Just Say No to Little Brown Packets

March 31, 2010

I know that this little packet is convenient.  I’ve always kept one in my day bag incase I arrive somewhere with out breakfast.  They weigh almost nothing and can feed a hungry hiker with just a little clean, hot water.

But do we really need this convenience when we’re NOT on the go?  Do I have to tear open two little packets (one is never enough) when I’m eating breakfast at home?  I’ve intentionally avoided these little boxed treats because of all the packaging required, but I also really miss my oatmeal!

And oatmeal is GREAT for you.
An excerpt from awarefitness.com says, “Oatmeal is considered a nutritionally-dense food.  It contains protien, fiber, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals like Vitamin B6, iron, calcium, thiamine, riboflavin, magnesium, zinc, phosphorus, magnanese and trace amounts of vitamin E, folic acid and potassium.”

Let’s remember, however, how much sugar and artificial flavoring goes into some of the flavored packets.  If you ARE going to go instant, try to choose a simple flavor, like Trader Joes, “Oats and Flax.”

So, how am I going to beat the packets and still get my complete grains?  Just a little planning ahead I learned from a French neighbor years ago.  Her young son was fighting a brain tumor and she was determined to battle it and replenish his immune system from the draining chemo and surgeries with a healthy diet.  When the doctor told her to give him fruit loops for breakfast, she laughed in his face.  Knowing his need for nutrient-dense foods, she prepared steel cut oats for breakfast every morning, adding honey, cinnamon and dried fruit for flavor, and probably sneaking some flax for added nutrition.

What are Steel Cut Oats?

“Steel cut oats are exactly what their name implies: whole oat groats (the whole grain separated from the shaft and husk) that have been cut into little pieces using giant steel blades.   The oats can be chopped into different sizes, from large pieces to very fine, small pieces.  The advantage to steel cut oats is that they have a faster cooking time than whole oat groats, while maintaining all of the nutritional value of the whole grain.”  (awarefitness.com)

The disadvantage?  They take 20+ minutes to cook on the stove, instead of 3 minutes in the microwave.  Even my stay-at-home mom voisine didn’t have 20 minutes every morning to prepare oatmeal for her 3 year old.  Besides, his sleep and appetite were so off schedule, she needed to grab something edible the moment he said he was hungry, or else end up skipping a meal and handle a fussy, exhausted child.  So, she made it in large batches, in her biggest pot, and stored it in small single serving containers in the fridge and freezer.  Three minutes in the microwave (or less) and hot steel cut oats were ready to go.

Now, don’t be alarmed, no one in our household has been diagnosed with a brain tumor.  But when I started to miss my oats I thought, “should only sick people be on a healthy diet?”  Absolutely not!  I decided to give her process a try and see if we could kick the packet and have our oats, too.

Steel Cut Oats, dry.

Steel Cut Oats in Oakland:
I’ve seen steel cut oats in several grocery stores.  Trader Joes sells an “Irish Porridge” which is very good and comes in nice, reusable cans.  But after my second can, I thought, I don’t need any more of these cans!  So I stopped into Lakeshore Produce (right beside Trader Joes by Peet’s Coffee) and bought several scoops of bulk steel cut oats to refill my empty container.  Sorry TJs, I just don’t need any more trash!

Oatmeal cooling on the stove, next to a jar of almond meal and Marshall's honey.

This week, my big batch recipe was:

2 cups of Steel Cut Oats (Lakeshore Produce)
8 cups of boiling water (Oakland Tap)
2 tblspoons Almond Meal (Stack House Bros Orchards)
4 tblspoons honey (Marshalls’ East Bay Wildflower)
1/4 cup whole milk/cream (Straus)
1/2 cup dried apple pieces (various winter farmers markets)

Pour the oats into the pot of boiling water.  After 5 minutes on a rapid boil, bring the temperature down to low and cover.  Stir frequently to make sure it doesn’t boil over during the next 10 minutes.  The oats will start to thicken, after which you can cover and leave mostly unattended with the heat very low (just don’t want it to burn to the bottom of the pan).  As the oats thicken, I stir the milk or cream (don’t let it boil or the dairy will curdle) then the honey and eventualy the almond flour and dried fruit.  Then I turn the heat off and leave the lid on to let it cool very slowly.  If you havn’t had breakfast, scoop out a bowl for yourself.

Single serving oatmeal containers ready for the week's breakfasts.

Once the oatmeal has cooled, you can scoop it out into smaller serving containers and store in the fridge (about a week) or freezer (months if your container is airtight).

A note about Almond Meal:
Another Farmers Market Splurge, I picked up a 16 oz bag of Almond Meal from the Stackhouse table at the Jack London Square Farmers Markets.  I understand that Stackhouse almonds are widely distributed on the west coast, but they are gown in Hickman (near Modesto).  I think Almond Meal is a new item for them, and the vendor had me at, “I like to add it to my oatmeal.”  Done!  With the amount of meat we DON’T eat, I need all the extra protien I can get!  I’m sure it’s also delicious in scones or cookies….

A note about dried apples:
I love my Excalibor dehydrator.  All winter I dry apples and citrus.  In the summer strawberries, tomatoes nectarines and apricots. In the fall, persimmons!  We always have dried fruit on hand, it’s like a little memory of the last season, so sweet it’ll spoil you!  If you want to dry fruit, try to buy fruit at it’s peak, when many vendors are offering and prices are good in large quantities.  I once got a flat of organic tomatoes at 50 cents a pound through a CSA u-pick!

More Oatmeal Ideas
I just have to add this link to an ENDLESS amount of recipes for homemade oatmeal, all the flavor combos you could imagine plus the ones you haven’t, like coconut milk or peanutbutter-chocolate chip!

An update from La Voisine:
Our formers neighbor’s sick 3-year-old recently turned 6 and started kindergarten in complete remission.  Let’s hear it for steel cut oats!

Unfortunate Oat Fact:
” …today, less than 5 percent of all oats commercially grown in the U.S. are used for human consumption — the vast majority still finds its way into livestock feed.”

I have found Massa Organics for local rice.  Any idea who’s growing Oats (for human consumption) in this country?


4 Responses to “Just Say No to Little Brown Packets”

  1. Jackie said

    Good post, Betsy. I’ve been guilty of the packets – Trader Joe’s organic ones. Glad to hear that the little boy is still doing well! It reminded me of Luke…I hope he is still happy and healthy, too.

  2. mom said

    Guilty! I’ve been convicted and will mend my ways with the little brown packet. I have actually bought steelcut from our former BI-Lo’s and foud it to be rather thick and bland and needed fresh fruit. I will give it another try, great news on La Voisine’s son!

  3. betsyj said

    Well, this is true, they ARE bland without some love! They typically don’t have any additives, so it’s a “blank canvas” for you to make your oatmeal magic. Some things i like to add are:
    cinnamon (a little goes a long way), brown sugar, honey, raisins, crumbled pecans or walnuts, fresh or dry strawberries, peaches, apples, bananas, berries, etc…

    Think about embellishing it like a pancake or a muffin. The possibilities are endless! Grab summer fruit en bulk and dry it for winter oatmeal. 🙂

    Here’s a great website with a lot of combos:

  4. Clara said

    I hate those packets. After you’ve had plain oatmeal with real maple syrup, those little brown packets are so gross! (I’m spoiled, I get my maple syrup straight from Canada, sometimes in care packages) 😀 I eat my oatmeal plain, with sliced strawberries and maple syrup, and if you dont’ feel like making steel-cut oatmeal, you can get them frozen at Trader Joe’s! Trade off is obviously homemade vs. time on a Monday morning.

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