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Perk up your day with oatmeal

Oatmeal is a comfort food that can be prepared in a variety of ways. It contains soluble fiber, which can help lower your blood cholesterol, keep you fuller longer, and boost your performance.

Choose steel-cut oats (regular or quick-cooking), which provide a nutty texture, or rolled oats, which are available in a variety of thicknesses: regular or old-fashioned (thickest), quick-cooking (thinner), and instant (thinnest). There really isn’t much of a difference in cooking times, so choose whichever texture you prefer. And limit instant varieties, which can pack large amounts of sodium and sugar.

Try these tips and recipes for hearty, flavorful meals:

Sweet toppings.

Challenge your taste buds! Stir in cinnamon, nutmeg, or cocoa powder. Or add your favorite nut butter for additional protein. Other toppings include nuts and seeds (almonds, pumpkin seeds, pecans, and walnuts), dried fruits (apricots, raisins, cranberries, and dates), or fresh fruit (apples, bananas, pears, tropical fruits, or berries). Add a drizzle of honey, maple syrup, brown sugar, or even agave for extra sweetness, if desired.

Savory toppings.

Add peanuts, cheddar cheese, or rosemary. Or add caramelized onions and a cooked egg on top. Or add cooked, marinated beef or chicken plus chopped scallions.

Baked oatmeal.

Mix 2 cups rolled oats, 1 cup skim milk, 1 egg, 1 Tbsp brown sugar, ½–1 tsp cinnamon, and ¼ tsp salt. Add ½ cup shredded apple and ¼ cup raisins or equal amounts mashed bananas and blueberries, if desired. Spread this mixture into a greased loaf pan or a 6-cup muffin tin. Bake uncovered at 350° for 20 minutes or until set. Serve with skim or low-fat milk, yogurt, or almond milk. You also can take it to go or freeze for later.

Overnight oatmeal.

Layer the following ingredients in a to-go container: ½ cup rolled and/or steel-cut oats, ½ cup low-fat milk, ½ cup grated or chopped fruit, and 1 tsp sweetener. Top with chopped nuts and refrigerate. In the morning, heat cereal in the microwave for a few minutes or enjoy it cold.

Crock-pot oatmeal.

Let your rice cooker or crockpot do the work! Add oats and water/milk in a 1:2 ratio (½ cup oats to 1 cup water or low-fat milk). Add chopped fruit. Cook on Low for 6–8 hours or follow your rice cooker’s instructions (using the porridge setting). Add nuts when cooking time ends.

Oatmeal granola.

Preheat oven to 300°. Combine ¼ cup honey or maple syrup, ¼ cup canola oil, and ½ teaspoon vanilla in a small bowl. In a separate bowl, combine 2 cups rolled oats, ½ cup shredded coconut, ½ tsp cinnamon, ½ tsp salt, and ½ cup nuts (slivered or chopped almonds, pecans, or walnuts). Gradually stir in honey mixture, mix well, and spread onto a greased sheet pan. Bake for 30 minutes, watching carefully so it doesn’t overcook. Stir at the halfway point. Cool completely and add dried fruit, if desired. Store in an airtight jar.

Oatmeal pancakes.

Combine 1 cup oatmeal, 2 eggs, 1 cup low-fat cottage cheese, and 2 tsp vanilla in a blender. Blend until smooth. Pour ¼ cup batter per pancake onto a heated, greased griddle. Flip with a spatula when the batter bubbles and cook until golden brown on both sides. Serve with syrup and fruit.