Oat O’clock

Oats I’ve been on a mad quest to make a decent “instant” porridge/oatmeal. I eat my breakfast at work and since the weather turned gloomy, my taste buds have rejected the portable summer combo of yogurt/raw oats/fruit.

I wanted the cosy reassurance of a bowl of porridge – but I don’t have the option of slinking away on company time to make it in the office microwave.

Recently I tried a pot of “Instant Golden Syrup Flavour Porridge” from Marks & Spencer. You just add boiling water, stir, leave for a minute, stir again and eat.

Pros: Very handy because there’s a boiling water tap thingy close to my desk. Unlike the microwave, I didn’t have to disappear for ages to make it.

Cons: Alas, not that tasty. And there was a rather ropey ingredients list:

Oat Flakes (57%), Sugar, Dried Skimmed Milk, Dried Whey, Dried Glucose Syrup. Natural Flavouring: Golden Syrup.

I don’t mind a dod of sugar in my porridge but three different kinds was too much. Plus there’s the packaging waste and crazy cost – 99p per serve!

But I did like the “instant” boiling water method, so I’ve been attempting to rip it off. I usually eat jumbo old-fashioned oats, the kind that you lovingly stir on the stove, but they alone didn’t work well for the “instant” boiling water method. So I chucked in some quick cooking oats – not as refined as instant oats (see below) but they’re cut more finely so they kind of melt away into the hot water then thicken up.

For one hearty serve I’ve been using:

  • 30 grams “quick” oats
  • 10 or 20 grams old-fashioned oats
  • 10 grams skimmed milk powder

(The ingredients label just says “dried skimmed milk”. I’m not one of those people who can eat porridge made with just water.)

I pack the above in a little bowl with a lid and take to work. When ready to eat, you just:

  • Add some boiling water – I’ve not measured exactly, but basically enough water to cover the ingredients and it looks quite runny with the oats kind of floating about.
  • Stir and put the lid on right away
  • Leave for a minute to thicken up.
  • Stir it again (it’s nice and creamy now) and chuck on any toppings (I like fruit and/or blob of nut butter).
  • Eat quietly and discreetly in your vast open plan office.

I do realise that quick oats aren’t as nutritious as the old-fashioned kind (UPDATE: not necessarily so!), and skimmed milk powder sounds so daggy and 1970s but it’s the best way I’ve found to get a hot, filling breakfast at work without making a big deal out of eating breakfast at work.

UPDATE 2: Just realised I hadn’t really mentioned the taste! It wasn’t quite as good as porridge made on the stove, but was nice and creamy, not watery and gruelly like the instant packet I’d tried. I think it’s coz, as WHF says below, the oats dubbed “quick” are cut bigger than ones called “instant”.

UPDATE 3: Some people have asked why I don’t just make normal porridge at home instead of all this faffing around at work. Answer: I’m out of the house by 8AM and not hungry for breakfast until 9.30-10AM, so need a workplace solution.

By the way, if you’re confused as I am by all the kinds of oats, here’s a handy guide from World’s Healthiest Foods:

  • Oat groats – unflattened kernels that are good for using as a breakfast cereal or for stuffing
  • Steel-cut oats – featuring a dense and chewy texture, they are produced by running the grain through steel blades that thinly slices them.
  • Old-fashioned oats (a.k.a. rolled oats) – have a flatter shape that is the result of their being steamed and then rolled.
  • Quick-cooking oats – processed like old-fashioned oats, except they are cut finely before rolling
  • Instant oatmeal – produced by partially cooking the grains and then rolling them very thin. Oftentimes, sugar, salt and other ingredients are added to make the finished product. (a la your Quaker packets)
  • Oat bran – the outer layer of the grain that resides under the hull. While oat bran is found in rolled oats and steel-cut oats, it may also be purchased as a separate product that can be added to recipes or cooked to make a hot cereal.
  • Oat flour – used in baking, it is oftentimes combined with wheat or other gluten-containing flours when making leavened bread.

So what’s your favourite winter breakfast? All this oat talk makes me fancy porridge for dinner tonight.

59 thoughts on “Oat O’clock

  1. Great tip – I’m going to use this on my train journeys at stupid o’clock – if I add the boiling water at home, by the time I get to the station the oats will be done and I will have porridge – Hoorah!

