Power Food Number 5: Oatmeal

The Body Back meal plan is all about clean eating, with an emphasis on lean proteins, fresh fruits and vegetables, and whole grains. Processed foods and added sugar are discouraged. This week I am unveiling my go-to “power foods,” or the staples of my diet. Today I discuss a food I recently rediscovered and am in love with all over again: oatmeal.

I am a firm believer that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. A good breakfast sets you up to make good nutrition decisions for the rest of the day. I am suspicious of people who say, “But I’m never hungry in the morning.” I don’t even understand how this is possible.

I have already explained this week that there was a time in my life when I could have eaten cold cereal three times a day – and may have actually done this, come to think of it. (For the record, I still enjoy cold cereal, but usually as a snack, as it rarely satisfies me for longer than an hour.) But I also once had a similar fondness for hot cereal; specifically, oatmeal.

I am not ashamed to admit that when I was a kid, I loved Quaker instant oatmeal. Maple and Brown Sugar was my favorite flavor. My fondest memory of it is as part of my early-morning, pre-ski-bus-loading ritual. One and a half packets – and you better believe I added extra dark-brown sugar to it! My mom went through a big Snoqualmie Falls Lodge oatmeal kick when I was a teen-ager, but I didn’t appreciate those oats. Somehow I got hooked on those almost-mealy instant oats – and of course the sugar that was added to them.

Since starting Body Back three years ago, my go-to breakfast has been a protein smoothie. It’s easy to make, super convenient (I could take it with me on the go) and crazy delicious. Especially with clean chocolate protein powder added to it. It’s like drinking a milkshake every morning. And so filling. I could drink it and easily go three hours without even thinking about food again.

I recently re-evaluated my diet and noticed that I was consuming a lot more protein than I probably need. (Crazy, considering I am a vegetarian.) And that given how much time I spend running, it would probably benefit me to add in some more carbs. So I decided to shake up my breakfast routine. Only I wasn’t quite sure how I would do that.

Enter a weekend get-away with my husband a few weeks ago. On our way to a well-reviewed restaurant for breakfast, we discovered this little whole-in-the-wall diner that looked intriguing. We peeked our heads in and decided to give it a shot. When David asked for coffee, the waitress pointed to the pot on a buffet and said, “Self-serve.” When I asked for water, she asked, “You want toilet, tide or tap?” “Toilet,” I answered, endearing myself to her.

While I normally would have ordered eggs and toast in a place like this, I had spent the previous two days in a van with six strangers running a 196-mile relay race, and I was craving carbs in a way I wasn’t used to. “Oatmeal” caught my eye and I ordered it.

I cannot even tell you how delicious it tasted. It was like eating a warm and extra-moist oatmeal cookie. How could I possibly have preferred instant, sugary oats to this for so many years? (Answer: My palate was so used to added sugar, I could not possibly have appreciated what I was now loving.) I added some peanut butter (my peanut-allergic son wasn’t with us, and this wasn’t the kind of establishments that would have other nut butters on hand) for extra protein and healthy fat. Even better.

When we got home, the first thing I added to the grocery list was old-fashioned oats. I made them the next morning, pleasantly surprised it took only about 7 minutes from start to finish to cook them on the stovetop. (For some reason, I thought making oatmeal took at least 20 minutes). I stirred in some almond butter, and added a little sliced banana for some sweetness. A sprinkling of salt on top married the whole breakfast. I was initially dubious that a bowl of oatmeal could keep me satisfied, but with a few extra ingredients, so far it has done the trick.

When school starts in the fall, I may have to go back to my old standby, the protein smoothie (minus the protein powder) – simply because of its convenience – but for now, I am loving my oatmeal.

Do you eat oatmeal? Old-fashioned rolled oats? Or do you prefer the steel-cut variety? Can you think of a food you’ve re-discovered your love for – in clean form?

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