Healthy Meal Ideas

I’m in My Oatmeal Era

Photo: Stocksy/Anna Rvanova
For me, oatmeal is not a "set it and forget it" food.

I boil water with a dash of salt, add my oats, reduce the heat, and cover. Don’t walk away or it will boil over, I think to myself. I patiently watch as the sticky bubbles climb up the sides of the saucepan, and just as the steam and water droplets are about to escape the pot, I remove the lid and stir. I repeat until the water is absorbed, then I let it sit for a minute before transfering the creamy results to a bowl and adding my mix-ins: Whole milk, butter, nuts and raisins, brown sugar. I stir gently.

At long last: I don't just enjoy—I revel.

This is a recipe I’ve made more times in the last month than I have in all of my adult years. The skies are gray and rain is pouring down over Los Angeles. We’re in the middle of something called a “storm train.” It’s January now, but I’m playing Counting Crows’ “A Long December” on repeat. And yet, there’s work to be done and a desk chair to be sat in. First, however, I need fuel—and though we’ve figured out how to turn on our old gas furnace, I also want some warmth from within.

When the rain started, I remembered oatmeal.

Nutty. Creamy. Chewy. Savory. Sweet. Comfort. For a food that conjures up images of smiling seniors and the kindly Quaker Oats man, oatmeal is unexpectedly rich and complex on the palate. It’s heart-healthy and well-rounded, full of protein and fiber.

What's ironic is that oatmeal has gotten a bit of a bad rap lately among the vast wasteland that is non-science-backed, uneducated advice found on social media. A TikToker who calls himself @natural_heart_doctor stood on an anti-oatmeal pedestal and called it food for horses—"nay, not food fit even for horses!" That inspired unqualified "trainers" and toxic "fitness influencers" to pile on. Too many carbs! Not enough protein! “Oats are total bullshit!,” says @carnivoremd2. Thanks for literally nothing, diet culture. (I mean, if you want to talk about some total bullshit...)

Oatmeal is in fact an affordable, delicious, nutrient-dense food beloved by heart doctors. It was also loved by my grandparents, Bobie and Pops. Sleepovers at their house meant bowls of oatmeal in the morning: Raisins and walnuts, two spoonfuls of brown sugar, and a pad of butter always. A dollop of creamy oats would always peek out over the top of my moat of whole milk until they were stirred in. Somehow, oatmeal would absorb it all.

When I add in the butter, I think of Pops, who would delightfully plop in a nice-sized chunk. When I spoon in the brown sugar, I think of Bobie and the twinkle in her eye as she playfully chided me for wanting more sweetness, while at the same time passing me the bag without hesitation. That devilish sparkle is still there in her today, though not as often since Pops passed a year and a half ago.

When I decide to make oatmeal in the morning these days, I realize I am tapping into the breakfast that I really want. This, I've learned, is part of a practice known as intuitive eating—something that's significantly harder to achieve in practice than in theory. There’s the identifying what your body (and your palate) wants and needs, the shutting out of the food rules and the TikTok voices preaching optimization, the effort of actually assembling your meal, the consciousness you maintain while eating it. But eating oatmeal and the satisfaction that comes after the fact makes it all so well-worth it: It’s packed with rich nutrients and richer memories.

I’m in my oatmeal era, and to me this means that I’m choosing warmth, heartiness, comfort, health, and sweetness. In one word, I'm choosing nourishment.

Last words on my oatmeal era—and yours

Your oatmeal era doesn’t have to be about oatmeal. It’s about taking the time to find the food that will fill you up, body and soul, and giving yourself the gift of preparing it just the way you want it.

I didn’t realize when someone else was making oatmeal for me that you had to stand over the pot to keep it from boiling over. The key to transforming the dry oats into a creamy porridge is the water and the heat, as well as the time and attention. That’s why Pops stood at the stove placidly stirring while Bobie entertained my sister and me by perfectly peeling apples all in one spiral. I’ve neglected my oats and boiled over more than a few pots this month, but when I give myself the time and focus, the permission to stay still over the stove and watch the bubbles rise and fall with my slow stirs, it comes out—pun intended—just right. Almost as good as Pops’.

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