I was sweating and red-faced by the time I walked into the office—I was nearly an hour late to work!
After having profusely apologized to my boss, I hoped my tardiness might be justified thanks to my nutrition-related excuse. I was late, after all, because I had been tending to a pot of steel cut oats on the stove and absentmindedly lost track of time.
We all know eating fiber-rich oatmeal for breakfast can help you lose weight more effectively than those store-bought cereals—but the 45 minutes needed on the stove is just way more time than anyone can spare on a weekday morning. I know making overnight oats is an easy solution, but there are just some nights I'm too tired to even think about dinner, let alone prep what I'm going to eat the next morning for breakfast. And that's when I remembered there was already a solution to my problem: instant oatmeal.
Although microwaveable oats are a magical time-saver, I know that not all boxes are created equal. And after rummaging through my local grocery store, I found that many options are laden with artificial flavors and carelessly stripped of nutrients—not exactly the wholesome breakfast you had in mind. I was determined, however, to find an Eat This!-approved box, and ended up finding 12! Then, after combing through more than a hundred different options, I found the best and worst of the instant oats. And if you've run into work late more than once (like yours truly), make a point of checking out these 15 Healthy Breakfast Ideas. Each breakfast calls for just five ingredients and takes no more than five minutes to make!
Original Instant Oatmeal Packet
Nature's Path Organic Original Hot Oatmeal
Per packet (50 g): 190 calories, 3 g fat (0.5 g saturated fat), 0 mg sodium, 34 g carbs (6 g fiber, 1 g sugar), 8 g protein
Quaker Instant Oatmeal Original
Per packet (28 g): 100 calories, 2 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 75 mg sodium, 19 g carbs (3 g fiber, 0 g sugar), 4 g protein
You would think that all plain, instant oatmeal packets would just be rolled oats, right? Wrong. While Nature's Path offers a packet full of organic rolled oats, Quaker's option is made with guar gum (a thickener to stand in for their lack of fiber) and caramel color, which is just unnecessary. Pick up Nature's Path for the perfect blank canvas for just about any breakfast creation. Top it with cinnamon, almond butter, and raspberries if you're in the mood for something sweet, or add a fried egg and a dollop of pesto if you're craving some savory oats.
thinkThin Farmer's Market Berry Crumble Oatmeal Single Serving Bowl
Per cup (50 g): 190 calories, 2 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 140 mg sodium, 33 g carbs (5 g fiber, 10 g sugar), 10 g protein
Nature Valley Mixed Berry Crunch Protein Oatmeal
Per cup (73 g): 270 calories, 4 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 150 mg sodium, 51 g carbs (4 g fiber, 18 g sugar), 10 g protein
If you're a frequent Eat This, Not That! reader, you know how important protein is for weight loss. The nutrient plays a role in everything from suppressing your appetite to helping your body burn through its fat storage. If you want to reap the benefits, we'd recommend thinkThin's option over Nature Valley's. The difference here is in the serving size; you get 10 grams of protein for each cup, but you have to eat a larger portion of Nature Valley to get that. And in doing so, you're also swallowing down an additional 8 grams of sugar! Talk about health foods that are worse than a donut.
Instant Oats Maple Packet
Nature's Path Organic Maple Nut Hot Oatmeal
Per packet (50 g): 210 calories, 4 g fat (0.5 g saturated fat), 100 mg sodium, 38 g carbs (4 g fiber, 11 g sugar), 5 g protein
BetterOats Oat Revolution! Maple & Brown Sugar
Per packet (43 g): 160 calories, 2.5 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 210 mg sodium, 32 g carbs (3 g fiber, 13 g sugar), 4 g protein
It's usually the #1 best seller from every brand. You guessed it: maple and brown sugar. They might be the perfect breakfast flavor duo, but many of us don't even get to taste the real thing. Yep—all too often, that "maple" flavor is exactly what it says it is—just a flavor. Take BetterOats Oat Revolution, for instance, which uses natural and artificial flavor, as well as caramel color, to trick your palate into thinking you're eating the real thing. On the other hand, Nature's Path is flavored with good old fashioned maple sugar, and the addition of pecans adds some healthy fats and extra protein to help you put a muzzle on your ravaging hunger pangs.
