Porridge Life Lessons: What I Learned In A Year Of Eating Oats

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Porridge Life Lessons: What I Learned In A Year Of Eating Oats
Image: iStock

Porridge. In January 2013 I ate porridge every morning for breakfast. It started as a holiday thing. I loved it so much that I decided to eat it for breakfast forever. In 2013 I estimate that, out of 365 days of the year, I didn’t eat porridge roughly 20 days. That’s a fairly good innings.

I learned some things along the way.

Today is World Porridge Day; an international appreciation of porridge that also raises funds for starving children in developing countries via the charity Mary’s Meals. To mark the occasion, we’re revisiting Mark’s impassioned porridge post from 2014. Enjoy.


Lesson 1: Eating A Large Low GI Breakfast Is A Good Thing…

It seems obvious, but so many people seem to ignore this wisdom. They skip breakfast, they snack more. They eat a big massive, carby lunch…

Getting into the habit of eating a big bowl of porridge every morning is a powerful act. It says, ‘hell no I won’t snack on bullshit, I’ll be too full of delicious oats to even think about muffins and banana bread. This porridge is glued to my guts and it shall sustain me until lunchtime and beyond.’

Word for word, that is precisely what you will say. Maybe out loud.

I’m fairly conscious about what I put into my body. I partake in a type of exercise (climbing) where strength/weight ratio is paramount, so I tend to be very aware of portion control. But where breakfast (and porridge) is concerned I throw caution to the wind. Eating more porridge for breakfast has literally changed my entire set of eating habits for the better.

I eat massive amounts of porridge for breakfast, a decent amount of salad/chicken for lunch, and something light for dinner. I can only do this because porridge is so goddamn filling and it allows you to remain full for hours on end. This helps keep me lean. Eating more for breakfast makes it easier to avoid carbs in the evening, and will curtail your need to snack throughout the day.


Lesson 2: Porridge Is What You Make Of It. Literally.

The best thing about porridge is its flexibility. I tend to keep it simple and cook it with water. Typically I add two tablespoons of vanilla protein powder, chia seeds, honey and a splash of milk before serving – but the possibilities are almost endless. My wife puts just about every berry known to man into hers. Along with brown sugar, powdered milk and a metric buttload of walnuts. I have a female friend who stirs in some egg whites to up her protein intake. Seriously.

The point is: porridge can be catered for your own very specific tastes. I have this fruity idea that protein in the morning helps boost my metabolism so I add protein, but that’s just my own personal quirk. I like chia seeds because they’re rich in just about every goddamn thing you should be putting into your body, so I add a healthy dose of that just for kicks.

Your porridge, your rules.


Lesson 3: Porridge Can Be Adapted To Your Lifestyle

Porridge is flexible in terms of what you eat it with and how it tastes, but it’s also a malleable beast when it comes to wrapping its sploogy tendrils around your hectic lifestyle. Oats also allow for something a little more fancy if that suits you.

Quick Oats can be prepared wherever a Microwave exists. Steel Cut oats take roughly an hour to prepare properly, but are worth the wait for connoisseurs. Then there’s everything in between: traditional oats, oats soaked overnight. Do what you will. There are no rules where porridge is concerned. Let your imagination gang free.

But a quick note: never, ever bother with those infernal microwave specific sachets found in supermarkets. Refined to an inch of their nutritional life, they taste bad, they have stupid sugary flavours and they just plain suck. In addition you have absolutely no control of your own portion size. One sachet is too little, two tends to be too much. It’s expensive and completely pointless. Quick Oats can be cooked just as easily in a microwave and they are far, far superior both in terms of taste, cost and nutrition.

In short: you may think you are too busy for porridge. You aren’t.

During the week I tend to feast on Quick Oats early in the morning, but on the weekends I wake up early and make myself a nice, super indulgent pot of steel cut oats fried in butter and cooked slowly over an hour with water and milk.

Speaking of which…


Lesson 4: Everyone Needs Steel Cut Oats In Their Life

If you want to get serious about porridge, you need to start thinking about how you are going to integrate steel cut oats into your life.

Porridge of the steel cut variety: it’s like the Don Bradman of porridge. It’s the Anderson Silva of oats. It’s Messi, Pele, and Maradona all rolled into one, single groat, cut finely into one deliciously impenetrable foodstuff. This, ladies and gentlemen, is porridge at its finest.

