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I Tried 6 Instant Oatmeal Brands & the Best Won for Texture and Flavor

Healthy, satisfying, and lightning-fast, instant oatmeal is the path to an easy, good-for-you breakfast.
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Cold, dark, blustery winter mornings call for a hot breakfast to start your day right. And if you don't have the time or energy to whip up a diner-style platter of pancakes and eggs, a piping hot bowl of creamy oatmeal is a great choice to set you on the right nutrition path.

Oatmeal is a whole-grain breakfast cereal, packed with fiber, protein, and essential vitamins and minerals. The fiber in oats is excellent for digestion and can help keep you full and satisfied all morning with balanced blood sugar levels, so you're less likely to reach for a sugary snack before noon.

Fiber is also known to help protect against chronic illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes, and most Americans do not get enough of this important nutrient in their daily diets. When you start your morning with a bowl of oatmeal, you can easily get up to four grams of fiber with your first meal, which is nearly 20% of your recommended daily value. And if you add fresh or dried fruit, nuts, or seeds to your bowl, you'll get even more fiber.

Most single servings of oatmeal also offer 4 or more grams of protein, which helps keep you feeling full. Oats also contain micronutrients such as thiamin, phosphorus, and magnesium. Your body needs all these minerals daily to turn food into energy and keep your metabolism running smoothly.

If you're looking for a healthy, satisfying, and lightening-fast breakfast solution, instant oatmeal just may be your ticket. Of course, the grocery store has dozens of instant oatmeal varieties. The options can be overwhelming and seemingly endless, from flavored cereals to completely plain packets to oatmeal fortified with chia, flax, and protein powder.

So, to save you time and confusion at the grocery store, I picked up six of the most common instant oatmeal products and tried them myself.

For this test, I prepared each oatmeal product with water in the microwave, according to the directions on the packaging. I tried them all fresh out of the microwave while they were hot. Here's how each instant oatmeal ranked in descending order.

Better Oats Maple & Brown Sugar Instant Oatmeal

better oats oatmeal
Lizzy Briskin, Eat This, Not That!
PER SERVING (1 pouch): 100 cal, 2 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 210 mg sodium, 18 g carbs (3 g fiber, <1 g sugar), 4 g protein

This oatmeal is marketed as containing 100 calories per pouch, which, to be fair, is not much different than many of the instant oatmeal packets I sampled (Target's brand also contains 100 calories per pack). These oats contain flaxseed and are sweetened with sugar, sucralose, molasses, and maple syrup. They're also lightly fortified with vitamins and minerals, including niacin, riboflavin, folate, and iron.

The look: I appreciated that the pouch for this instant oatmeal doubles as a measuring cup with a fill line for your water. It was just the right amount because the oatmeal came out soft and creamy. The serving size did seem a bit smaller than other oatmeal packets I made for this test.

The taste: I was put off by the strong faux maple flavoring in this bowl of oatmeal. Despite the minimal amount of sugar in the nutrition panel, these oats tasted sweeter than the others in my taste test, likely because of the added sucralose.

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Quaker Lower Sugar Instant Oatmeal Maple & Brown Sugar

quaker oatmeal
Lizzy Briskin, Eat This, Not That!
PER SERVING (1 packet): 120 cal, 2 g fat (0.5 g saturated fat), 240 mg sodium, 3 g carbs (1 g fiber, 4 g sugar), 4 g protein

I was surprised by the disappointing texture and flavor of this instant cereal from the most well-known oatmeal brand. This lower-sugar variety is sweetened with real sugar and monk fruit extract, so it still contains 4 grams of added sugar.

The look: The dry oatmeal didn't look special, but the flakes were noticeably smaller and thinner than some of the other instant oatmeals I sampled. When I removed the bowl from the microwave, I noticed it hadn't cooked evenly. The center was sunken and dried-out looking, while the edges were puffy and bubbling. This could have something to do with my microwave, but I did follow the cooking instructions on the packet. After stirring, it was still rather gluey and needed a splash more water to loosen up.

The taste: I appreciated that this oatmeal did not taste too sweet despite the maple and brown sugar flavor. I can't say I could pick up on much maple flavor, but it was nicely sweetened.

