Oats are a whole grain that you can eat for a warm, hearty, healthy breakfast. They are a good source of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and protein and should be a staple in your pantry. However, oatmeal that’s not prepared correctly can be very bland and unappetizing. Read on for an overview of the different types of oats, 4 methods to cook them, and ways to add some flavor and sweetness so they’re not boring.


how to make oatmeal


Types of Oats

Oats in their whole form are called oat groats. Most people consume oats after they have been processed into steel-cut oats or rolled oats. Before processing, the oat groats are roasted at a low temperature to make them more shelf-stable. After, they are processed into of one two types of oats:

Steel-cut Oats

Steel-cut oats are also referred to as Irish or Scottish oats. This type of oat is made when the oat groat is chopped into pieces. These oats are not flattened, so they resemble pieces of rice that’s been cut up.  

Steel-cut oats take the longest to cook. They are also chewier and retain their shape during cooking. Although they take longer to prepare, they really make the best oatmeal if you’re willing to take the time.

Rolled Oats

Rolled oats are made when oat groats are steamed and then flattened with a steel roller. The flattened shape reduces cooking time.

Old-fashioned oats are rolled oats that are flaked after they have been flattened. In addition to oatmeal, these oats are often used in granola bars, cookies, and other baked goods.

Quick-cooking oats, also referred to as instant oats, are cut and then flattened even thinner than old-fashioned oats. This type of oat cooks the fastest but does not retain its shape during cooking and can become mushy. 

This is the oat used in instant oatmeal packets, which tend to have a lot of added sugar.

If you use rolled-oats, try to use old-fashioned oats instead of quick-cooking oats. 


Cooking Methods

Below are 4 methods to make oatmeal, followed by ideas for how to add flavor, texture, and sweetness to your morning oats.  

1. Stovetop

Steel-cut oats

In a small saucepan, bring 1 cup of water, milk, or non-dairy milk to a boil. You can also use ½ cup of water and ½ cup of milk.

Add 1/4 cup of steel-cut oats and then lower the heat to low. Cook for 20-30 minutes until creamy, stirring occasionally.


In a small saucepan, bring 1 cup of water, milk, or non-dairy milk to a boil (or use a mix of water and milk).

Add 1/2 cup of old-fashioned oats and lower the heat to medium and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and then let it stand for 2 minutes to allow excess liquid to be absorbed.

To add sweetness without using sugar, add chopped fruit to the saucepan when you add the oats (either steel-cut or rolled-oats). The fruit will soften or cook down as the oats cook. Bananas work great for this.


2. Slow Cooker

This method only works for steel-cut oats. Old-fashioned oats will become mushy if cooked too long.

To make 4 servings:

Combine 8 cups of water, milk, or non-dairy milk + 2 cups steel-cut oats + ¼ teaspoon of salt in the slow cooker.

Add the lid, turn the heat on to the low setting, and cook for 7 to 8 hours.

To add some sweetness, mix in ½ dried fruit or ¼ maple syrup before turning the heat on.

The slow cooker method is a good way to meal prep breakfast for several days. If you make a big batch you can portion it out into individual containers. When you’re ready to eat it, add a tablespoon of water or milk, microwave it for 1-2 minutes, then stir.


3. Microwave

If you need to make a really quick breakfast, you can microwave old-fashioned oats. This method does not work well for steel-cut oats since these oats require a longer cooking time.

In a microwave-safe bowl, mix 1 cup of water, milk or non-dairy milk and 1/2 cup of old-fashioned oats. Microwave for  1 ½ – 2 minutes and then stir.  


4. Overnight Oats


overnight oats


Overnight oats are another good method for meal prepping. You assemble everything the night before and then have a grab and go breakfast in the morning. This method works best with old-fashioned oats.

To make overnight oats: in a sealable container or 8 oz. mason jar, combine ½ cup of old-fashioned oats + ½ cup milk or non-dairy milk. To help thicken everything, also mix in ¾ – 1 tablespoon of chia seeds. Store the container or jar in the fridge for at least 4 hours.

To make overnight oats a truly a grab and go breakfast, mix in any sweetener or toppings before storing the oats in the fridge.

For sweetness, mix in 1 tablespoon of maple syrup or other sweetener. You could also mix in a few tablespoons of nut butter to add some healthy fat to give your oats more staying power.  


Added Flavor and Sweetness

Oats by themselves are pretty bland, even when cooked correctly. Choose some of these toppings or sweeteners to add some flavor and texture to your bowl of oatmeal.  


  • Fresh or thawed frozen berries.
  • Dried fruit: raisins, cranberries, cherries, chopped apricots, or chopped dates
  • Chopped fresh fruit: bananas, apples, peaches, or mango
  • To add sweetness without using sugar, add chopped fruit to the pot of oats as you start cooking them on the stovetop, microwave, or in the slow cooker. The fruit will soften or cook down as the oats cook. Bananas, apples, and pears work well for this.

Nuts and seeds

  • Nut butter: peanut butter, almond butter, or cashew butter
  • Chopped nuts: walnuts, almonds, cashews, or pecans
  • Seeds: chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, or ground flaxseed


  • Fruit preserves or jam
  • Honey
  • Maple syrup
  • Brown sugar
  • Pumpkin or apple butter


Mix spices into the oat mixture before you start cooking, or sprinkle some on top of finished oats.

  • Cinnamon
  • Cardamom
  • Nutmeg
  • Ginger
  • Pumpkin pie spice

Other toppings

  • Shredded coconut
  • Cacao powder
  • Cacao nibs

The Takeaway

There are several ways that you can make oatmeal for a healthy breakfast. You can even make oatmeal for several days at a time as part of your meal prep.  Steel-cut oats provide the best texture, but old-fashioned oats are a faster option if necessary. Finally, try incorporating the ideas for adding sweetness and extra flavor to turn boring oats into a delicious, hearty, and healthy breakfast.