Oatmeal is the classic “healthy” breakfast—but chances are, you’ve had a disappointing bowl of it at some point in your life. Perhaps you’ve pondered if there was more to morning life than this sad, gray, gluey bowl of semi-warm oats while dreaming of a hot, gooey egg and cheese sandwich. Or wished it was just a little hotter, a little creamier, a little more fun.
Guess what? Oatmeal doesn’t have to be this way. Our test kitchen editors Alison Roman and Dawn Perry love a good bowl of oatmeal, as long as it’s done right. We talked to them about the mistakes people are making when they make this hot breakfast cereal—and if you avoid them, you might even pass up that egg sandwich for a fragrant, steamy bowl of the healthy stuff.
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1. FALSE: Milk=Creamy Goodness
The key to getting a creamy, not-gluey bowl of oatmeal is using enough water. Notice we said water—cooking oatmeal in milk tends to make a stickier, thicker oatmeal. Follow the directions on the canister using H2O, then add a splash of milk or almond milk in the bowl.
2. DON’T Let It Rip
After your water reaches a boil, add your oats and bring it down to a simmer over low or medium-low heat. You want it to bubble a little bit, but if you cook it over too high a heat, the bottom will burn. Which will be a dishwashing NIGHTMARE. Avoid.
3. DON’T Eat It As-Is
What’s oatmeal without a little spice? Boring and sad, that’s what. After you bring your water to a boil, add some spices into the mix along with the oatmeal. Just make sure they’re ground—things like cloves and cinnamon sticks will be hard to pick out of the creamy cereal.
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4. DON’T Skip the Salt
Yes, even your breakfast needs seasoning. Put a pinch of salt in the water along with your spices.
5. FALSE: No Matter How You Cook It, It’s All the Same
When you add your oats to the water determines the consistency of your oatmeal. If you bring your water to a boil and then add your oats, you’ll have a more textured, toothsome oatmeal. If you add your oatmeal to cold water and then bring them up to a boil together, the oatmeal will be a little more creamy.
6. DON’T Keep It One Texture
We’re not sure about you, but a bowl of oatmeal without add-ins is a little…dull. Think of it as a blank canvas for flavors. Throw in dried or fresh fruit, toasted nuts, or compotes to keep things interesting. You can even swirl in a little chocolate or peanut butter if you wanna get real crazy. Whoa!
SEE MORE: How to Reheat All Your Leftovers
7. FALSE: A Bowl Is a Bowl Is a Bowl
Have you ever had cold oatmeal? It might be the least pleasant thing to eat on the face of this earth. And if you put your oatmeal in a shallow bowl, it’ll congeal before you’ve finished. Eat your cereal out of a deep bowl—or even a mug—to avoid eating breakfast that’s the texture of wallpaper paste.
8. DON’T Forget About the Pot
Remember when we said that burning your oatmeal would be a dishwashing nightmare? Yeah, so is leaving residual oatmeal in your pot. The stuff is like concrete, and you’ll need the strength of Hercules if you don’t have a good, abrasive scrubber. Throw some dish soap and hot water into the pot immediately after you’ve plated your oatmeal. Trust.
9. All Oatmeal Is Created Equal
Just kidding—it’s not. From rolled oats to steel-cut to Irish-style, each kind of oatmeal is cooked differently. We’re talking about your standard canister of old fashioned Quaker Oats here, but we encourage you to explore the wonderful world of hot breakfast cereals.
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