Kodiak Maple & Brown Sugar Oatmeal Power Cup

kodiak oatmeal cup
Lizzy Briskin, Eat This, Not That!
PER SERVING (1 cup): 230 cal, 3 g fat (0.5 g saturated fat), 200 mg sodium, 37 g carbs (4 g fiber, 12 g sugar), 14 g protein

This was one of two portable oatmeal cups I sampled. It's a bit heftier from a volume and nutritional standpoint—it contains 14 grams of protein, much more than any other instant oatmeal I sampled.

The look: Though I followed the instructions to add enough water to cover the oats in the cup and microwave for no more than 45 seconds, I found the cooked oats to be thin and watery. The oats sank to the bottom of the cup and didn't cook together into a cohesive porridge.

The taste: This protein oatmeal was quite sweet. It contains 12 grams of added sugars from cane sugar, brown sugar, and dried maple syrup. I liked that the sugar sources were natural, not artificial or chemically-tasting, but the sugar content was still a little much for my ideal breakfast. The oats are also made with pea protein, which has a distinct powdery flavor that's not everyone's cup of tea (or oats).

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Good & Gather Organic Plain Instant Oatmeal

good and gather oatmeal
Lizzy Briskin, Eat This, Not That!
PER SERVING (1 packet): 100 cal, 2 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 0 mg sodium, 19 g carbs (3 g fiber, 0 g sugar), 4 g protein

This instant oatmeal is basic and unflavored, but it is a solid option for when you want to dress up a bowl of hot cereal. It cooks in a minute or less and has a uniform, creamy texture.

The look: This plain oatmeal has the beige, porridge-like texture you expect from heating organic whole-grain rolled oats and water. It's not the prettiest, but it's also not so thick or gluey that it cements onto your bowl. The cereal is pale and has smaller oat flakes than other cereals I tried.

The taste: This oatmeal is perfectly fine. It doesn't have much flavor, but that makes it a good base for your favorite toppings, be they sweet or savory. If you want plain oatmeal that cooks quickly, you can't go wrong with this choice from Target's store brand.

Nature's Path Original Instant Oatmeal

natures path oatmeal
Lizzy Briskin, Eat This, Not That!
PER SERVING (1 packet): 190 cal, 3 g fat (0.5 g saturated fat), 0 mg sodium, 34 g carbs (6 g fiber, 1 g sugar), 8 g protein

This is a great basic oatmeal with a single ingredient: organic whole-grain rolled oats. It's unsweetened and unflavored, which makes it a tasty and highly nutritious blank canvas for berries, maple syrup, nuts, or whatever you like.

The look: Oatmeal may not be the most beautiful of dishes, and this plain bowl of cooked oats is as basic as it gets, but it has a creamy, soft texture that's not gluey and thick or watery and loose. The oats cook evenly in the microwave for a little over a minute.

The taste: This oatmeal tasted about as simple as you can get. Yes, it tastes healthy and is far from the dessert-like experience you'll get from a sugar-sweetened instant oatmeal, but that makes it a reliable, healthy breakfast choice. And you can have the fun of adding your favorite toppings. Since this instant oatmeal is so basic, you could even take it in a savory direction with a fried egg and chili crisp—who says oatmeal always has to be sweet?

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Bob's Red Mill Brown Sugar & Maple Oatmeal Cup

bobs red mill oatmeal
Lizzy Briskin, Eat This, Not That!
PER SERVING (1 cup): 240 cal, 5 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 310 mg sodium, 42 g carbs (7 g fiber, 9 g sugar), 7 g protein

This oatmeal cup from Bob's Red Mill was the most satisfying of the bunch for me. The combination of three varieties of oats–quick-cooking, old-fashioned, and stone-ground Scottish oatmeal–plus flax and chia seeds makes for a winning texture and flavor.

The look: This cup has a handy fill line marked on the outside. Though it would be even better to have the fill line on the cup's interior, adding the right amount of water is easy. It's microwaved for about a minute, and the texture is uniformly creamy and scoopable. The chia seeds absorb excess water for a rich, almost decadent texture.

The taste: This oatmeal cup is flavored with maple and brown sugar, but maple is the dominant taste. The porridge is not overly sweet and even tastes a bit salty, which I love. It's sweetened with real brown sugar, so you don't get any of the fake taste I found in some of the other instant oatmeals I sampled.

Lizzy Briskin
Lizzy is a trained chef, food writer, and recipe developer for print and digital outlets including Insider, Real Simple, and the Chicago Tribune. Read more about Lizzy