Do you ever come across those ridiculously photogenic oatmeal bowls topped with exotic fruit sourced from the soils of Narnia on Instagram and sigh with jealousy? After all, given the popularity of oatmeal/porridge as a breakfast option, what percentage of the general population actually has the time to create a Louvre-worthy masterpiece before jumping into their daily routine?
Well, first of all, let us quickly address the question of Instagram vs. reality (something that will doubtlessly necessitate a blog post of its own in the future). For many people, myself included, food styling is a creative outlet, and those pretty bowls are tailored entirely towards their respective Instagram feed as opposed to being a realistic representation of what their creators eat 90% of the time. Sometimes, I will make a bowl of oatmeal whenever my schedule allows (mostly in the late afternoon), photograph it for Instagram and store it in the fridge to be eaten the next morning. In other words, if I have to make porridge right before my six a.m. shift, only a very large sum of money could induce me to post the un-photogenic but nonetheless delicious outcome on social media.
Moreover, spicing up your oatmeal does not have to require enormous amounts of effort and culinary/artistic talent. You can make it as pretty or as ugly as you like, and adjust it in accordance with your individual preferences (this may be something that oatmeal and bullet journals have in common?!). After receiving positive feedback on my step-by-step Buddha bowl guide, I decided to build a guide to oatmeal on the same principle for anyone who wants to go beyond microwave oats in terms of both taste and nutritional value. As always, feel free to skip any of the steps I outline below and/or add anything else – after all, it is your life, your oatmeal, and no one can tell you what to do!
1. Pick a milk
Now, the type of milk that you use makes a big difference to the final outcome. And that’s why (alongside the health and ethical reasons) I’d recommend using plantbased milks – they come in such a wide variety and allow you to switch up your oatmeal without changing much else. For example, cashew milk has a very neutral, creamy taste while almond milk is sweeter and oat milk is earthy, with a pleasant aftertaste.
In terms of proportion of milk to oats, what you go for depends on the consistency you would like to achieve with your end product. This may be slightly controversial, but I like my porridge to be on the runnier side, opting for a 2:1 proportion or above (for example, 2 cups of milk and 1 cup of oats). If you are unsure, I would recommend eyeballing as opposed to measuring your ingredients, experimenting and arriving at your perfect consistency through trial and error.
2. Choose your sweetener and spices
Once again, what, and how much you use depends on your personal preferences. Some people choose to omit sweetener entirely (which is understandable because oatmeal can taste good when plain), yet some things you may wish to try include:
- Agave nectar
- Golden syrup
- Sugar of choice – my favourite is either brown or coconut sugar
- Chopped dates
- Mashed banana
- Fresh berries, lightly crushed.
The last three are my personal favourites because they not only allow you to sneak in a cheeky portion of fruit, but also deliver a sweetness that is not too overpowering. In regards to spices, cinnamon and nutmeg are the obvious ones. Despite my best efforts to switch it up, cinnamon inevitably finds its way into my oatmeal as the resulting smell of my kitchen is too good to resist.
TIP: try adding a few spoonfuls of either yoghurt or apple sauce for extra creamy-ness.
3. Add superfoods and/or protein (OPTIONAL)
Feel free to skip this step, but adding some form of superfood to your oatmeal can not only improve its nutritional profile, but also the taste. Plus, this is often the secret to achieving colourful, Insta-worthy bowls. Some options you may wish to try include:
- Spirulina: this is one of my personal favourites. Do not be intimidated by the taste/smell of the powder by itself because it is easy masked by the other ingredients.
- Cacao powder (to make chocolate porridge)
- Maca powder
- Wheatgrass powder
- Barleygrass power
- Matcha powder
- Baobab powder
- Chia seeds (I usually add these if I am making overnight oats because the resulting texture if heavenly).
I understand protein powder is slightly controversial as many people prefer to obtain their protein from ‘real’, wholefood sources, but adding around half a scoop to your oatmeal can be a good way to boost its flavour, and increase your daily protein intake if you are like me and are trying to build muscle. For anyone interested, this is the powder I’ve been using for the last couple of months.
4. Add a dash of vanilla extract
Unlike the above, this step is not optional. Just joking (I swear I am not as dictatorial as I may seem!), but vanilla extract is highly recommended. Just a few drops can make your oatmeal smell amazing and add a hint of flavour that will compliment all your other ingredients.
How to cook the oatmeal:
Once you’ve combined your ‘base’ ingredients, you can prepare the oatmeal by either a) stirring them on the hob, b) microwaving them or c) leaving them in the fridge for a couple of hours.
The first option is my personal favourite, and I will certainly go for it if I have sufficient time on my hands. Stirring your oatmeal over a low-medium heat for anywhere between 3-10 minutes (the packaging should have instructions on the back to give you rough guidance) allows you to control the resulting consistency to the greatest extent. However, be careful not to turn up the heat too much because this will lead to the oatmeal drying out or worse, burning.
QUICK TIP: add your milk incrementally as this creates a super fluffy and smooth texture.