  2. Hi Rosie, it doesn't keep it's heat for that long in the little bowl thing that I used so depending on how long your journey is to the train I dunno how well it would work? Maybe if you put it in some sort of insulated mug?

    I used to make my porridge at home and put it in this Stanley Food Flask – http://bit.ly/dp8FV5 keeps it hot for ages but it is more of a faff coz you have to put boiling water in the flask for a minute or so beforehand to get the flask heated before you add your porridge or soup or whatever.

  3. Well aren’t you just a clever (oat) cookie! Roll over Esten Beleumenenenenenathalalalaaaaaa.

    Michty impressed with your creative efforts. My eating brekkie at work hurdle involves feeding the feline before he tap dances on my keyboard.


  4. SOME DAY that will be my only hurdle too Ms Lovecat. I mean, not that I want to kidnap your cat. Just the general working from home dealie! 🙂

  5. I also love oatmeal as my winter breakfast at work. Its super easy and you can customize it in many ways.

    I’ve been eating roman meal (which is local to me). I like the texture, its more like steel cut oats, but seems to work well as an instant breakfast. It has whole grain barley, oats and rye. Interesting mix…

    I think this is a good winter season to experiment with several types of hot oaty-grainy breakfasts. 🙂

  6. That’s really clever – I didn’t think it’d be possible to make porridge without at least a microwave.

    Any chance of some brand names? (I keep seeing US versions but have no idea how our UK products correspond.( I think my Scott’s Porage Oats are the old fashioned kind, but I’m not sure. And are the quick-cooking ones somewhere between those and your Ready-Brek type gruelslop?

  7. That sounds awesome! I’ve been having the oat o’clock cravings as well, now that the weather has turned. But I can’t abide the instant oatmeal. Thanks for the recipe!

  8. Babe, top tip, you know insulated mugs?? like the posh kind people zip about with “oh gosh, I am far to busy to sit and drink a coffee, so I make it in an insulated mug and dash about with it, whilst looking so super busy, so busy I can’t drink a coffee when it’s hot” – literally, chuck your PROPER oats in, with proper hot milk/water, mixture of the two – make it at home, by the time you arrive at work, with the lid on the cheeky thermos mug, its all creamy, all nice, and you can add a bit more heat with a bit more hot water and thin it out a bit, as you choose, and stir in your fruit, I don’t know if in scotchland you have pound lands, but they have thermos special coffee mugs, all stainless steel and stuff, for a pound xxx

  9. Why are quick oats not as nutritious as the old-fashioned kind? I take the old-fashioned kind, whiz ’em in the blender for a second, and I have quick oats. Do they do something more than mechanically make them smaller in Scotland to make them less nutritious?

  10. I love reading about your adventures in porridge Shauna!

    I tried one of those m&s creations a wee while back and I must admit it didn’t taste right to me (very watery/bland). I’ve been thinking since whether you could make your own with powdered milk, oats etc so I’m very happy that you’ve tried it out for me. I’ll definitely give this a try. I have the luxury of a microwave at work in my current but it’s still a useful idea to have in mind for talking to other people.

    I absolutely second the Stanley Food Flask recommendation if somebody needs a solution for breakfast on the go.

  11. Dead right about the M&S one, Sophie… really watery! Tis what I imagine the poor kiddies eat in Oliver! musicals 😛

  12. Johanna – apparently the bigger oats have a lower glycemic load, but reading about it, the difference is pretty small! http://www.answerfitness.com/369/is-instant-oatmeal-good-for-you/

    Looking at it now, I've just confused myself in the post, i should have mentioned the bigger oats compared to instant (which often have weird stuff added to them). this is what happen when you do too much "pre-emptive blogging" and worry that people are going to say "your breakfast is bad for you!" 😉

  13. @Pingu – I used to do the thermal mug method! tis a good one, but it kind of fell off the rails for me. i struggled to make the porridge and get to the bus stop on time (i know, poor excuse but i am rubbish in the morning!) and then not staying hot enough (making oats at 7am but not being hungry til 10) So far it’s working well to just make up the oats/powdered milk mix and put it into little containers on a sunday night then i'm all organised for a week 🙂

  14. I eat oats once in a while but I can’t say I love them. Porridge – which I assume is oatmeal in the US? – sounds terrible to me! To each her own, but I’m glad you’ve found a quick way to do them.

