Oatmeal is a satisfying, nutritious morning meal. Here are cooking instructions for quick-cooking oats, old-fashioned oats and steel-cut oats.
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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 lower "bad" LDL cholesterol, and has 26 grams of protein per 1 cup serving, which will help you feel satisfied until lunch. Plus, it's a low-glycemic-index (GI) food, with research suggests eating a low-GI meal before you exercise may help you burn more fat. No matter what type of oats you choose, quick oats, steel-cut and rolled oats are equally nutritious. Top it with your favorite fruit to add more fiber and nuts for extra crunch and filling healthy fats.

Bowl of Oatmeal
Credit: Photo: Getty Images / Hannes Eichinger / EyeEm

Here are cooking methods for the most common types of oatmeal. Use these instructions to prepare one 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.

How to Make Oatmeal with Quick-Cooking Oats

Quick-Cooking Oats

Pictured Recipe: Quick-Cooking Oats

Quick-cooking oats, or quick oats, have been precooked, then dried and rolled. As the name suggests, they have a short cooking time—they are sometimes labeled "instant oats" or "instant oatmeal."

Stove top: 

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

Microwave: 

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

How to Make Oatmeal with Old-Fashioned Oats

Old-Fashioned Oatmeal

Pictured Recipe: Old-Fashioned Oatmeal

Old-fashioned oats have been steamed and then rolled. They are sometimes labeled "rolled oats." For creamy oatmeal, use milk.

Stovetop: 

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

Microwave: 

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

How to Make Oatmeal with Steel-Cut Oats

Steel-Cut Oatmeal

Pictured Recipe: Steel-Cut Oatmeal

Steel-cut oats are toasted and cut into oat groats—the oat kernel that has been removed from the husk. It's not difficult to cook steel-cut oats, but they do take a little bit more time. They are sometimes labeled "Irish oatmeal."

Stove top: 

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

Oatmeal Topping Ideas

Chocolate Banana Oatmeal

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. Adding unsalted nuts also offers healthy fats and makes your breakfast more filling.

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, peanuts or peanut butter
  • Sesame seeds, ground flaxseeds or chia seeds

Sweeteners:

  • Maple syrup
  • Brown sugar
  • Honey

Spices:

Sprinkle a hint of your favorite spice to boost the flavor and aroma of your oatmeal. Plus, spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger can give an antioxidant boost.

  • Cinnamon
  • Nutmeg
  • Ginger
  • Cardamom

Dairy alternative:

  • Add more calcium by topping with a little bit of yogurt, milk or plant-based, calcium-fortified milk

5 Tips for Your Best-Yet Bowl of Oatmeal

Creamy Blueberry-Pecan Oatmeal

1. Use Steel-Cut Oats

Yes, they take much 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 oatmeal packets have added sugars. Too much added sugar can lead to negative health outcomes, like weight gain and increased inflammation. Making your own oatmeal can help you control the amount of added sugar in your breakfast while still enjoying the flavors you like.

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, Plant-Based Milk Alternative or Juice)

For a boost of calcium and creamy flavor, make oatmeal with low-fat milk or plant-based milk instead of water. Or, try making it with apple cider instead for a boost of flavor. The ratio of liquid to oats stays the same, so you can easily make this switch. 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 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 to 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 for up to three days. In the morning, you can eat it cold or heat it up in the microwave.

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

How to Store Your Oats

If a "Best if used by" or "Best by" date on the oats package is available, you can use the date to determine its freshness. You can also keep unprepared oats sealed in their original packaging or store them in an airtight container in a cool, dark spot in your pantry for up to 12 months before they go stale. Uncooked oats can also last in the freezer for one year.

Watch: How to Make Overnight Oatmeal 4 Ways

By Katherine C. Parker and Matthew Thompson