Oatmeal is one of the healthiest breakfast options around due to it's whole grain status and fiber content. However, this nutrition superstar can quickly loose its sparkle when its loaded up with lots of sugar (even the brown variety) and tons of butter, or, even worse, processed to cook in a few minutes and flavored with chemicals. Delicious. Many people shy away from steel cut oats because of the long cooking time (30-40 minutes), but I have a solution to this problem that might surprise you: a slow-cooker. Suddenly, a dish that many consider to be a hassle becomes a set-it-and-forget-it convenience food that leaves your house smelling amazing when you wake up in the morning.
Autumn Harvest Slow-Cooker Oatmeal
makes 4-6 servings
1 cup steel cut oats
4 small cooking pears (or apples if you prefer), about 1.5 pounds, chopped
1 cup fresh cranberries
1/4 cup raisins
3, 1-inch pieces of cinnamon sticks
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon of ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon of ground cloves
4 cups water
1. Add all ingredients to slow-cooker and mix to distribute spices. The oats tend to sink while the cranberries float, but that's ok.
2. Cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours, depending on how thick you like your oatmeal. I usually do closer to the 10 hours.
3. Remove cinnamon sticks and serve straight from the slow cooker for an easy family breakfast. Add toppings if you like. Ground cinnamon, chopped pecans or walnuts, hulled pumpkin seeds, dried fruit, and a drizzle of honey or maple syrup are all great options. A little butter is ok too. Just choose organic butter from grass fed cows and don't overdo it. One small pat can go a long way.
4. Refrigerate leftovers to enjoy later. Since I'm cooking for one, these can last me a week. Oatmeal can gel a bit in the fridge so, when reheating, add a little warm water. This and a some mixing should return your oatmeal to the proper consistency.
What other healthy, whole foods do you shy away from because of the time commitment?
Yogurt could definitely be called one my diet staples (I usually eat it once or even twice a day). Why the obsession? It's delicious and easy to serve up in bowl for breakfast or throw in my lunch box for snack. However, there are benefits to eating yogurt other than its taste and convenience.
Probably the most touted component of yogurt is its calcium, which is important in maintaining healthy bones and teeth. A second highlight is it's protein content which can help keep you feeling fuller longer and aid in post-workout recovery. Yogurt is also full of probiotics (check the label for live active cultures such as L. acidophilus, among others) which help to promote the healthy bacteria that reside in our gut and play an important role in the digestion of foods well as the production of vitamin K.
With all of those benefits, you may be thinking that you'd like to add more yogurt to your diet, but it is important to remember that not all yogurts are created equal. When choosing your yogurt there are a few things that you want to avoid.
1. Artificial sweeteners
Aspartame (Equal), saccharin (Sweet 'N Low), and sucralose (Splenda) are all common artificial sweeteners and, in my opinion and the opinion of many others, should be avoided. They fall into a class called "non-nutritive sweeteners," meaning they provide no nutrition. You don't want to spend your money on "food" that isn't really food to begin with.
2. Artifical Dyes
The artificial coloring in foods is believed by many to contribute to ADD/ADHD in children and could have other harmful effects we don't even know about. Even if you think it's just a bunch of hype, the point is that they are totally unnecessary. Fresh fruit is a much healthier and tastier way to color your yogurt.
3. Artificial flavors
If you love the taste of flavored yogurt, buy products that are flavored naturally (always read the ingredients) or, even better, flavor it yourself! Then you have total control over what you're eating. If you're eating strawberry yogurt, doesn't it make sense that it would be flavored with strawberries?
In addition to all this, I recommend that you choose organic yogurt, and dairy products in general, whenever possible. Non-organic dairy cows are pumped with hormones to drastically and artificially increase milk production and then given large doses of antibiotics to fight bacterial infections that may result from being over milked. Both hormones and antibiotics can then be found in the dairy products that these cows produce. A dose of antibiotics in your probiotic yogurt sounds pretty counter intuitive to me.
I love to buy plain yogurt in 32 ounce containers and then flavor it myself. It's much cheaper this way and also healthier as I can control the quality of the ingredients I add. Below is my recipe for my favorite way to eat yogurt. It's OK if you lick the bowl, I do it all the time. Enjoy!
3/4-1 cup plain regular or Greek-style yogurt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (I like a LOT of cinnamon so you may want to start with less and then add to taste)
1 teaspoon of honey or maple syrup (optional, I like mine without it)
1. Mix all ingredients together in a small bowl with a spoon.
2. Eat! I like to add berries or cherries to flavor my yogurt or chop fresh apples and add those to the mix for breakfast. For snack I use it as a fruit dip for pears, grapefruit, and peaches (Greek yogurt is better for dip because it is thicker, but plain works too). Get creative and have fun!