    When I do eat oats, I make a week’s worth of the steel-cut and keep them in the fridge. I eat it with berries and walnuts. Never occurred to me to add milk, I will try that.

  15. I’m not much for oatmeal in any form, but especially not the instant sort. If I do happen to partake in the oatmeal experience, I chuck some sliced almonds in with the rest of the stuff to keep the high carb count in check (not a diet thing, just a diabetic thing). I think your solution sounds very sensible but then how would we expect anything less from the eminently sensible Dietgirl? 🙂


  16. @Gingersnapper – i’ve had a can of steel cut oats in the cupboard for two years and STILL not tried them. They’ve moved house three times. Shame job! Yours sounds really tasty 🙂

    @SoupDragon – i’m a brand ho with my oats! (whatever’s on special)

    The names are so confusing! Old fashioned seems to be called Rolled Oats or Traditional Oats over here. But some oats seem to be bigger than others! Just logged in to Tesco to see the one’s I’ve used!

    These three seem to be bigger oats and take a wee bit longer to cook on the stove:
    – Jordan’s Chunky Traditional Porridge
    – Tesco Organic Porridge Oats
    – Scott’s Old-Fashioned Porage Oats

    Then these oats seem ground up more so work well with the boiling water:
    – Scott’s Porage Oats

    Also Marks & Spencer does an Instant Porridge Oats in a blue box that has some powdered milk in it, but no sugar. I’ve used that sometimes mixed with the Scott’s Porage Oats.

    Anything but ReadyBrek I reckon, hehe!

    Still in the experimenting stage 🙂

  17. Btw, your comments make me love the internet. Where else can you get nerdy about OATS and other people actually join in!? 🙂

  18. I *loved* *loved* the fact shauna, that you said that my idea wasn’t practical in that you were leaving the house at 7am and not hungry for brekkis until 10am, my new question is, loads of people say “YOU MUST EAT BREAKFAST OR YOUR METABOLIC RATE WILL DIE” !!!!!!!!, but i never knew, still don’t know, when is the right time to eat to breakfast, I am thinking “I am not hungry, I know breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but why should I eat, when I am not hungry, just because it’s the most important time??!” I hope this makes sense xxx

  19. @Pingu – Oh yes! I got the horrified emails last year when I mentioned I didn't eat til 10! I was having to get up even earlier to eat at 7 when I wasn't actually hungry, then I'd be hungry again at 10 anyway! I don't know what it is about me and 10 o'clock 🙂

    Maybe I should give the earlier brekkie another go, maybe would get my metabolism going again. But find it hard to eat in the morning if I'm not yet hungry. EXCEPT if I am going to exercise (another pre-emptive disclaimer!).

  20. Shauna – didn’t read all the comments so hope this isn’t redundant. Do you have a microwave at work? Make a BIG pot of porridge at home on the weekend and put it into little plastic containers (after it cools!) 30-60 seconds in the microwave and you have the slow-cooked goodness in a snap! (I add chopped nuts and maple syrup, but that might be a New England thing).

  21. My tounge is terrified of anything oatmeal-related – but your nerdy post makes me think again. I struggle with breakfast too, having a delicate stomach right out of bed.

    And I just wanted to say – I HATE open office plans. Whose dumb idea was that?

  22. was very glad for the links – I didn’t understand all the differences and appreciated the info.

    Even for those of us who cook on the stove – this is important to know for travel! I am an oatmeal every day (year round) girl – so an option for being on the road is really important. Good post.

  23. To Pingu and Shauna – you can find plenty of contrary evidence about metabolic rate and breakfast/not breakfast, so do what works for you! I don’t know if I can post a link, so I’ll just say do a search for Leangains. I’m neither a proponent or critic of the method, but obviously it works just fine for some.

  24. This made me chuckle, because I had my oaty breakfast today for the first time in ages! (It’s usually omelette and toast.) My favorite way to do oats is actually oat bran + flax (1/4 cup of each), add water and mix like mad so the oat bran doesn’t clump. It’s got a much smoother texture than regular oats, but still delightfully mushy. Then I add a big dollop of peanut butter and a squirt of sugar-free maple syrup. Yum!!!

