Add extra fiber by swapping in this pantry staple.
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lemon panko chicken
Credit: Ali Redmond

Welcome to Thrifty. A weekly column where nutrition editor and registered dietitian, Jessica Ball, keeps it real on how to grocery shop on a budget, make healthy meals for one or two, and make Earth-friendly choices without overhauling your entire life.

As a dietitian on a budget with limited pantry space, I know a thing or two about making my ingredients go further. I keep a hyper-organized grocery list, so I only buy what I need, and try to stick to foods that will have multiple uses. Besides the things needed to execute my weekly menu plan, I always keep several versatile foods my pantry, like oats. Oatmeal is super nutritious, and overnight oats are a standby breakfast in my house, but there are several other uses for oats other than just making a sweet morning meal or treat. 

One of my favorite (maybe unexpected) ways to use oats is to swap them in for breadcrumbs when breading foods like chicken, tofu, mushrooms or fish. I even use them to help bind and add texture to dishes like meatballs or veggie burgers. Rather than using whole oats straight from the package, I'll pulse plain oats plus a pinch of salt and whatever seasonings sound good in a food processor until their texture is similar e to that of breadcrumbs. If you want them to be like panko, pulse less to help keep them more coarse. If you are looking for a less crunchy breading, pulse more to keep them more fine. This whole process takes about 15 seconds total. 

Sure, making "breadcrumbs" from oats is a little more involved than pouring prepared breadcrumbs straight from a package. But it's been a go-to for me for several reasons. First off, I can easily customize the flavors of my breading by adding seasonings when it's being pulsed. This adds a layover of complexity and deliciousness to a dish without much added sodium, fat or calories. Secondly, it also saves me space in my pantry, which is at a premium when you live in a small apartment like yours truly. Not to mention, it helps save me money. Oats cost around nine cents per ounce, compared to panko which is over twice as expensive at 22 cents per ounce. Though neither of these ingredients break the bank, every little bit can help your dollar go further, especially right now with the rising cost of food

Another big reason I opt to use pulsed oats as breading is because it helps add important nutrients to my meals. Oats are high in fiber and protein (boasting about 7 and 8 grams respectively per ½ cup serving), a combo scientifically proven to help keep you feeling full for longer. The type of fiber found in oats is called beta glucan, which is a type of soluble fiber that's been shown to help lower cholesterol, improve heart health and lower the risk of diabetes. Plus, it makes it easy to increase my intake of whole grains, which is linked to lower levels of inflammation and reduced heart disease risk

Little swaps can go a long way when it comes to saving money and eating healthy. Using oats instead of traditional breadcrumbs for breading foods like chicken, tofu and more helps me add nutrients to my diet while also staying within my budget (and my kitchen's spatial constraints). For more beginner-friendly, budget-minded tips, check out Thrifty.