Written by Stephanie, Creator and Editor of Keeper of the Home
Eating oatmeal has suddenly become trendy.
I'm not sure when or how it happened, but lately I've seen more and more coffee shops (even McDonald's, for goodness sake!) offering cups of oatmeal packed with wholesome ingredients like fruits and nuts.
I'm pleased to see this real food making a comeback. Oatmeal is a hearty, nourishing, traditional food, and if I end up in a situation where I or my kids need something filling while we're out, it's a "fast food" option that I'm happy to have!
At over $3 a pop in most cases, it's either a cheap meal (if you're out and you're stuck) or an expensive one (when you consider how inexpensively you could make something similar at home). I also know that by making it myself, I can use choice ingredients, like organic oats and nuts bought in bulk, dried fruits without preservatives, and top it with unrefined sweeteners.
I've also realized that although my kids are voracious oatmeal eaters regardless of the toppings, my husband and I enjoy our morning bowl far more when we added some scrumptious goodies to dress it up a little.
Oats may be a basic staple that have nourished people throughout much of history, but that doesn't mean we have to eat it plain Jane. I like my oatmeal fancy.
Inspired by those coffee shop cups of sophisticated oatmeal, I recognized that I could easily whip up my own "fancy oatmeal" mixes so that we can enjoy the same type of goodness at home, with ingredients of my choosing, for a very small investment of time. Not to mention, I can probably feed our whole family for the same cost as one little coffee shop serving!
Fancy Oatmeal Made Four Different Ways
Below I'll show you the four variations that I've come up with before. These are just a smattering of the endless possibilities one could come up with!
The pictures I've taken are just of the oatmeal mix, before I've added it to the actual oatmeal. My basic method is:
- Grind up larger nuts and/or dried fruit pieces in the food processor.
- Add in anything smaller (seeds, coconut, etc.)
- Add in flavors (for the varieties that have flavor added)
Once you've made your mix, there are a couple different ways to serve it. You could do as we did and just add the fruit/nut mixture after our hot bowl of oatmeal was already served up. We stirred it in with our spoons, topped with sweetener and some milk or cream, and voila.
The other option would be to actually add the mixture in while the oatmeal is still cooking. This would result in more melding of the flavors, and softer (and warmer) nuts and fruit.
I think it's really a matter a preference. I like my nuts still crispy and crunchy, so I add it after, but I think that both are perfectly acceptable ways of doing it.
Don't forget-- nuts should be soaked!
One other thing to mention is that these mixes make use of nuts and seeds, which are similar to grains in that they are known for having a high phytic acid content. In a nutshell (very punny, I know), this means that they are harder on your digestion and can prevent the absorption of important nutrients. This can be remedied by soaking the nuts.
The way that I do it is to buy my nuts and seeds in bulk, and then soak them all at once, as soon as I buy them. I'll set out a row of large bowls on my counter, fill them all with my warm, slightly salty water, and leave them for 12-24 hours. Then, I rinse and dehydrate them all at once. I then fill up mason jars with all my soaked and dried nuts and seeds, and I have them ready for me to use whenever I need them.
If you don't have a dehydrator, you may be able to dry them in your oven on its very lowest setting. You will likely kill the enzymes in your nuts so that they aren't raw anymore, but I think it's probably better than leaving them unsoaked.
Cherry Vanilla Almond
dried cherries + almonds + flax seeds + pure vanilla
This was the first one I tried and I think it was my favorite. I just love dried cherries. I put the almonds into the processor first to chop them up small, then added the cherries for a minute, then flax seeds, and at the end, a good squirt of real vanilla extract. I pulsed it all together briefly just to mix it well.
Cinnamon Apple Pie
fresh diced apples (or dried apples) + walnuts + raisins + cinnamon
My children loved this one. I think if I was going to add any of these mixes to the oatmeal while it was cooking, this would be the one. Having the apples and cinnamon warm and even more incorporated into the oatmeal would be delicious. We made ours with fresh, peeled and diced apples. However, this would work just fine with dried apples instead.
Cranberry, Nuts & Chia
mixed nuts + dried cranberries + chia seeds + orange essence
I wanted something really nutty and more complex, so I used a store-bought nut mix that included brazil nuts, almonds, cashews, filberts and pecans, and I whizzed those in my processor. Then dried cranberries and a handful of chia seeds. I also added a bit of organic orange essence (just an extract, like vanilla or peppermint flavor). It helped to bring out the flavor in the cranberries.
If you don't have the orange essence, you could also just use a bit of orange juice concentrate or fresh squeeze orange juice or maybe orange zest. But, if you use those fresh options, you'll have to store it in the fridge and it won't last more than a couple days, I would imagine.
Sunny Apricot Coconut
dried apricots + sunflower seeds + almonds + dried, shredded coconut
Make sure you look for "unsulphured" apricots for this variety (they're darker in color, because they lack the preservatives), and also choose coconut that is unsweetened. I wanted something more tropical tasting and this fit the bill. It had a bright sunshiney flavor to it. This variety would also have been nice with a nut like pecans instead of the almonds.
Other flavor ideas?
What about a mixture of fruit flavors- things like dried blubeerries, strawberries, cranberries, raisins, pineapple, mango, etc. Choose 2-3 flavors and try them together!
Don't like dried fruit? You could make one that's just nut and seed based.
What about one with more of a maple flair? That's what I plan to try next, with walnuts or pecans, and maybe a bit of sea salt, too.
Why not add sweeteners to the mixes?
I didn't add sweeteners to my mixes because 1) It wouldn't store as well or for as long, and 2) I'd rather be able to add them to taste.
We also use a lot of liquid sweeteners like raw honey and real maple syrup (as opposed to dry sweeteners, although we sometimes use Sucanat), so those couldn't be added ahead of time.
Why not make them in pre-made oatmeal packets?
Mainly because I soak my oatmeal. I use whole, regular oats (not quick cooking oats) or oat groats. I soak them overnight in water with something acidic (whey, apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, etc.) added in.
This helps to break down the phytates, which are anti-nutrients and difficult on the digestive system. Adding in a bit of freshly ground wheat/kamut/spelt flour helps even more (just a tablespoon or two- read more here to understand why this helps).
How do you store them?
If you'd like to make the flavor mixes ahead, simply make a batch of one or two flavors and store in an airtight container. It will last just as long as any trail mix would last in the cupboard.
If you've added any essence or vanilla, however, they might not last quite as long. Refrigerating it, if you've made more than a couple days worth, would be a good idea. Same goes for nuts that go rancid more quickly (like walnuts, for example). I always keep my walnuts in the fridge, straight from the first day I buy them, so I stored my Cinnamon Apple Pie mix in the fridge to keep my walnuts fresh.