  25. I remember you mentioning the nut butter thing before – thanks to you I have discovered the joys of almond butter in porridge and a stash of babybels at work for a high protein afternoon snack – thanks 🙂

  26. Ah other people love porridge as much as me! It gets me through winter with banana and low fat greek yoghurt. The only dilemma I have as it gets warmer is what to eat for breakfast, regular cereal doesn’t cut it and porridge is a bit too warming for an Australian Summer morning!

  27. I cook mine at home but am soon going to try them with Trader Joe’s peanut flour…supposed to be like powdered peanut butter minus the added fat…and I got this nifty banana slicer thingy at Williams Sonoma that slices a banana in no time flat…makes me want some right now!!

  28. Hi,

    Loving the porridge/oats conversation! My question is mainly for Nicole @ Body By Beer if she comes back. I’d love some more info on the Roman Meal wholegrain mix… my early morning googling has been pretty unsuccessful.. all I get is info on ancient Roman cooking! Are there any suppliers or brand names which you could provide to help?

    Thanks, Lips

  29. Hi DG.

    My breakfast of choice at the moment is rolled oats mixed with a bit of water plus a) brown sugar and cinnamon or b) a sliced banana. 2 minutes to in the micky-wave then a splash of milk and it’s ready to eat. It takes me longer to filter my breakfast coffee into its pot.

    Your workplace sounds pretty harsh that you can’t take a wee break@10 for breaky. Surely taking 10 minutes to have something to eat is not a cause for punishment? Or is there something I’m not getting?


  30. @Tamakikat – The microwave isn't close to my desk and disappearing for 10 minutes or more at 10AM isn't really the done thing 🙂

  31. Can you get one of those usb plug in warmer things? I dunno if they are practical or not but I really want one.

    I need to experiment with oats. I’ve found proper porridge oats in Tokyo but am worried that I’ll make a big glumpy mess of my housemates saucepans cos I can’t make porridge properly.

  32. I know you said that you couldn’t be away at the microwave for 10 minutes – but how about 3 minutes? 1/2 cup quick oats, 1 cup water, throw in any kind of fruit…some sliced apples, a sliced banana, some strawberries (not all at the same time…but something!). Nuke for 3 minutes and then add a little milk…or use mile and water if you want milk. finish up with 3 packs of Splenda. It’s perfect!!! you can make at home and then heat up at work for 1 or 2 minutes…it’s so good.

  33. Just to clarify, the kitchen is not near my desk, whereas the boiling water thingy is. That ten minutes includes transit time 😛

    Edited entry so it makes more sense!

  34. I’m with gingersnapper on the steel cut oats (they are really delicious–very creamy with just the slightest nuttiness) and also with Suzanne who suggested making a big pot on the weekend and keeping it in the fridge. They microwave up very nicely with milk and pretty much taste like fresh-cooked to me. They do take about 30-40 minutes when you first simmer them up, but so worth it.

    But the steel cut oats you have in the cupboard might be a bit rancid by now (not to pile on the shame job!)–I’d get some new and keep them in the fridge. I also keep whole wheat flour and wheat germ in the fridge/freezer, something about the oil content makes them go nasty otherwise.

  35. Sorry, I finally understood what you said about being near the boiling water thing and not the microwave. But you should try steel cut oats sometime anyway!

  36. D… about eating porridge in hot Australian summers – have you tried it swiss style – raw oats marinated overnight in fruit juice with added grated Apple in the morning? The juice sort of cooks the oats. Mmmm.

  37. I do the instant oats thing – made with water, but often with a topping of organic tart-apple syrup and powdered cinnamon – for breakfast most weekend days or if I’m eating brekkie at home during the week (yep, even in Summer sometimes).

    My other go-to breakfast at work is a sort of an industrial-strength muesli bar (which would double as trail rations were I ever to decide to hike off across the world) called “One Square Meal”. It’s far from perfect, but it *is* convenient, it’s got mostly recognisably-food ingredients, and half their recommended “full meal” serving gives me a semi-balanced breakfast with enough protein, fibre and complex carbs to keep me going until my mid-morning snack.

