February 18, 2012

Breakfast of Champions

All the experts seem to agree that breakfast is one of the most important meals of the day. Of course, when it comes to food, I tend to assume that "experts" have no idea what they're talking about. They're sort of like guilty-until-proven-innocent in my opinion. When it comes to breakfast though, the "experts" and I might have a little bit in common.

I believe breakfast is necessary for growing children. And at our house is a fairly important deal. If my kids skipped it, they'd go about five waking hours before lunch at school, and when four of those hours are spent in the classroom, it's imperative that they're able to focus. Yes, they sometimes get a snack at school, but it's not provided by me every day which means that probably 95% of the time it isn't too nourishing or filling.

So if you haven't guessed, we aren't talking about Wheaties here. Most people would probably consider Wheaties one of the healthier cereal choices and it probably is, amongst standard cereals. I will admit, it's not the worst thing you could eat. But it's FAR from the best. The second ingredient is sugar, the third is corn syrup and the fourth is trisodium phosophate. What is trisodium phosphate? It's a cleaning agent, stain remover and degreaser. Oh, and a food additive! Just in case you need to degrease your mouth. Yum. Ok, enough picking on Wheaties.

Our favorite breakfast around here is oatmeal. Looks and sounds boring, right? Oatmeal definitely CAN be boring. Like instant, microwavable (tastes-like-cardboard) oatmeal. But that's not what we're talking about...we do REAL oatmeal here. Steel cut oats.

Steel cut oats are extremely versatile and delicious. While I love old fashioned oats too, steel cut oats yield a much thicker, nuttier texture when cooked.

Steel cut oats (on the left) are basically the whole oat groat (kernel) cut in half (or sometimes thirds) with steel blades - hence "steel cut oats." Because the groat is left mostly intact, there's minimal nutrient loss from processing. In contrast, rolled oats (on the right) are the flattened oat groat. They're much thinner so they cook quicker and yield a texture that's not quite as coarse.

Oatmeal is an incredibly nutritious food and boasts many health benefits including lowering cholesterol, boosting immunity and stabilizing blood sugar. It also contains antioxidants called avenanthramides, which prevent free radicals from attacking good cholesterol and help reduce the risk of heart disease. One cup of oatmeal is a good source of fiber and contains significant amounts of vital nutrients manganese, selenium, phosphorous, magnesium and zinc. And all this for about 150 calories.

But I love it for it's versatility. At our house, we like to have what we call an "oatmeal bar."

You can put pretty much anything on oatmeal. It's like the perfect carrier for adding even more healthy, whole foods. I put it all on the table and let the kids load it up with whatever they want. The options usually consist of dried cranberries, raisins, coconut chips, peanut butter, pure maple syrup, ground flaxseed, cinnamon/sugar, blueberries, bananas, toasted pecans, toasted walnuts, mini chocolate chips, brown sugar and whole milk or cream. But that's just the beginning. You could try fruit preserves, almonds, goji berries, cashews, other nut butters, pepitas, pureed pumpkin, honey, yogurt, strawberries, even a sunny-side-up egg with cheese. Seriously, think of something and try it on oatmeal. It will probably be good.

My personal favorite: bananas, toasted pecans, cream and a drizzle of maple syrup. I really could eat this EVERY morning.
Jon's breakfast this morning - peanut butter, blueberries, coconut and cinnamon/sugar

The only drawback to using steel cut oats is that they take about 30 minutes to cook so it's definitely not as quick as using rolled oats. Since I try to soak grains when I can to reduce the phytic acid content, I soak them overnight and this significantly reduces the cooking time.

Stir 1 T lemon juice into 2 cups water in a glass bowl
Add 1 cup steel cut oats
Let rest on the counter 12-24 hours, covered with a towel
To cook, transfer oats and water to a pot, and add 1 C. more water
Bring to boiling, then reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes
Remove from heat, stir and serve.
**For creamier oats, you can cook them in milk. I find they tend to boil over VERY easily when I do this, so sometimes I simmer them in the original 2 cups water until they're about half done, then add 1 cup milk at the end instead.

This stuff sticks to your ribs. It keeps my kids (and my hubby!) full and energized all the way until lunch time. Plus, since they get all like peanut butter on theirs, they get a well-balanced meal with whole grains, fruit and protein.

Now that's a REAL breakfast of champions!


  1. I LOVE steel cut oats... just had some this morning! I cook enough for 3-4 days and keep the extra in the refrigerator in a mason jar. I got the idea from pinterest and decided to try it and they taste just as good the next several days! (If I couldn't do that I would rarely eat them since they take so long to cook :) I add frozen fruit that I thawed to mine... blueberries, blackberries and strawberries... YUM!
    Terra R

    1. I love saving them too....someone suggested frying the leftovers in coconut oil. I tried it and it tasted amazing but stuck really bad to the pan. I need to attempt it again. I love how versatile they are!