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Prairie Fare: Enjoy Comforting, Heart-healthy Oatmeal

The foods that are considered “comfort foods” vary from person to person and from one region of the country to another.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

My 9-year-old daughter spotted a canister with a large, red heart on it as she explored our pantry for an appealing breakfast.

“Mom, I’d like oatmeal for breakfast,” she said.

“Of course you can have oatmeal,” I said, happy to oblige.

I showed her how to make oatmeal quickly in the microwave. We used milk instead of water as a nutrition bonus, and she added a sprinkle of brown sugar.

“This is my idea of comfort food,” I said as I placed the steaming bowl in front of her.

I looked out the window at the snow-covered ground as I listened to the morning weather forecast. Temperatures were expected to dip low on the thermometer that day to minus 20 degrees.

I decided to make a bowl of oatmeal for myself, too. I might as well start out the morning feeling warm and comfortable, I thought to myself.

The foods that are considered “comfort foods” vary from person to person and from one region of the country to another. In the Midwest, warm, creamy mashed potatoes and gravy, hot dish and mac and cheese come to mind. For others, hot cereal is like a warm security blanket.

The definition of comfort food first appeared in the dictionary in 1972, according to an online encyclopedia. Comfort foods usually are easy-to-prepare, familiar foods. They’re often high in carbohydrates and easy to chew. They may be foods from our childhood, so they perhaps stir a memory of a simpler time.

Consider adding more oatmeal to your menu, especially during February, which is American Heart Month. Besides providing a warm, stick-to-your ribs breakfast, oatmeal is good for your heart. In fact, oatmeal packages can carry a heart health claim because of research that shows its health benefits.

Oats are a whole-grain food. According to the latest recommendations, we should strive to make half of our grain food choices whole-grain foods.

Oats contain two different types of fiber. Oats contain insoluble fiber, which keeps us regular by moving foods through our digestive system, thereby helping prevent constipation.

Oats also provide soluble fiber called beta-glucans. This type of fiber acts like little sponges that pick up cholesterol and carry it out of the body. Adding oats to your diet could reduce your blood cholesterol level, especially LDL or “bad” cholesterol.

For people with high blood cholesterol, nutrition experts recommend 1 1/2 cups of oatmeal (1/2 cup uncooked) daily to help reduce blood cholesterol. Gradually increase your fiber intake and drink plenty of water to prevent upsetting your digestive system.

You can use quick oats and old-fashioned oats interchangeably in recipes. When you use old-fashioned oats, the food will have a chewier, coarser texture. Quick oats are cut smaller, so they cook more quickly. Use instant oatmeal only in recipes that call for it.

If you’d like to enjoy the benefits of oats, but cooked oatmeal is not your favorite, try adding oats to meatloaf or meatballs to increase the fiber. Enjoy oatmeal muffins and cookies.

Give oatmeal another try with this novel breakfast or snack recipe from the University of Nebraska Extension Service.

Banana Split Oatmeal

1/3 c. dry oatmeal, quick cooking

1/8 tsp. salt

3/4 c. very hot water

1/2 sliced banana

1/2 c. frozen vanilla yogurt, nonfat

Cinnamon, if desired

In a microwave-safe cereal bowl, mix together the oatmeal and salt. Stir in water. Microwave on high power for one minute and then stir. Microwave on high power for another minute and stir again. Microwave an extra 30 to 60 seconds on high power until the cereal reaches the desired thickness. Stir. Top with frozen vanilla yogurt and banana slices. Sprinkle with cinnamon if desired.

Makes one serving. Each serving has 150 calories, 1 gram (g) of fat, 30 g of carbohydrate and 4 g of fiber.

(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.)

NDSU Agriculture Communication

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187,
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136,
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