You all know I’m a big believer in food prep (where you spend some time on the weekends to prep healthy foods to eat on all week long). But I know there are a lot of skeptics out there. One of the biggest complaints I hear about food prep is that it takes up just too darn much of your precious weekend time. I get it. Your time with your family is sacred, and you don’t want to spend four hours of it locked in your kitchen.
So here is my rebuttal to this complaint: it doesn’t have to take forever. Sure, there are folks on Instagram posting pictures of their perfectly arranged meals and snacks that probably took them all Sunday to do—but that doesn’t have to be what food prep means for you. When it comes to healthy eating (and let’s be honest, life in general), the best philosophy is doing what you can with what you have when you have it. And if all you have is an hour to food prep, guess what? That’s still SUPER TOTALLY AWESOME. And we can totally get you a ton of great food ready in that amount of time.
This past weekend we got an “extra” hour of time thanks to the end of Daylight Savings Time, and my friends at Beautyrest® Brand wanted me to share how I spent that extra hour to do something healthy. I took that hour and food prepped! Here’s what I got done:
- Hardboiled a dozen eggs
- Sliced veggies for a veggie box
- Made date bites
- Made these instant oatmeal cups
All in an hour! Healthy change often doesn’t come from the big pushes—running a marathon or going vegan or whatever big change—it comes from making small, healthy decisions day in and day out. My small daily decisions are usually drinking water, taking walks, food prepping, and making sure I get a good night’s sleep.
If I don’t make sure to go to bed at a reasonable hour, I’m a total zombie. I’m not alone in this—according to a recent study by Beautyrest Brand, a full third (33%!) of Americans say it’s been over six months since the last time they woke up feeling energized. You know a good way to get more sleep? Have your breakfast prepped and ready to go for the morning! Make these instant oatmeal cups, set your alarm for later tomorrow, and Get Your Beautyrest®!
The idea for these instant oatmeal cups came from a college care package, actually. A few weeks back, I was putting together a care package for my oldest niece who is currently in her first semester of college. Her Snapchat story has been filled with late night cookie delivery (that’s a thing now, apparently!), pizza, and all the other rite-of-passage foods you gorge yourself on when you’re living in the dorms. I’m glad she’s living it up, but my motherly/auntly instincts kicked in, and I knew I had to send her some healthy food to balance out all that fun.
One of the things I threw in the care package were microwavable oatmeal cups. You know those things right? They’re like two or three bucks at the grocery store, they come in a paper cup, and you either add water then zap it or add boiling water. You then stir and eat. As I was loading up my cart with these instant oatmeal cups, I thought, “This is like $0.25 worth of ingredients. Hey, I should totally make these at home.” And the second the weather dropped down low enough to be hot oatmeal weather, I totally did. And I’m way excited about them.
The concept is simple: you put all the makings of a great bowl of oatmeal in a jar. You seal it up, and then stash it in your pantry until you’re ready to use it.
When it’s breakfast time? Just pour in boiling water, stir, cover and let rest for a few minutes. Then, enjoy! You’ll have hot, creamy, sweet, tasty, healthy oatmeal in a flash, and for a fraction of the cost of the instant oatmeal cups or packets from the store.
I worked up eight different oatmeal combos here that you can easily make at home. A few tips before I dig into the nitty gritty:
Keep ’em in the pantry.
All of these are shelf-stable and shouldn’t be refrigerated. Why? Well, when you go to pour the boiling water into the jars, you don’t want them to be cold. The shock of going from cold to hot will shatter most glass jars. You’ll be fine just as long as the jars are room temp.
If the boiling-water-in-glass-jar thing weirds you out, you can instead store these combos in zip-top plastic baggies, and then pour into a bowl with 2/3 cup of water, and then zap in the microwave for about two minutes. I like the jar method, though. All-in-one-storage and bowl is my jam (and I’ve never had a jar break).
Instant oats or rolled—it’s your choice.
These will work with both old-fashioned (rolled) or instant oats. The rolled oats result in a thicker texture, and the instant oats are more like a porridge. Whatever makes your heart happy.
Sweeten to taste
Each of these recipes calls for 0-2 tablespoons of sugar to taste—some folks won’t want to add sugar, and that’s fine. Some will want to leave out the sugar so they can add honey or maple syrup on later. I’ve included some more info for each jar about which ones you might want to skip adding sugar. Experiment until you figure out what is perfect for your tastebuds.
Adjust the thickness to your liking
I recommend starting with 1/2 cup boiling water per jar when you make it. This makes for a pretty thick cup of oatmeal, but you can always add more hot water (or milk) to thin it out. Experiment to see what make you happy.
Alright, let’s dig in!
Use dried apples (make sure to pick up ones that don’t have any added sugar) to give this oatmeal it’s apple-tastic flavor. The apples and raisins add a lot of sweetness to this cup, so you’ll probably be able to get away with adding less or even no sugar to the batch.
Head to your supermarket’s spice aisle and look for dried orange peel in the jars. Fresh is best, but the dried stuff is great to have on hand for times when you need a little dose of citrus in a shelf-stable recipe. Make sure to grab low-sugar dried cranberries for this one, or if you do use regular, sweetened cranberries, lower the added sugar.
This cup used dried, crystallized ginger to add that spicy bite ginger fans love. Crystallized ginger is already sweetened, so you might want to skip or reduce the amount of sugar you add to this cup.
It’s like your favorite coffee and your favorite breakfast all in one! Make sure to use instant espresso powder (instant coffee would work in a pinch) to add the coffee flavor to this. Espresso powder is great to have on hand to add layers of flavor to chocolate baked goods! Seriously, if you bake chocolate cakes, you need to keep espresso powder in your pantry.
The name of this one is a little deceiving, because once the boiling water hits the jar, the chocolate chips begin to melt and turn the whole oatmeal into a chocolatey dream. If you use semisweet chocolate chips, you can skip the added sugar.
This one is my favorite of the bunch! Like the other cups that use dried fruit, make sure to track down no- or low-sugar dried pineapple and unsweetened coconut flakes. Check the bulk bins at your local health food store. That’s a great resource for unsweetened dried fruit!
In the spring each year, we pick tons and tons of strawberries, and I dehydrate a lot of them in slices. They are crazy good in oatmeal! If you don’t dehydrate your own, you can pick up freeze-dried or dried strawberries at your local health food store. Make sure to use ground flaxseed meal here. Whole flaxseeds have an impenetrable coating that makes them impossible to digest. To get all the wonderful nutrients of flaxseed, it needs to be ground.
Speaking of seeds, this superseed oatmeal is what you need to make if you need some brain food! This baby has three Omega-3-packed superseeds—flax, hemp, and chia! Get all three at your local supermarket or health food store.