How To Make Oatmeal (The quick, easy, healthy, earth-friendly alternative to “instant”)

We’ve been duped, friends. In the convenience food craze of the last few decades, companies began selling as “instant” foods that were already quick and easy to begin with.

Fast-forward enough years and we’ve nearly forgotten that these instant food even had original versions. Oatmeal is a great example of this. Oatmeal, as in the hot breakfast dish, used to be something other than what comes out of a paper pouch. Something almost as quick, but healthier, tastier, and better for the environment.

Why Oatmeal?

Oatmeal is an easy and satisfying breakfast. Oats have a good amount of protein, so they leave you feeling satisfied longer than other breakfast carbs like toast or muffins. Oatmeal is also an easy base for supplemental fruit, fiber, or extra protein.

It’s also fast. You can microwave it in under 5 minutes. A full batch on the stove top with fresh fruit and all will take about 15-20 minutes. And it reheats incredibly well. So you can make a big batch over the weekend and microwave smaller servings daily throughout the week. Way easy.


Today’s post is all about making oatmeal. No recipes, just ideas and a simple ratio. By the end you should be able to make your own oatmeal in under five minutes (which is still pretty instant in my book), but without the curious ingredients and extra cost.


Gather Your Goods

One of the best parts about cooking from scratch is being able to use things that you’ve already paid for and have on hand. Oatmeal is a perfect example of this; the only only non-negotiable ingredient in breakfast oatmeal is – oatmeal. Okay, so you need liquid, too, though I rarely think of water as an ingredient. Outside of those two, you can get crazy experimental.

Oatmeal Main Ingredients:

  • Oats (old-fashioned or quick-cooking)
  • Liquid (water, milk, apple juice, etc.)
  • Sweetener (honey, maple syrup, brown sugar, flavored coffee syrup, etc. If you’re using a sweet liquid, use less sweetener.)
  • Salt

(You could make oatmeal without sweetener or salt. But you probably wouldn’t want to eat it.)

Optional Add-Ins for Better Taste & Health

  • Fruit, fresh or dried (I suggest starting with apples, pears, and raisins. Soon you’ll have plenty of creative ideas of what might taste good to you.)
  • Health Supplements (flaxseed, wheat germ, protein powder, etc.)
  • Butter (trust me on this)
  • Spices and any other flavoring (cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, vanilla extract)

How To Make Oatmeal on the Stove

The advantage to preparing oatmeal on the stove is that you have more control over the finished product and can make as much as you’d like at one time.

  1. Use a ratio of 2 parts oats to 3 parts liquid. If you’re making a cup of oats, use a cup and a half of liquid. If you’re making 4 cups of oats (to feed a slumber party or eat from all week), use 6 cups of liquid. (This is just a starting point. You can later reduce or increase to get your desired consistency.)
  2. Heat liquid over medium-high heat. You want to get it bubbling, but not ferociously so.
  3. Start adding ingredients.You can add them in any order you want to, but here is what you’ll want to consider:
    • Whole oats (the old-fashioned kind) will take 5-10 minutes to cook depending on the temperature of the cooking liquid and the desired consistency.
    • Don’t add extract in this step. Wait until the end after the pot comes off the heat at the end.
    • If you add other ingredients to the cooking liquid early on, you may need to add some additional liquid to compensate for the liquid absorbed by the extra ingredients.
    • As for those ingredients, adding them earlier gives them a chance to cook and absorb some liquid; adding them at the end will leave them tasting like their original selves.
    • Don’t Forget to Add Salt. While it may feel weird to salt your oatmeal, it will taste 10 times better as long as you don’t salt it to the point of making it salty. (More on salting in an upcoming Foodist Friday)

    Once all desired ingredients have been added…

  4. Cook until the oats reach the desired consistency.
  5. Remove from heat and stir in extract if using.
  6. Let oatmeal stand and thicken about 3-5 minutes.
  7. Serve it with milk or cream and/or with toasted nuts on top. Or any other way you like it!

How To Make Oatmeal in the Microwave (and keep it from bubbling over)

The advantage to cooking oatmeal in the microwave is the speed and that you can let younger kids give it a try before you trust them with the stove.

My steps are the long way (if you can call it that), but you can find recipes online (like here and here) for mixes you can premake and use so that you don’t have to pull everything out each day. (This also simulates the “instant” effect of the boxed variety.)

But really? The long way isn’t long at all.

  1. Add oats, liquid, and salt to the bowl. (Start with a ratio of 2 parts oats to 3 parts liquid.)
  2. Microwave at 30% power (Power Level 3) for 3 minutes. (The low power will keep the oatmeal from boiling over. Ta-da!)
  3. Stir. Microwave for another 2 minutes at 30% power. (If it’s not done after that just put it back in for another minute or two at 30% power.)
  4. Stir in add-ins and eat!

Note: This microwave method will work for both old-fashioned and quick-cooking oats and keep them from bubbling over the rim of the bowl. You can play with the cooking time and power-level of both types of oats, just make sure you watch them closely or you might have a mess on your hands.

Final Thoughts

Oatmeal is great for kiddos

Oatmeal is a great thing to let young chefs experiment with. Younger kids can microwave it with the pre-mixed variety. Older kids can get introduced to fractions with the simple oats to water ratio, and can experiment with different flavors and make it uniquely theirs. It’s surprising the way kids will experiment with new tastes when they’re the ones who “created” it. They can make breakfast for the family on occasion, practice cleaning up after themselves in the kitchen, feel empowered, and be creative.

Oatmeal is near-instant without buying convenience foods

You don’t have to pay extra for those teeny packets to make oatmeal in under five minutes. And making your own will be cheaper and tastier.

All of this is better for the environment

For every six servings, you’re throwing away (or shipping off to the recycling factory) one less box and six fewer packets.

Best of All, it’s healthier

No more processed ingredients, and an easy opportunity to supplement your diet with extra fruit, fiber, and protein.

Yeah, oatmeal is pretty cool.

…and you?…

Do you eat oatmeal? What are your favorite ways to prepare it?


  1. says

    I love this post – oatmeal is one of my fave foods! I love it with nuts (walnuts or pecans), raisins, apples and brown sugar. I also recently had it w/ blueberries! I rarely make it the “long” way though…but now I’m inspired to try!
    bianca recently posted..mommy time


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