So it’s January, a month of new classes, new relationships, and New Year’s resolutions.  More often than not, people are resolving to be healthier by exercising, drinking more water, and of course, eating smart.  So in honor of this trend, I have a few fast and ridiculously simple recipes that anyone with the ability to operate a microwave can make.

Mornings in Michigan seem almost as bad as mornings in Ohio.  It’s cold, windy, and usually we find ourselves trucking out in the 20-degree weather to a class that we have debated many times just skipping altogether.  So for me, when I stick my head out my window early in the A.M. and am reminded of March of the Penguins, the last thing I want to eat is a bowl of ice cold cereal.  The die-hard cereal fans may disagree with me on this point, and if that should be the case, I suggest you read no further.  However, for those of us who love the feeling of a warm belly, I have found the perfect solution to soften that morning chill.

Oatmeal.  I know, not a big surprise.  But oatmeal aside from being natural, whole-grained, fiber-rich, low fat, and sodium free, oatmeal also has the uncanny ability to fill you up and keep you warm.

First of all, don’t buy the premade packages.  Sure they’re easy but unless you’re careful they can have a lot of unnecessary sugar.  A healthier and more economical option is to buy the large canister of quick cook oatmeal – I currently have Quaker Oats – and just use about half a cup of it every day.  Secondly, if you want to cut out fat use either skim milk or water.  I typically just use water because I don’t have to go out and buy it all the time, but skim milk works as well and you get the extra calcium.  The oatmeal takes about two minutes in the microwave depending on how much water/milk you add and what consistency you prefer.  But just plain oatmeal is boring and more than anything else resembles wallpaper paste in both taste and texture. But here are some simply and healthy ways to spice up your oatmeal:

Photo: Mother Earth Products

Dried Fruit:  Almost every café on campus and every grocery store in the area carries dried fruit.  Adding fruit to your oatmeal is a surprisingly healthy way to add some sweetness and texture without throwing in too much sugar.  Be sure to look for dried fruit that doesn’t have extra sugar added and if you can, try to get the unsulfured kind to avoid the chemicals.  Before you put your uncooked oatmeal in the microwave just toss in a handful of dried fruit, add water, and nuke it.  The fruit will absorb the water and will become plump, warm, and juicy.  Lately I’ve been using dried Michigan cherries which add a wonderful tartness.

Photo: Mill Creek Spice

Spices: If you’re not a fruit person or you just don’t want to bother with buying it, adding some simple spices is another way to perk up your morning meal.  If you buy one jar of cinnamon you probably won’t be needing another for a while so buying and storing spices is great for the student who lacks consistent access to a grocery store or is rather low on their Blue Bucks.  The seasoning of your oatmeal is of course based on your own tastes so you may go through a little trial and error as you try to figure out your perfect blend. I like to use some combination of cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, ginger, and dried orange peel.  If you do decide to use dried spices, adding a little sugar and a sprinkle of salt can work wonders.  You probably will need less sugar than you think you do and if you’re concerned about the salt, trust me, just a dash can really make the other spices pop.

Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Peanut Butter: I don’t know what it is about peanut butter but since I’ve been at college, it always hits the spot.  With this thought in mind I stirred some into my warm oatmeal one morning and was happily successful.  I try to only buy unsalted, natural peanut butter and while currently I have creamy, I think a chunkier consistency may work better for this recipe.  If straight peanut butter is your thing, you can stop right here.  However, I usually like to have a little fruit to cut the cloying-ness of the peanut butter/oatmeal combination so unless I happen to have fresh bananas or strawberries around, I just use jam.  Again, try to find a healthier jam, one with all natural ingredients and no added sugars.  After your oatmeal comes out piping hot from the microwave, just stir in a little peanut butter and jam and you have a classic sweet and salty brunch.

So there you have it.  Three cheap and easy ways to turn a simple thing like oatmeal into a culinary experience.  If you happen come up with another delicious combination that’s outside the box, I’d love to hear about it.

For more ingredient ideas to spruce up your oatmeal, check out the following link.  There are many more articles but I thought the calorie count in this one was especially appropriate.