Mom, is getting breakfast for children (and yourself) the biggest test of your day? Whew! Does the challenge result in quick bowls of box cereal (or pop tarts) because, forget it, nobody has time to scramble eggs? The bummer is that quick bowls of box cereal (and the pop tarts) are simply instant sugar with essentially no nutritional value, lasting about an hour before hunger sets in once again. Mom, here is the answer to your prayers.
I spent literally days online looking at recipes for overnight oats. There seem to be a thousand experts out there. I found cool recipes that took too much time and/or included a lot of expensive ingredients. I found special recipes designed for vegans, people who just had to have organic ingredients, or some folks who tried to make overnight “oats” without actually using oats (the ingredient list is looooong and oh so expensive).
My goal was to find the easiest, quickest, least expensive recipe that would still be nutritious and tasty while warding off hunger. I ended up blending the best ideas together into one recipe for you to try.
Basic ingredients (per serving)
- ½ cup old-fashioned rolled oats
- 1 cup of water
- A pinch of salt
Put the oats in a container whenever you have time. Pint mason jars or leftover peanut butter jars work well for individual servings. Add the pinch of salt and then the water. Stir it up, put on the lid, and tuck it away in the refrigerator overnight. By morning the oats will have absorbed all the liquid.
You may make a week’s worth of servings at one time.
Prepare the toppings you want to add to the oats before serving. These might include:
- 1 tsp of honey (optional)
- Fresh or frozen fruit, like raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, bananas, apples, orange slices, or pears
- Unsweetened applesauce, pumpkin or sweet potato puree,
- Flavorings like cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla extract, etc.
- Chopped nuts, like pecans.
Come morning, add the honey (if you choose) and stir the oat mix briskly. Add whole milk or plain, full fat yogurt until the consistency of the oats suits you (or your children). Add fruit on top and then the chopped nuts. Pass out the spoons.
Containers: The mason jars look kinda special, are handy, and may be entertaining for kids. But you could use Tupperware containers or even bowls. You can make a big batch at one time but then you add time to dole out the servings and another container to wash..
Oats: Why rolled oats? Rolled oats contain complex sugar in the form of starch. Instead of becoming instant sugar, the starch breaks down slowly, providing an ongoing supply of energy. Refined grains (as ground up in breakfast cereal or instant oatmeal) digest immediately. A child who eats this recipe may well last until lunch without being overcome with hunger.
Do not use instant oats. They are instant sugar just like the box cereal and will simply turn to watery mush. If you want to try steel cut oats, go for it. But they will be mighty crunchy and they cost more.
Water: Using water allows you to make several days’ worth of oats at the same time. If you use milk instead of water, you will be limited to making servings for one or two days.
Salt: Salt may not sound important but it is really is. A pinch is a pinch.
Honey: For me the natural sugar in the fruit is all that is needed. Suggest you try that first and see how it goes over. If necessary, stir the honey into the oat mixture before adding the fruit.
Fruit: Of course there are lots of fruit options, some of which are significantly more expensive than others. If fresh fruit is not available or affordable, then go for frozen because frozen fruit can be stored in the freezer for a good long time.
Flavorings: If you are a baker in a less busy life, you probably know the flavorings best fitted to certain fruit. Go for them.
Nuts: Any nuts (peanuts are the least good choice) can be chopped but remember this. It only takes a few nuts to add crunch.
Hot or Cold: Most people eat these oats cold, especially in the summer. But if you or your children find warm oats more appealing, pop the oatmeal mix into the microwave for a few seconds, as many as you find achieves the best heat level. Then stir in the milk/yogurt and top with the fruit.
Full fat milk or plain yogurt: One of the goals of this recipe is to ward off hunger. Hunger is caused by rapidly digesting sugar but fat also matters. Beyond the vitamins in the fat (this is the nutrition part), the fat is also filling and a hunger suppressor. If you are determined to only have low/no fat milk in your house, then consider getting some plain, full fat yogurt and use it just for this recipe. And if you use plain Greek yogurt, it will have much less natural sugar in it. Another benefit of yogurt is the probiotic value which is not present in milk.
Probiotics are good bacteria that help get your gut healthy. That’s another story.
Don’t be tricked into using flavored yogurt. Sugar including artificial sweeteners is added and thus actually contributes to hunger. Plain, full fat yogurt. Let the fruit provide the flavor.
Digestibility: Some people, including children, will have digestion problems with grains due to the complex protective structure of the grain and the absence of the enzyme phytase necessary to break that structure down. (See more below under Overall Nutrition and Nutritional Deficiencies). Digestive problems are easy to identify – things like stomach ache, gas, bloating, etc.
Overall Nutrition and Nutritional Deficiencies
Anybody who has read It’s All about the Food knows that chapter 13 is about phytic acid. Phytic acid locks away some portion of valuable minerals (calcium, iron, and magnesium as examples) contained in the grain and makes the grain difficult for most people to digest. But there are actually other proteins in grains (glutens, lectins, etc.) that can make the digestion thing even more difficult.
Phytic acid isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It serves an important purpose by absorbing excess and toxic minerals in your body. Therefore, the issue is more about volume, personal digestibility, and nutrient deficiency.
Oats are not alone in this phytic acid, mineral “lock up” thing. All whole grains, legumes (beans), nuts, and seeds are equally limited – although grain generally has the most. Look at it this way. These are all seeds for new plants, seeds that Mother Nature meant for reproduction and not necessarily as food for animals. It is possible to make them edible without penalty but it takes some work.
When it comes to beans (legumes) it isn’t hard to free up the minerals and improve digestibility. Chapter 13 explains how to do that. Grain, on the other hand, is much tougher. So it is troublesome that grain is the largest component of most children’s diets these days.
If digestion is not the issue, then you can compensate for any mineral “shortfall” in the oatmeal by augmenting the meal with extra nutrition. So the rolled oats, the milk/yogurt, and the fruit are all important parts of this breakfast. Despite any mineral shortfall, oats are still the winner in comparison to refined boxed cereal which has essentially no nutrition at all.
One meal a day nutritionally limited by phytic acid is usually not a big deal. On the other hand, if every meal is nutritionally limited by the perpetual presence of grain in the diet, then trouble may be brewing.
Refined grains as in white bread, pie crust, cake and cookie mixes, pasta, grits, taco chips, tortillas, etc. don’t have a problem with phytic acid. This is not cause for celebration, however. The minerals locked up in phytic acid reside in the most nutritious layers of the grain (the bran and germ). The bran and the germ are ground off in refining, leaving essentially only the sugar. Repeat after me – HUNGRY.
If digestion IS a problem there are two options. One option is to simply remove grain from the diet. But another possibility is to introduce supplemental enzymes containing phytase with each meal containing grain. Hogs have digestive systems similar to ours and do not make the enzyme phytase. Commercial hog farms who feed their hogs grain supplement their food with the enzyme phytase. You can do the same.
A pharmacy, health food store, on-line, and sometimes even a large grocery store will have enzyme supplements. Read the list of enzymes and assure that phytase is on the list. Consider limiting the number of meals containing grain to minimize the expense of this alternative.