It’s porridge with texture. It’s porridge at its most nutritious. It’s porridge for people who don’t like porridge. It’s porridge for people who love porridge.

But there is a catch. Steel cut oats are notoriously difficult to prepare. They take a far longer amount of time than your regular rolled oats. We’re talking at least 45 minutes here — one cup of oats to four cups of water/milk/mixture of water and milk. It’s a helluva simmer but I believe it’s worth the hassle.

And here’s the best part: steel cut oats, unlike any other oat, can be kept in the fridge for up to a week. Steel cut oats have that ‘soup’ thing going: they actually taste better a couple of days after they’ve been cooked. It gets creamier the longer you leave it. Sometimes I’ll cook myself a massive batch and use it for breakfast throughout the week instead of Quick Oats. Yum.

Finding steel cut oats can be difficult. You can order them online, but I’ve also spotted them in the health/import section of some Coles supermarkets. Perhaps your most reliable source of steel is the GNC health stores dotted throughout Australia.


Lesson 5: Porridge Isn’t Just Functional, It’s Delicious

I started eating porridge mainly to curb my snacking. Then I ate it because it was helping me eat the right amount of food at the correct time. Eventually it worked well as a sweet delivery method for my morning protein shot!

But I try never to forget that porridge can be as damn delicious as any breakfast out there. Porridge is personal, you probably couldn’t care less about how I eat it but, since I’ve gone on about it for the better part of a thousand words, I might as well share my favourite recipe.

Get yourself a saucepan. Take one cup of steel cut oats and lightly fry it in some unsalted butter for two or three minutes. Then add three cups of water. Bring to the boil and cover it with a lid. Let it simmer on a low heat for 45 minutes, taking the lid off to lightly stir every 15 minutes or so.

Then add a pinch of salt and stir in a final cup of full fat milk. Stir it all in together and let it simmer on a medium heat — with the lid off this time – for about 15 minutes.

It’s the best porridge you’ll ever eat. Good luck everyone!


Let’s talk breakfast! Any other porridge lovers here? Any (gasp) porridge haters? Let us know in the comments below, and let us know what you do with your oats in the morning!

Comments

  • I’m actually reading this for its informational value. I’ve been trying to ween myself off of the banana bread, delicious delicious banana bread that I keep eating erryday.

    I tend to eat once I actually get to work – I wonder if I can switch this so I eat before I leave, except I do like a cup of coffee with my food. Oh man life is hard.

      • This is an old but relevent discussion in today’s new found ‘wisdom’ of paleo & gluten free….but really I’m here to add another way of devouring this breakfast mainstay…..has anyone else ever tried slow cooker version….it almost turns porridge into a cake!!
        Its amazing, divine, addictive… and you can add cream, yoghurt, fruit (try home stewed sundried apricots or prunes)
        Try it, don’t leave the house though, as its timing is a little unpredictable till you get the timing and quantity sorted…but I am now going to hunt for those steel cut oats…to try that as well.
        Let me know what you think!

  • Dear Sir

    Have you tried using a pressure cooker to cook your steel cut oats? You could have them ready in half an hour (or less).

    Yours Sincerely,
    CookingMama

    PS. I quite like the “Five Grain Porridge” – the other grains give a nice depth of flavour.

  • I’m one of “those” who will indulge in the instant sachet porridge. Not because I don’t like the quick oats, but mainly because the wife keeps buying them for the kids (and I get lazy).

    Mark, can you freeze the steel cut brews? It sounds like the perfect breakfast for my kayak fishing runs. These have me awake at 3AM, get dressed and apply sunscreen, on the water by 4 (30min drive + setup), then a 6 hour paddle to burn through. I usually take an assortment of muesli bars and trail mix to keep me going, but if I can have a quick porridge fix before I leave instead, all the better.

  • Ok Serrels, after spending the last year reading Porridge tweets, I give in. Tomorrow I will try porridge. First time in maybe 20 years. Here is hoping it lives up to all the hype you have given it.

  • I’ve been trying oats, raspberries and yogurt for breakfast. At first it it was filling me up all day, now it’s just a dreary mess I struggle to get my way through, with most of it ending up in the toilet before I eat it. Often not feeling as if I have enough energy, or a good enough start to the day. Where as something like eggs feels like it kicks my body into a better working position.

