nutritious than just oats alone.

You can put whatever toppings you want - the reason I used blackcurrants and not other dried fruit was that they were the only dried fruit I could find that didn't have added sugar, so look out for that. Mostly I was just picking things that looked good from the bulk section. A bowl of this with the almond milk was around 300 calories, if I remember correctly.

This picture gives a good idea of the ratio of oats to other things.
posted by majesty_snowbird at 3:48 PM on February 4, 2015

I would use unsweetened / plain instant Oatmeal packets and just add easy add-ins like Chia seeds, hemp seeds, dried fruits, nuts, pumpkin seeds, etc. If you keep a variety of add-ins at your desk, each day's Oatmeal can be slightly different.
posted by leslievictoria at 8:25 PM on February 4, 2015

If you want to get away from the oatmeal, here's an idea:

Every Sunday, I make 5 hardboiled eggs and leave them in their shells. Monday, I take those plus five slices of Ezekiel bread and a jar of natural peanut butter to work. The eggs and bread go in the office fridge; the PB stays at my desk. This breakfast (one egg, one slice of bread, toasted and smeared with a tablespoon of the PB) is just about 258 calories. I forget the protein count, but it's pretty high and keeps me full till noon.
posted by LOLAttorney2009 at 5:55 AM on February 5, 2015

Leftovers? Dinner aces breakfast anyway. I skip toast and muffins and all that grainy crap and just eat meat salad from tuesday part 2.
posted by fritillary at 3:24 AM on February 10, 2015

Response by poster: Ended up going with essentially wintersweet's answer above, thanks everyone! My morning breakfasts at my desk are warm and filling.
posted by capricorn at 8:33 AM on March 2, 2015

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