Straw Propeller Maple Oats
Per container (63 g): 198 calories, 3 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 140 mg sodium, 34 g carbs (5 g fiber, 6 g sugar), 7 g protein
Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free Brown Sugar & Maple Oatmeal Cup with Flax & Chia
Per cup (61 g): 240 calories, 5 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 310 mg sodium, 43 g carbs (7 g fiber, 10 g sugar), 7 g protein
Quaker Real Medleys Supergrains Maple Pecan Raisin Flavored Oatmeal
Per cup (70 g): 270 calories, 7 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 240 mg sodium, 49 g carbs (5 g fiber, 18 g sugar), 6 g protein
We love Bob's Red Mill as much as any foodie, but we were disappointed to see they use "natural maple flavor" and "caramel color" instead of real maple syrup to flavor their mix. Quaker plays the same "natural flavor" card, but they also were docked for having a whopping 18 grams of sugar in their cup offering. For a breakfast of champions, go gourmet with Straw Propeller, made simply with gluten free rolled oats, organic maple sugar, and sea salt.
Apple and Cinnamon
Love Grown Super Oats Packets Apple Cinnamon Hot Oats (GF)
Per packet (43 g): 160 calories, 2.5 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 30 mg sodium, 33 g carbs (4 g fiber, 11 g sugar), 4 g protein
Nature's Path Organic Apple Cinnamon Hot Oatmeal
Per packet (50 g): 210 calories, 2.5 g fat (0.5 g saturated fat), 100 mg sodium, 40 g carbs (4 g fiber, 14 g sugar), 5 g protein
To save yourself from a sugar rush, open up a packet of Love Grown's Super Oats. They're not only lower in sugar, but Love Grown's oats are also a better option for vegetarians, compared to Nature's Path. That's because those 4 grams of protein are "complete," thanks to the addition of chia seeds, quinoa flakes, and amaranth flakes. ICYMI: Complete proteins contain all nine essential amino acids. Although all animal-based protein is complete, many plant-based options are incomplete and need to be combined with other plant protein to provide all the muscle-building components.
Flavored Steel Cut Oats
Pacific Organic Steel-Cut Oatmeal Apple & Cinnamon
Per prepared container (283.5 g): 200 calories, 2.5 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 240 mg sodium, 40 g carbs (4 g fiber, 8 g sugar), 4 g protein
McCann's Quick & Easy Steel Cut Irish Oatmeal Apple Cinnamon
Per cup (54 g): 200 calories, 2 g fat (0.5 g saturated fat), 290 mg sodium, 42 g carbs (3 g fiber, 21 g sugar), 3 g protein
Steel cut oats are a different type of oatmeal than the rolled, instant oats you're used to. They're higher in fiber and have a lower glycemic index than other oat varieties, which translates to keeping your belly full and satisfied for hours after eating. While standard steel-cut oats take longer to cook than most other varieties, these pre-cooked varieties that are ready to eat in minutes can make weight loss finally feel within your grasp! Just watch out for the larger serving sizes of the flavored varieties, which can be high in sugar. If you love the taste of McCann's Apple Cinnamon, we'd recommend skipping out on the cup and grabbing their packet because doing so will save you 9 grams of added sugar! And when it comes to picking up a plain version, you're safe with any brand. Bonus points for Pacific Organic, which also offers a lightly sweetened version with only 6 grams of sugar!
Nature's Path Organic Qi'a Superfoods Hot Oatmeal Creamy Coconut
Per packet (38 g): 160 calories, 6 g fat (4 g saturated fat), 0 mg sodium, 23 g carbs (5 g fiber, 1 g sugar), 6 g protein
Quaker Weight Control Instant Oatmeal Maple & Brown Sugar
Per packet (45 g): 160 calories, 3 g fat (0.5 g saturated fat), 290 mg sodium, 29 g carbs (6 g fiber, 1 g sugar), 7 g protein
Don't be fooled by those health foods buzzwords like "Weight Control." Quaker's option has a nearly identical nutritional profile to Nature's Path Qi'a Superfoods Oatmeal, but its ingredients are not on the same good-for-you level. Nature's Path earns its stellar profile of healthy fats, muscle-building protein, and slow-digesting fiber from all organic sources—like dried coconut, buckwheat groats, chia seeds and hemp—while Quaker is pumped of whey protein isolate, artificial flavor, caramel color, and two ETNT no-no's: artificial sweeteners acesulfame potassium and sucralose. They may not spike your blood sugar, but studies have connected artificial sweeteners to skewing your gut health to a proinflammatory state, as well as failing to alert your body that you're consuming a food—which may ultimately rev your appetite.