  • A quick suggestion:

    Put all the ingredients for a portion in a microwave safe container – steel cut oats, rolled spelt etc. and the milk/water and put in the fridge. After a day or so soaking in the fridge it cooks in no time in the microwave. Just add any extras just before or after cooking it.

    On Sundays fill enough containers for the week.

    If it is a well fitting screw top container, it is also a doddle to take it to work and cook there.

  • I actually find that the sachets are the perfect size for me. I just use the original ones (no “stupid sugar flavours”) and stir in one serve of vanilla protein powder, half a banana, some chia seeds, and some LSA mix.

  • Bircher muesli is essentially cold porridge, and it’s very tasty in summer – apple, berries, soaked oats and yoghurt and whatever else you feel like chucking in. Hmmm…might go make a batch right now for tomorrow morning!

  • Freezing porridge? So decadent! Have you never heard of a porridge drawer? Just open the drawer, pour in the porridge and it’ll keep for days or even weeks. 😉

  • What the difference in price between Steel Cut and Traditional Oats?
    I started eating oats last year and have been looking for a reason to get back into them.

  • Nice article. I entirely agree that oats are tres good, but why the hating on carbs? Unless you’re diabetic there’s no need to exclude an essential macronutrient!

  • The best porridge is definitely the uncle tobys multigrain oats. I usually add a banana, strawberries, blue and black berries, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and quinoa seeds. Tastes so good. Also try having oats with a banana with a bit of cinnamon.

  • I like it how many times you said Steel Cut Oats without saying what that means, even while dedicating two paragraphs to describing them (rather awesomely)

    Porridge of the steel cut variety: it’s like the Don Bradman of porridge. It’s the Anderson Silva of oats. It’s Messi, Pele, and Maradona all rolled into one, single groat, cut finely into one deliciously impenetrable foodstuff. This, ladies and gentlemen, is porridge at its finest.

    It’s porridge with texture. It’s porridge at its most nutritious. It’s porridge for people who don’t like porridge. It’s porridge for people who love porridge.

    I had to google it in the end heh!

  • Yep we love our porridge in our family in the mornings (normally cooler months only). We only by organic oats (but have not yet found Organic and Steel Cut !!). Our method of preparation is one cup oats, 3 1/2 cups full fat non homogonised milk, 2 tablespoons brown sugar, teaspoon of cinnamon and a pinch of salt.

    Put them in the slow cooker the night before and have it come on for 5 hours on low – ready for a 7AM breakfast. The smell throughout the house is great and the kids love em – you will not believe how creamy they come out when cooked this way

    Craig

  • I can’t do carbs for breakfast, or I’m passed out by 10am. Oats may be low gi, but it’s still ‘breakfast cement’ to me 🙁
    If I want a filling breakfast, it has to be healthy fats – free range bacon, eggs, avocado etc with some veges, with a side of black coffee.
    But that’s only on weekends, during the week I fast until my before-lunch workout. So good.

  • I eat oats almost every day and a trick I learnt from a Scotsman is never cook it with milk only water, something to do with cooking the lactose. When cooked. Sry slowly add your milk while stirring hard. It will make creamy oats.

    Somehow this makes oats far creamier than oats cooked with milk.

  • I love porridge!!! Cinnamon and raisins, banana, blueberries, dried fruit and nuts. Anything goes to add extra flavour. Honey or maple syrup to sweeten. I also like Overnight Oats. Oats and milk in a sealed container over night in the fridge. Topped with fresh blueberries eaten cold. Yummy and keeps for a few days too. Hugh FW did a delicious museli (granola) recipe. Good quality, no added sugar museli with a high fruit content. Grate 2 apples and mix with the museli. Top with orange juice and leave over night. Serve cold with natural yogurt and honey. Filling and delicious!!! Keep you going to lunch.

  • I was fascinated by the concept of steel cut oats when I read this article the first time around. Now that I have some motivation to eat better and stop snacking so much, I returned to it for a refresh on “the goods” on oats so to speak. I did a quick google search and was lucky enough to find an organic/wholefoods store in Melb that stocks them at a reasonable price ~$3.50 for 500g. May or may not be cheaper than regular oats, but it’s certainly cheaper than others I saw in my google search.

