Oatmeal: Superfood and Superfuel!

This is what a $6 bowl of oatmeal looks like.

One of the most memorable and interesting conversations I had at the 2011 Legislative Action Conference in Washington, D.C. was about oatmeal. Now some of you might not think the words “interesting” and “memorable” belong in the same sentence as “oatmeal,” but I beg to differ! Oatmeal is very interesting, and when you learn more about it I think you’ll find it “memorable,” too!

My fellow LAC attendee and I were chatting about Breakfast in the Classroom when the conversation turned to oatmeal. We learned that we were both enthusiastic oatmeal fans, loving the flavor, nutritional benefits, and affordability of this pantry staple. Oh yeah, and it’s a pantry staple, which means it is shelf-stable and stores beautifully. During our conversation we were having a chuckle over how much some high-end restaurants will charge for a bowl of oatmeal, considering how inexpensive oats really are. My new friend told me that her husband had recently paid $6 for a bowl of oatmeal at a restaurant–six dollars! It’s not that I have never paid $6 for a bowl of oatmeal (see photo above) especially if it’s the healthiest thing on the menu, but the reality of oatmeal is that it’s usually an affordable, healthy food–an entire canister of oats retails for about $6! Restaurant mark-up aside, let’s dive right in and talk oats. Whether you like them steel-cut or old-fashioned (rolled), oats are a great way to get a healthy breakfast in the morning.

In March the Food Channel released a “Top 10 Breakfast Trends” list, and guess what unassuming lil’ grain made the #1 spot? That’s right: oatmeal. The article states that, “2011 looks like to be a renaissance year for the classic thick and lumpy cereal.” (I guess the Food Channel has never eaten my oatmeal!) The Food Channel also published an article on the “Top 10 Good Things About Oatmeal” and among the top ten included things like flavor, nutritional benefits, versatility, and weight control among this humble grain’s best qualities.

Nutritionally speaking, what’s so great about oatmeal? Oatmeal is often referred to as a “super food” because of the many health benefits it offers: oats contain soluble and insoluble fiber, and studies show that oats may help lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease; soluble fiber helps control glucose levels in the blood, which may reduce the risk for Type II diabetes; oats are a whole grain, and 100% natural (when purchased unflavored); oatmeal contains vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

When I was researching this piece on oatmeal I gave a shout out to my friend Kate Idzorek, who works at the University of Alaska Cooperative Extension as a food research technician and kitchen manager to see what kind of stats she could find me on oatmeal. (I have friends in yummy places!) She forwarded me a PDF document with a bar graph that breaks down the nutritional components of oatmeal. We all know oatmeal contains fiber, but did you also know that it contains protein and B vitamins? Oatmeal contains all kinds of goodies for your body: folate, calcium, a bunch of different minerals, including iron!

And then there is the low cost of oatmeal, particularly when you purchase it in bulk. By purchasing plain oats in the container, or bagging it yourself at the bulk section, not only do you save money vis-a-vis the pre-packaged, pre-portioned oatmeal, you also reduce the amount of packaging you throw away and keep it healthier by controlling the extras (fruit, syrup, milk, etc.) you use to flavor the oats. Win-win-win! This is great for the home cook, but I definitely see a place for the pre-packaged, pre-portioned oatmeals for use in in-classroom breakfasts. No matter how it’s wrapped, the contents are the same: oatmeal is a healthy, cost-effective breakfast food–a true superfood.

So now it’s my turn to ask you a few oatmeal-related questions:

  1. Do you like oatmeal? Why or why not?
  2. What is your favorite way to dress up your oatmeal?
  3. If your kids are eating breakfast at school, is oatmeal on the menu? I found one school serving it up, via Ed Bruske “The Slow Cook” at Better D.C. School Food.

Leave your answers in the comments section. Oh, and when I dress my oats it’s with a drizzle of milk, slivered almonds, banana, blueberries and one-half tablespoon of real maple syrup.

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