Several pictures below originally appeared in my post 10 Tips for Eating Oatmeal While Traveling.
I think we’ve all been in that spot before: maybe you’re stuck with the limited options of a hotel continental breakfast, you’re a guest trying to make your daily porridge in a home without plain oats, a well-intentioned friend has given you a box of Maple & Brown Sugar Oatmeal, you’re “making it work” in a campus dining hall, or perhaps you’re simply trying to use up an old supply of oatmeal from before your transition to homemade porridge.
At one time or another, we’ve all held a packet of Apple Spice or Peaches ’N’ Cream or Maple & Brown Sugar instant oatmeal and thought, “How can I possibly enjoy this?”
Maybe I’m being too presumptuous. Some of you may still like those famous flavored packets. However, judging by the sentiments repeatedly expressed by my Oatmeal Enthusiasts, many of you share my dissatisfaction of the old packets. Once you go homemade, the pre-flavored stuff just doesn’t do it anymore.
Here are some tricks to make a flavored packet more enjoyable to your new, sophisticated palette. 😉
- Add fresh fruit. This trick alone may save you. Think about it: the typical Apple Spice (or Apple Cinnamon) Oatmeal will contain a few cubes of chewy dried apples. Solution: add in your own fresh diced apple. If you have the luxury of working on a stovetop, use the trick of pre-cooking the apples before adding in the oatmeal packet to enjoy softer apples. If you’re working with a microwave, just add the apples to the bowl with the oats and nuke the oatmeal as instructed. Microwaves have a creepy ability to make produce softer quickly anyway, so you might end up with soft apples after all!
- BANANAS. I know this is similar to the previous tip, but let me elaborate. Pre-flavored packets tend to be catered to the average consumer whose tastebuds have adapted to the intense (and often artificial) flavors of processed foods. For those of us who make our oatmeal from scratch, these flavors can be incredibly off-putting. I found that by mashing up a banana and adding it to Maple & Brown Sugar Oatmeal, it mellowed out the excessive flavors of the oatmeal packet. Another great addition to the Maple & Brown Sugar Oatmeal is pumpkin or sweet potato puree.
- ZUCCHINI. Grate in some zucchini to your flavored packet. Similar to bananas, the zucchini will mellow out the intense flavors of the oatmeal, but it would also add more nutrition and bulk to those wimpy packets.
- Add your own extract or spices. If you’re working in a kitchen (or a continental breakfast that has cinnamon available), add a *splash* of vanilla extract and a *tiny dash* of cinnamon. Remember that these packets are already flavored, so you don’t want to overdo it. However, I found that just a simply touch of each made a packet of Apple Spice Oatmeal less “artificial” tasting. (I also followed Tip #1 when I did this.)
- Add applesauce. If you don’t have access to fresh fruit, adding applesauce can be an easy way to mellow out the flavors of the packaged oats. This one is not really my cup of tea as I’m not big on store-bought applesauce, but I would definitely use it as a last resort.
- Add a fun topping. An interesting topping (especially something fresh and natural) will make those measly packets more filling and counteract the artificially flavored packets. See here for a list of FIFTY topping ideas, or check out the various sauces and compotes I’ve posted recipes for.
- Add lemon zest or lemon extract. If you have access to either of these, the freshness of the bright lemon flavor might liven up the pre-flavored oatmeal, giving it a less artificial taste. Just a drop of lemon extract or a 1/4 tsp of lemon zest should do the trick.
- Mix with plain oats. Obviously, this will only work in specific circumstances. For example, if you have a box of flavored oatmeal packets in your kitchen that you want to get rid of, you could use half an Apple Spice packet and half plain oats, and then follow the recipe for my Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal or Apple Pie Oatmeal (reducing the spice amounts slightly). Note: If the boxes are unopened, you could also donate them to a food bank so it goes to someone who needs them more than you.
Here are some examples:
My mom enjoys OatRevolution Apple & Cinnamon Oats. I diced in fresh apples (Tip #1), letting them cook for a few minutes in the liquid before adding the contents of the packet. Finally, I added a dash of cinnamon and a drop of vanilla extract (Tip #4).
As you can see, it produced a small portion. This is because these packets contain smaller servings than what you would have if you made it from scratch. They want the calorie count to be low, but with all the sugar and added “stuff,” they have to use a smaller portion. That’s crap, I say, so if I did this again, I would add even more apples. Nevertheless, my semi-picky mom approved of it.
This alluring bowl is Country Choice Organic’s Maple & Brown Sugar Oatmeal with a banana mashed in (Tip #2). On top, I added a fruity topping and reduction sauce (Tip #6), which I will provide the recipe for next week!
Country Choice’s packets are heartier than OatRevolution’s. Having a banana mashed in helped, too. Honestly, with the banana and the fruity topping, I could barely tell I was eating a flavored oatmeal packet!
One final note: remember that flavored oatmeal packets are also high in sugar.
I highly recommend making it a priority to increase the amount of fiber in the oatmeal by following tips #1-3. Foods that are high in fructose but low in fiber head straight for your liver and wreak havoc on your body (think type II diabetes and other metabolic syndromes). When your food is combined with whole sources of fiber (REAL fiber, not Metamucil), your digestive system is better able to deal with the massive influx of sugar. Here’s what Robert Lustig, M.D., has to say about the importance of fiber (particularly in fruit):
The reason fructose in fruit doesn’t cause significant health problems is that it’s balanced by the endogenous fiber that makes up the solid part of the fruit. If you consume both together, as Nature intended, it reduces the rate of flux to the liver; the liver can keep up, which mitigates most of the negative effects of the sugar. (Fat Chance, from Chapter 12: Fiber—Half the “Antidote”)
This is an issue close to my heart as this was one of the primary reasons I began making oatmeal from scratch (and why I continue to prioritize adding as little added sugar as possible). Yes, I know that oatmeal itself contains fiber, but one particular brand’s Maple & Brown Sugar packet contained only 3g of fiber and an unpleasant 12g of sugar. Brands that contain more fiber than this are typically just adding synthetic fiber back into the product . . . and unfortunately, that doesn’t really work as well as the real deal.
Eat your fiber! 🙂
*steps down from soap box*