  38. I love your instant oats recipe! I will have to steal this one as my husband buys boxes of the instant sugared-up variety to take to work and I could save us so much money (and sugar) by just filling a bunch of little baggies! Although he will have to explain to his coworkers why he is walking around with his pockets stuffed with little baggies of powder;)

  39. Here’s my top tip. Before slinking off to bed, mix 1/4 cup Tesco Organic Porridge with 1/4 cup semi skimmed milk and 1/4 cup water. Stir and then bung in fridge while you get your zeds… Next morning, stumble into kitchen, put kettle on, stick porridge mix in microwave for 2 mins. Make tea. Give porridge another stir and bung back in microwave for 1 min. Get yourself a glass of juice. PING! Porridge is ready – stir in a splodge of honey, add some cold milk on top and then tuck in. Porridge heaven, and easy enough to do whilst half asleep. 🙂

  40. Hi Shauna,

    I no longer buy the “instant” kind of oatmeal, partly because they’re not as healthy and clean as I’d like, and also because I learned to make the regular kind almost as instantly!

    Take 1/2 cup oats (Scottish oatmeal, brown rice cereal, 12-grain, whatever…just not steel cut oats), put in a container with a tigh-fitting lid (or if you’re at home you can use a saucer over the bowl), pour over it boiled water in the desired amount, and leave for about 10 minutes. Then give it a stir, add fruit or whatever, and enjoy!

    I didn’t believe they meant the REAL oats, but indeed they did!

  41. On the whole no-breakfast-killing-the-metabolism thing, my doctor told me that as long as you eat with several hours of waking up then it no problem. But that’s just one opinion 🙂
    p.s I love porridge to.

  42. I make steel cut oats in a slowcooker (crockpot) over night. Then you just scoop it into a thermos and go. I put them on after dinner on “Keep Warm” and the porridge is ready at 6 when I eat. You have to fool around with the amount of water, it seems to vary by machine, but it’s been reliable once I figured it out.

  43. Hi DG,

    how about reversing your meals? At 10am go with a dinner/lunchy thing that you brought in a thermos or the like then have the oats when you get home.


  44. I’ve got to admit my eyes started to go blurry and I didn’t read all the comments, but am wondering if you should get your mum to send you a care package with some good ol’ aussie uncle toby’s instant porridge… I was always a supreme purist (aka snob) about porridge – absolutely HAD to be made on the stove with half water, half milk and ‘real’ oats, but have recently discovered some of the uncle toby’s instant ones are actually quite nice… admittedly I have the luxury of a microwave to make them in, but am pretty sure they have milk powder and would be ok made on boiled water…

    None of my other suggestions are appropriate for a website with ‘diet’ in the title 😛


  45. It’s true, steel cut oats are top notch. The downside is they take longer to cook. So worth it though. I love to mix a spoonful of pumpkin or butternut squash puree in with my oatmeal, some cinnamon, and maple syrup for sweetening.

  46. Let's Eat – Because I don’t eat breakfast til I get hungry, which is around 10AM. By then I’ve been out of the house for about 2 hours 🙂

  47. Thanks for the post Shauna. I tried your recipe and it was great. I have used it every day this week. I find that it keeps me going until about half past one. Usually I start feeling hungry at about 10 in the morning (I eat breakfast about half past six).

  48. I do the SAME EXACT THING for breakfast! I have a huge freezer zip-lock bag in my desk drawer and then just put it in a bowl and pour the super hot water from the coffee maker on it. It works out perfectly for me. I eat breakfast at work every single day because I can’t be bothered to take my synthroid early enough.

  49. This may not work for you since it would involve having a little crock pot at work but what I have been doing is using a 2 quart crock pot to make our oatmeal as my Huzby and I sleep. He gets up at 4am and I am always running late in the morning so before bed I put

    .5 C steel cut oats
    2 C water
    1t butter
    1/4 t salt

    in my little crock pot and put it on low. My husband eats his portion when he gets up and turns the pot to warm and then I can grab mine on the way out… Waalaa a hot healthy breakfast with no morning prep!

  50. This may be more effort/ space than its worthy, but have you considered investing in a tiny rice cooker. The rice cooker is my new favorite appliance because you through the hot cereal whatever and water/ or other liquid in, and hit a button and 20 minutes later you have an awesome bowel of fresh porridge. They make tiny one cup ones, so you could probably put one on your desk.

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