Bakery on Main Gluten Free Blueberry Scone Instant Oatmeal
Per packet (50 g): 200 calories, 3 g fat (0.5 g saturated fat), 40 mg sodium, 37 g carbs (5 g fiber, 12 g sugar), 6 g protein
Glutenfreeda Blueberry Cinnamon with Flax
Per packet (50 g): 150 calories, 2 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 60 mg sodium, 29 g carbs (3 g fiber, 9 g sugar), 5 g protein
When it comes to plain gluten free oats, you've got loads of options. And each is Eat This-approved! Besides the brands listed above, you can also check out Arrowhead Mills, Nature's Path, Bob's Red Mill, and Purely Elizabeth. The difference comes when you get into the flavors. Although Bakery on Main's option may be a little higher in sugar, it's also higher in fiber—a nutrient which will help your body slow down the digestion of those sugars, keeping you feeling energized for longer. Plus, this Blueberry Scone flavor has extra chia and flax seeds to boost the omega-3 fat content, which can help soothe weight-inducing inflammation.
Purely Elizabeth Cranberry Pumpkin Seed Oatmeal
Per cup (57 g): 230 calories, 6 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 0 mg sodium, 36 g carbs (7 g fiber, 3 g sugar), 10 g protein
Glutenfreeda Instant Oatmeal Cranberry Apple with Walnuts & Cinnamon
Per cup (75 g): 300 calories, 8 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 125 mg sodium, 49 g carbs (6 g fiber, 16 g sugar), 8 g protein
The biggest issue with finding a favorite instant oatmeal is the sugar content. That's why we were thrilled to see that Purely Elizabeth is one of the only brands to offer a no-sugar-added flavor option—cutting the sugar content of these cranberry cups from 16 grams to 3! Not only is their cup reasonably sized, it also contains more protein and fiber than the larger-portioned Glutenfreeda option. Not to mention, you'll also feel comforted knowing you'll be getting your daily dose of fat-melting magnesium from the added pumpkin seeds.
Nature's Path Organic Gluten Free Selections Brown Sugar Maple with Ancient Grains
Per packet (40 g): 160 calories, 2 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 80 mg sodium, 31 g carbs (3 g fiber, 8 g sugar), 4 g protein
Quaker Organic Instant Oatmeal Maple and Brown Sugar
Per packet (41 g): 150 calories, 2 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 95 mg sodium, 31 g carbs (3 g fiber, 12 g sugar), 4 g protein
Quaker Organic Oats may be made with a list of 4 simple ingredients, but we'll give you one guess as to which one there's too much of. If you guessed sugar, you're right! Not only does Nature's Path offer a lower-sugar option, but they also combine their gluten-free rolled oats with a blend of amaranth, quinoa, and sorghum, for an added ancient grain punch.
Quaker Instant Oatmeal Raisins & Spice
Per packet (43 g): 160 calories, 2 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 210 mg sodium, 32 g carbs (3 g fiber, 14 g sugar), 4 g protein
Kathleen's All Natural Quick Oats Cinnamon Raisin
Per cup (57 g): 210 calories, 2 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 0 mg sodium, 44 g carbs (4 g fiber, 20 g sugar), 5 g protein
If you're a die-hard cinnamon raisin fan like I am, you probably know by this point that you always have to check the label before you grab a product off the shelf. That's because raisins are just one of those fruits that are high in fruit sugar and sneaky brands may coat the dried grapes with even more sweet stuff. We've got a simple fix for you: make sure to grab the smaller-portioned packets over cups when you're scoping out an instant oatmeal brand. Doing so—like in this case of choosing Quaker Oats over Kathleen's—will save you upwards of 6 grams of sugar!
Nature's Path Organic EnviroKidz Oatmeal Brown Sugar Maple
Per packet (32 g): 130 calories, 1.5 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 65 mg sodium, 25 g carbs (3 g fiber, 6 g sugar), 4 g protein
Quaker Instant Oatmeal Dinosaur Eggs Brown Sugar
Per packet (50 g): 190 calories, 4 g fat (2 g saturated fat), 240 mg sodium, 36 g carbs (3 g fiber, 12 g sugar), 4 g protein
Trust me, I know how you feel. Quaker Dinosaur Eggs was one of my favorite breakfasts as a kid—but that was before we realized that the artificial colors Quaker uses for their dinosaurs have been connected to hyperactivity in children and that children should eat no more than 25 grams of added sugar a day (this small packet will fill nearly half of that limit). Plus, do you really want your kids to be ingesting hydrogenated palm oil—a man-made fat that often contains traces of artery-clogging trans fats? Help keep your kiddies more even-keeled with a reasonable 6 grams of sugar and wholesome ingredients like organic, gluten-free rolled oats, maple sugar, rolled amaranth, and quinoa, all found in Nature's Path EnviroKidz line. And while we're on the topic, don't miss these 13 Scary Ingredients In Your Kid's Lunch Box!