    If you are in Melbourne, you can go to the store in Brunswick or Fitzroy -http://www.wholefoods.com.au/index.html it looks like they deliver for online orders too.

  • Hello i am from Argentina ( south america) and here it’s not very common to have porridge for breakfast. I was tempted by it several times but i wanted to know if the taste of it is good or not, and another thing…. If i make a big batch of it can i keep in in a tupperware inside the refrigerator and heat it in the microwave whenever i feel the urge of having a porridge bowl?

    • Is the taste good is something only you can answer after trying. Made with water it’s more bland than with milk and with hazelnut milk (not actual hazelnut milk but like chocolate milk only with hazelnuts) it’s fantastic. You can also add maple syrup (goes well if made with water), blueberry syrup (also better for the water based ones), honey (never was a fan really), protein powder (the taste can be fantastic if it’s good powder… staple diet if you are lifting weights), dried fruit, bananas, cinnamon, …..

      I wouldn’t call any disgusting, but the water based ones will taste a bit bland with no additives.

      If you buy the instant oats (the thinly cut ones), it literally takes 1 min in he microwave to cook them.

  • Try incorporating a shot or two of espresso coffee in place of some of the milk or water — porridge with a punch! (Or “espressoats”, as my trademark would be, if I were enterpreneurial enough for that sort of thing.)

  • So guys Steel cut Oats.
    Put the oats, and any additional grains you may like with them, into a pan before going to bed.
    In the morning your cooking time will be significantly reduced.
    I pour the hot porridge over a handful of blueberries and there we are . 🙂

  • I’ve recently become a porridge lover from a porridge hater! I am a university student and I always used to eat marmite on toast, much to my disappointment I would be hungry an hour later!

    And then I found porridge..
    Chocolate porridge.

    Add a tea spoon of sugar and a teaspoon of unsweetened cocoa powder to some quick make oats and a good glug of milk and voila, satisfy your chocolate craving and curb morning snacking all in one!

    Just scraping the bowl of my morning treat… Yum.

  • Wow! It’s been 2 years since this discussion started and i only stumbled upon it now.

    Here’s what i do to have Steel Cut Oats every morning ready in less than 5 minutes.
    First I cook a huge batch of them in my pressure pot.
    Add 2 cups of water for every cup of oats. Then add whatever flavour enhancer you might want. I go for a pinch of salt, a whole stick of cinnamon and some vanilla essence. Close it up, start cooking and once you have achieved pressure and the pot is menacingly hissing at you, dial down the heat and let it cook for 5 minutes. Turn it off and let the pressure go down naturally (10-15 minutes)
    Then grab a muffin tray and start filling it up. Once you’re done freeze them. Afterwards just put them in a bag and keep them in a freezer.
    In the morning take 1 or 2 (you decide on the quantity), put them in a bowl, add some water and put it in the microwave for about 3 minutes or more if your microwave is not as powerful. I like to use a plate to cover it and avoid messy accidents.

    Afterwards add whatever you like to it. I like protein, butter-fried apples caramelizad in brown sugar is amazing, nuts, berries…

    Or put a fried egg, meat, cheese, soy-sauce, shallots…. this stuff can be made into dinner as well..
    Think of it as mashed potatoes, rice, congee… don’t be afraid to experiment. (My pork, cheese and sauteed onion oaty dinner with a fried egg on top looks like it came out of a horror film but it is delicious)

  • One thing that your article didn’t mention is how cheap porridge is (or can be) Homebrand Oats for $1.10, probably a litre of your favourite milk for less than $2 and your favourite fruit (homegrown even better) and you have breakfast for a week for less than $3. It might not be as fancy as steel cut oats, slowed cooked in Camel’s Milk, but it will save you money.

  • Oats are actually terrible for you in many ways but, compared to other things they are good. This really seems to be the way of the world these days since so many people are eating so unhealthy, we think something like oats because it has some trace minerals and fibre it is fantastic for you.

    The only thing they would be better than is say wheat, and since so many people eat that, in comparison it is just “less worse” for you.

    Doesn’t mean there are not plenty of better options out there for you though.

    The truth is there are MUCH better options out there.

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