Leaving your oatmeal in the fridge for anywhere between 1 hour and overnight (aka making overnight oats) is obviously an ideal option if you know you will be in a rush in the morning. If desired, throw it in a lunchbox and eat it on the go. Moreover, if you add 1-2 tbsp of chia seeds, these will expand overnight and keep you full for longer while delivering their incredible nutritional benefits.
Now that you’re prepared your delicious porridge and transferred it to your favourite bowl, it’s time to go crazy with the toppings (or as minimalist as you’d like – sometimes I skip these all together as the oats taste great by themselves). My usual oatmeal topping routine involves taking out whatever I have in the fridge and throwing it together, but if you would like a more constructive approach and don’t know where to start I have compiled a rough guideline for you:
1. Add more sweetener/milk
This is optional, but oftentimes I will add more milk in particular if my porridge comes out too dry/thick for my liking.
2. Add fruit and berries
These are hands down some of my favourite toppings and in my opinion, no oatmeal bowl is complete without some natural deliciousness sprinkled on top. Of course, these do not have to be fresh, especially if you live in a colder climate where particular varieties are not often in season and you do not feel like taking out a mortgage to purchase a handful of blueberries. Dry fruit, such as prunes, apricots and dates, make ideal winter substitutes (except for raisins because #ew).
QUICK TIP: one of my favourite fruity toppings for oatmeal is compote, which can be made from both fresh and frozen fruit/berries. I explain in detail how to make it in this post, but essentially all you must do is heat up your fruits/berries of choice with some agave nectar over a medium heat for 3-5 minutes.
QUICK TIP 2: try out caramelised banana/oranges and thank me later. This recent discovery of mine is super easy to make. Simply chop up some banana/peel the orange and similarly to the above, heat it with some agave nectar or golden syrup, ideally in a frying pan, for around 5 minutes and trust me, you will for sure love it as much as I do.
3. Chuck in some nuts and seeds
Because healthy fats are super important, and I am yet to find a single person who doesn’t like a bit of added crunch in their meals. Throughout my experimentation, I found that pecans, walnuts and shredded coconut in particular nicely complement the taste of oatmeal, especially if the latter is on the sweeter side. My inner Russian sometimes likes to go overboard with sunflower seeds (to anyone who is new here, this is not a grotesque case of cultural appropriation – I am Russian, but I am also very good at keeping my sunflower seed munching, kvas (bread juice) drinking instincts under control). Essentially, anything of the nut variety that you find in your cupboard could be a potential ‘yay’, so chuck it on.
4. Finish with some nut/seed (or ordinary) butter
This is the icing on top of the only in part metaphorical cake, because if you’ve done this correctly, your resulting porridge should taste like dessert. It seems as if a new type of nut butter appears on the market every day, and the best way to incorporate all of them into our diets is by chucking several spoonfuls worth of them onto our oats. Peanut and almond butters are obvious classics, but since I tried the cashew variety a few months ago I am yet to break free from my obsession. Have as much or as little as you like, but in my humble opinion, when it comes to nut butters more really does equate to merrier.
TIP: melting either some Lotus biscuit spread (I think the US alternative is called cookie butter? Correct me if I’m wrong) or chocolate into porridge is seriously life changing.
Okay, I don’t quite know how I just wrote 1900 words about oatmeal, but I hope it’ll give you inspiration to start creating your own gorgeous bowls. If you follow this guide, be sure to tag me on Instagram – @earthofmariaa- so I can see the outcome. Remember that the basic principle of perfect porridge is creating solid foundations and then decorating them to your heart’s content. (As a side note, savoury oatmeal is an entirely different beast to tackle, which I will do in an upcoming post, so stay tuned for that). I’ve included a sample recipe below to kick off your journey towards becoming a porridge master.
Chocolate oatmeal with caramelised fruit
Full of flavours and textures, this dish is perfect for a cosy, healthy breakfast.
- 1 cup rolled oats
- 1 cup plant milk of choice (plus more to serve)
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/2 tbsp cacao powder
- 2 tbsp agave nectar (plus more to serve)
- 1 tbsp soy yoghurt
- pinch of cinnamon
- 1 tangerine, peeled
- 1/2 banana, chopped
- blueberries, to serve
- 1 tbsp cashew butter
- shredded coconut, to serve
- cashews, to serve
- Add the oats, the water, 1 tbsp agave nectar, the cacao powder, the soy yoghurt and the cinnamon to a saucepan and begin simmering over a medium heat. Stir and incrementally add the remaining milk until a desired consistency is reached. Take off the heat and leave to stand for around 5 minutes.
- Meanwhile, add the fruit to a pan over a medium heat with the remaining agave nectar, stirring until thoroughly coated. Heat for around 2.5 minutes on each side, or until caramelised.
- Serve the oatmeal with the caramelised fruit, blueberries, cashew butter, the remaining agave nectar, shredded coconut, cashew nuts and a few tbsp of milk.
Let me know in the comments – are you an oatmeal lover? What are your favourite toppings?
Lots of love, Maria ♡
(Note: this post contains affiliate links, which doesn’t impact the price of the product at all, but just allows me to earn a small commission!)