As much as I'd like to make oatmeal from scratch every morning, the reality is I don't always have time. I still want a breakfast that will leave me as satisfied and energized as oatmeal typically does, but it needs to be something I can whip up right away and quickly.
Enter, instant oatmeal packets. Though oft-maligned, there's no denying their convenience. All you have to do is add hot water, wait a few minutes, and they're ready to eat. I will admit, though, I don't always feel as satisfied after an instant oatmeal packet as I do after a bowl of homemade oats, and registered dietitians tell me that there are a couple reasons this is probably happening.
Instant oatmeal is more suited to being a snack than a meal, in terms of the energy it provides, Wendy Lopez, M.S., R.D., C.D.E., tells SELF. Lopez recommends that meals provide significantly more in terms of calories than a packet of instant oatmeal on its own can provide. But it's not just the lack of calories in a single instant oatmeal packet that's leaving you hungry, though. Generally, they're also low in the nutrients that keep you satisfied, like fiber, protein, and healthy fats, Abbey Sharp, R.D. and author of the Mindful Glow Cookbook, tells SELF.
Luckily, there are handful of super simple ways to turn an instant oatmeal packet into a well-rounded meal, even if you're short on time or preparing it from the office. Here, R.D.s break down their favorite ways to give the convenient breakfast a nutritional boost.
Cook the oats in something other than water.
Just because you can cook instant oats in boiling water, doesn't mean it's the only option you have. If you're in a rush, Lopez says that adding nutrient-dense liquid bases is an easy way to make your breakfast more filling without giving yourself more work.
Abby Langer, R.D., highly recommends using dairy milk, if you aren't avoiding dairy for whatever reason. "It adds calories, protein, and fat to make the oats more satisfying," she explains, "plus with milk they're 100 percent creamier."
If you are avoiding dairy, Lopez says you can get the same effect from adding a nutrient-rich non-dairy liquid source, like pea milk, which has 8 grams of protein per 8-ounce serving.
If you're preparing your oats from home, use nutritious grab-and-go ingredients from your fridge to beef it up.
The nice thing about oatmeal is that it's the perfect plain base to add just about anything to. And there are plenty of ready-to-use ingredients that will make it more nutritious and filling and that you can grab straight from your fridge or freezer.
Sharp likes to add a dollop of Greek yogurt and some frozen berries, but you could also use cottage cheese and frozen pineapple, or whatever you prefer. When you're in a rush, anything goes.
Keep shelf-stable ingredients at your desk to add to your oatmeal if you don't have time to make breakfast before you leave for work.
Every now and then something unexpected happens in the morning and doesn't leave you with enough time to make breakfast before work. Luckily, instant oatmeal is one of those things that you can easily prepare at the office, and there are a bunch of shelf-stable toppings you can keep at your desk for those moments.
"Nuts, seeds, and nut butters are all great shelf-stable toppings that add extra protein, fiber, and healthy fats," says Sharp. Dried fruit is also a great choice, Langer explains. And fresh fruits that don't need to be refrigerated, like bananas or apples, are fair game, too.
And feel free to incorporate savory ingredients like hard-boiled eggs or veggies.
If you are one of those lucky folks that has a fridge at your office, it'll open up a world of savory possibilities for your oatmeal. Try adding a hard-boiled egg and a drizzle of olive oil and parmesan cheese, or top it off with any meal-prepped roasted veggies you may have at home.
The most important thing to remember is that there's almost no way to mess up instant oats. So, no matter how you doctor it up, it's going to taste great.