If it seems harder than ever to get out of the supermarket with a cartful of nutritious food and money still left in your wallet, you’re not alone. More than three-quarters of Americans have noticed an increase in food prices in the last year, according to research from the International Food Information Council.

A great way to help keep your food budget in check is to use what you already have on hand. Our new recipe series will help you do exactly that by making tasty, nutritious serving suggestions for the shelf-stable staples in your pantry you may have overlooked. This month’s focus: oats.

Know Your Oats

While oats are usually thought of as a breakfast and baking standard, they can be a great foundation for a number of healthy, budget-friendly meals, both sweet and savory. You will notice several different kinds of oats in the grocery store:

  • Steel-Cut Oats The oat kernels (groats) are passed through steel blades that cut the whole oats into pellet-like pieces. They tend to have a chewier consistency and nuttier flavor than other kinds of oats, but they take longer to cook.
  • Rolled or Old-Fashioned Oats The oat kernels are steamed and then passed through large rollers to flatten them, which significantly cuts down on cooking time but doesn’t impact nutrient levels. Rolled oats are a good option for all of the recipes below.
  • Quick-Cook Oats Whole oat kernels are cut into a few pieces before they are steamed and rolled to decrease cooking time. They can be used in all of these recipes except the granola.
  • Instant Oats These oats are rolled even more thinly and are precooked. Unsweetened instant oats can be used in all of these recipes except the granola.

Steel-cut oats go through less processing than the other kinds, but they aren’t really any more nutritious. All oats are similar in terms of calories and fiber content, per U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) data. One systematic review and meta-analysis published in 2021 in The Journal of Nutrition did find that blood sugar and insulin responses were better when people ate intact oat kernels, as opposed to more processed rolled or instant oat flakes, but that may be because it takes longer to digest them. These findings may also explain why steel-cut oatmeal can be more satiating than oatmeal made from rolled, quick, or instant oats — and why using steel-cut oats may result in better long-term blood sugar control.

What Nutritional Benefits Do Oats Have?

You can certainly do worse than eating oats more often to use up your stash. For starters, oats deliver a range of essential nutrients that are necessary for good health, including magnesium, phosphorus, and thiamine, according to the USDA. And although oats may not leap to mind as readily as other foods when it comes to antioxidants, research has found that these grains are a source of disease-fighting polyphenol antioxidants called avenanthramides. Some other potential benefits of oats include:

Heart Health Oats are one of only a handful of foods that contain a unique type of soluble fiber called beta-glucan. In a meta-analysis of previous research published in the The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers found that people who consume 3 grams or more of beta-glucan per day often experience drops in their LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and total cholesterol numbers, two markers indicating a potential improvement in heart health.

Weight Loss An investigation by the New York Nutrition Obesity Research Center that was published in Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism found that people who spooned up oatmeal for breakfast felt less hungry and consumed an average of 31 percent less calories during a follow-up meal three hours later, compared with those who had the same number of calories at breakfast from a more processed box cereal. The extra soluble fiber in oats slows down digestion, resulting in fewer hunger pangs and less potential for overeating.

Type 2 Diabetes A study published in 2020 in BMJ found that eating oats can be part of a whole-grain dietary pattern that is protective against developing type 2 diabetes.

How to Eat Oats

Here are five delicious ways to use up oats:

1. Savory Egg, Cheese, and Greens Oatmeal

Oatmeal doesn’t have to be sweet. This savory version works for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and toasting the oats before cooking them enhances the flavor.

Heat 1 tablespoon (tbsp) of oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add 1 chopped shallot and 1 chopped garlic clove and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 1 to 2 minutes. Add 2 cups of rolled oats and stir for 1 minute, until the oats smell toasty. Add 4 cups of water, ½ teaspoon (tsp) of dried thyme, and ¼ tsp each of salt and black pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cook, stirring often, until creamy, 10 to 12 minutes. Stir in 3 cups of baby spinach and heat until wilted. Stir in 1 cup of grated reduced-fat cheddar cheese. Divide among serving bowls and top with half a sliced avocado, a halved hard-boiled egg, or a runny fried egg and a few squirts of hot sauce. Makes 4 servings.

2. Oatmeal Pancake Pie

This cross between two breakfast favorites is great to make ahead of time, and it freezes well. It’s also a great snack or dessert.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place 1 egg, 1 cup of plain Greek yogurt, 1 ripe banana, and 1 tsp of vanilla in a blender container and blend until smooth. In a large bowl, stir together 1 cup of rolled oats, ¾ cup of whole-wheat or oat flour, 1 tsp of cinnamon, 1 tsp of ginger powder, 1 tsp of baking powder, ½ tsp of baking soda, and ¼ tsp of salt. Stir yogurt mixture into oat mixture. Let mixture rest for 10 minutes to soak up some liquid. Pour batter into a greased 8-inch round cake pan and bake for 25 minutes (or until browned on top and center is set). Let cool for about 5 minutes before slicing. Serve slices topped with berries and a drizzle of maple syrup. Makes 5 servings.

3. Salmon Oat Loaf

This made-over meatloaf packs in omega-3s from the fish and gets a fiber boost from chewy oats.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a large bowl, flake 3 cans of drained salmon with a fork, and stir in 2 eggs, 1 cup of rolled oats or quick-cook oats, 1 cup of shredded carrot, 1 chopped shallot, 2 chopped garlic cloves, the juice of half a lemon, ½ tsp of salt, and ¼ tsp of black pepper. Add salmon mixture to a 9-by-5-inch greased or parchment paper–lined loaf pan, and spread it until the mixture is an even height and width. Bake for 20 minutes, spread on ½ cup of barbecue sauce, and bake for another 10 minutes, or until salmon loaf is set in the center. Let cool several minutes before unmolding. Makes 4 servings.

4. Near-Instant Spicy Cocoa Granola

Why pay a premium for store-bought granola when it’s so easy to make a batch at home — and doing so allows you to control the sugar level? This spicy-sweet mix hits all the right notes, and it will stay fresh for a week on the countertop if stored in an airtight container.

Heat 1 tbsp of coconut oil or butter and 3 tbsp of maple syrup in a skillet over medium heat until melted. Add ¾ cup of rolled oats, ⅓ cup of roughly chopped almonds, ¼ cup of raisins or dried unsweetened cranberries, ½ tsp of cinnamon, ⅛ tsp of cayenne powder, and a pinch of salt to the skillet; heat 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in cocoa powder and heat 2 more minutes, stirring often. Be careful not to burn the oats. Spread mixture on a cutting board to cool. The granola will become crispy upon resting. Serve over yogurt topped with berries or in a bowl with milk. Makes 4 servings.

5. Golden Overnight Oats

This spiced-up grab-and-go breakfast can be made up to three days ahead of time, with any kind of milk or nondairy milk you prefer.

In a medium bowl, combine 1 tbsp of honey, 1 tsp of turmeric, ¼ tsp of ginger powder, ¼ tsp of cardamom, ¼ tsp of cinnamon, and a pinch of salt. Add 2 tbsp boiled water and stir to dissolve honey. Stir in 1 ½ cups of unsweetened almond, cashew, or oat milk. Place ⅔ cup of rolled oats and 2 tbsp ground flax in each of 2 wide-mouthed jars or cereal bowls. Add half the liquid spice mixture to each jar or bowl, and stir until all the oats are moist. Chill overnight. Before serving, top with chopped mango, dried coconut flakes, and roughly chopped pistachios or cashews. Makes 2 servings.

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