The Right Way to Prepare Oatmeal and 5 Tips for Making It Better

By: Katherine C. Parker & Matthew Thompson

Creamy Blueberry-Pecan Oatmeal

Pictured Recipe: Creamy Blueberry-Pecan Oatmeal

Oatmeal is a satisfying, healthy morning meal. It's a whole grain—something that most Americans don't eat often enough. It is high in soluble fiber, which may help to lower "bad" LDL cholesterol, and has a healthy amount of protein, both of which will help you feel satisfied till lunch. Plus it's a low-glycemic-index (GI) food—and research suggests that eating a low-GI meal before you exercise may help you burn more fat. No matter what type you choose, quick-cooking, steel-cut and rolled oats are equally healthy nutrition-wise. Top it with your favorite fruit to add more fiber and nuts for (filling) healthy fats.

Related: Healthy Oatmeal Recipes for a Better Breakfast

Here are cooking instructions for the most common types of oatmeal. Use these instructions to prepare 1 serving of oatmeal, or follow package directions. One serving of each type of oatmeal below is about 150 calories (prepared with water) and 4 grams of fiber.

Watch: How to Make Oatmeal 3 Ways

How to Make Oatmeal with Quick-Cooking Oats

Quick-cooking oats have been precooked then dried and rolled. They are sometimes labeled "instant oats."

Stovetop: Bring 1 cup water (or nonfat or low-fat milk) and a pinch of salt (if desired) to a boil in a small saucepan. Stir in 1/2 cup oats and reduce heat to medium; cook for 1 minute. Remove from the heat, cover and let stand for 2 to 3 minutes.

Microwave: Combine 1 cup water (or nonfat or low-fat milk), 1/2 cup oats and a pinch of salt (if desired) in a 2-cup microwavable bowl. Microwave on High for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Stir before serving.

How to Make Oatmeal with Old-Fashioned Oats

Old-fashioned oats have been steamed and then rolled. They are sometimes labeled "rolled oats."

Stovetop: Bring 1 cup water (or nonfat or low-fat milk) and a pinch of salt (if desired) to a boil in a small saucepan. Stir in 1/2 cup oats and reduce heat to medium; cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, cover and let stand for 2 to 3 minutes.

Microwave: Combine 1 cup water (or nonfat or low-fat milk), 1/2 cup oats and a pinch of salt (if desired) in a 2-cup microwavable bowl. Microwave on High for 2 1/2 to 3 minutes. Stir before serving.

How to Make Oatmeal with Steel-Cut Oats

Steel-cut oats are toasted and cut oat groats—the oat kernel that has been removed from the husk. They are sometimes labeled "Irish oatmeal."

Stovetop: Bring 1 cup water (or nonfat or low-fat milk) and a pinch of salt (if desired) to a boil in a small saucepan. Stir in 1/4 cup oats and reduce heat to low; cook, stirring occasionally, until the oats are the desired texture, 20 to 30 minutes.

Related: Make Steel-Cut Oats in Your Slow Cooker

Oatmeal Topping Ideas

Pictured Recipe: Chocolate Banana Oatmeal

Add-ins make any oatmeal better-tasting, but they also make it more nutritious. Topping oatmeal with your favorite fruit boosts the fiber, and nuts offer healthy fats and make breakfast more filling, too.

Fruit:

• Dried fruit (such as raisins, cranberries, cherries or chopped apricots or dates)
• Fresh or frozen berries
• Applesauce
• Jam or preserves
• Chopped or sliced fresh fruit (such as bananas or apples)

Nuts or seeds:

• Almonds, pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, pistachios or peanuts
• Sesame seeds, ground flaxseeds or chia seeds

Sweeteners:

• Maple syrup
• Brown sugar
• Honey

Spices:

• Cinnamon
• Nutmeg
• Ginger
• Cardamom

Dairy:

• Add more calcium by topping with a little bit of yogurt or milk

5 Tips for Your Best-Yet Bowl of Oatmeal

Flower-Power Oatmeal

Pictured Recipe: Flower-Power Oatmeal

1. Use Steel-Cut Oats

Yes, they take a lot longer to cook than quick-cooking oats or old-fashioned "rolled oats," but they're worth it. The texture of steel-cut oatmeal is simultaneously delicious, creamy and chewy.

2. Avoid Instant Oatmeals

Most instant oatmeals in packets have added sugars. If you add any sweeteners at home, you can control how much and what kind.

3. Mind the Liquid-to-Oat Ratio

Read the instructions on the side of your oatmeal container and do what they say to avoid a pasty, sticky mess or a soupy mush. For steel-cut oats, the ratio is 1 cup of liquid per 1/4 cup of oats. If you are using quick-cooking or rolled oats, the ratio is 1 cup of liquid per 1/2 cup of oats.

4. Think Beyond Water (Use Milk or Juice)

For a boost of calcium and creamy flavor, make oatmeal with low-fat milk instead of water. Or, try making it with apple cider instead. When cooking this way, the ratio of liquid to oats stays the same, so it should be an easy switch to make. Once you've tried oatmeal with a hit of flavor infused into the cooking, you'll never go back.

5. Make It Ahead

What's better than a delicious, comforting bowl of oatmeal in the morning? How about having it ready when you wake up! Make a big batch of steel-cut oats in your slow cooker on a Sunday and then keep it in your fridge. Each morning, simply spoon up a serving's worth in a microwave-safe bowl, add a tablespoon or two of water and then microwave until hot (1-2 minutes). It's a simple, tasty way to have your favorite breakfast ready and waiting any day of the week.

Or try making overnight oats: Mix equal parts old-fashioned oats (not quick-cooking) and water along with a pinch of salt in a jar, cover and refrigerate overnight and up to 3 days. In the morning, you can eat it cold or heat it up in the microwave.

Watch: How to Make Overnight Oatmeal 4 Ways

No matter your mix-in or cooking method, a bowl of oatmeal in the a.m. is a stick-to-your-ribs way to kick-start your day.

How to Store Your Oats

Unprepared oats should be kept in an airtight container in a cool, dark spot in your pantry for up to 12 months, or check the "Best if used by" or "Best by" date on the package.