Ranch Chicken Burrito Bowls with Chipotle Avocado Crema

burrito bowlBring all the bros to your yard with a burrito bowl that puts Chipotle to shame – though I actually like Chipotle for a quick, relatively inexpensive and healthy meal option on the go.

Chipotle style burrito bowls are popular among the macro counting ‘IIFYM, bro’ crowd because it’s so easy to customize your plate to exactly what you want on it: more protein and fewer carbs for your day? Just pile on more chicken and go easy on the rice and beans. I used a recipe for cilantro rice and beans here.

This recipe is also easily doubled or tripled if you want lots of leftovers to make it through the week. My 3 boys have begun eating mountains of food, and I was sadly left with no extra chicken. I’m so screwed once they grow into teenagers, right?

I dig this meal for my family too, since everyone can just make their own bowl as they like them. My favorite upgrade to this recipe is the avocado crema, which I found inspiration for via the blog Carlsbad Cravings. I’ve tweaked her Fiesta Ranch Chicken Bowl recipe a bit. I’ve included no nutrient info because it really depends on how you make each component and throw it together. It should be easy enough to guesstimate if you’re a calorie tracker. Enjoy!

 

Chipotle Chicken Burrito Bowls with Avocado Crema
Print Recipe
Dope burrito bowls put the fast food varieties to shame. Customize your bowl for a healthy, filling meal full of flavah.
Servings Prep Time
4-6 people 15 minutes
Cook Time Passive Time
25 minutes 2 hour
Servings Prep Time
4-6 people 15 minutes
Cook Time Passive Time
25 minutes 2 hour
Chipotle Chicken Burrito Bowls with Avocado Crema
Print Recipe
Dope burrito bowls put the fast food varieties to shame. Customize your bowl for a healthy, filling meal full of flavah.
Servings Prep Time
4-6 people 15 minutes
Cook Time Passive Time
25 minutes 2 hour
Servings Prep Time
4-6 people 15 minutes
Cook Time Passive Time
25 minutes 2 hour
Ingredients
Chicken marinade
Avocado Crema
Servings: people
Instructions
  1. Chicken: Pound your breasts to an even thickness with a mallet or rolling pin. I do this with the breasts between sheets of wax paper or just out on a cutting board when I'm lazy. Make the marinade: In a small bowl, whisk all of the marinade ingredients together for the chicken. Add the chicken to the bowl and toss to coat. The chicken can sit out for 20 minutes or you can marinade it in the fridge for a few hours. Crema: Throw everything into the blender. It's just that simple. Salt and pepper afterwards to taste, and thin with a little milk if it's thicker than you'd like. Cooking the chicken: Either on the grill or on the stovetop in a saute pan or grill pan, saute your chicken for around 5-6 minutes per side, depending on how thick your chicken breasts are. Let the chicken rest 5 minutes. Cut on the diagonal into strips or smaller bites to serve. Set out all your ingredients, and eat it all up.
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Dangerous dieting: the lessons I learned from 10 days of rapid fat loss.

rapid fat loss title pic

I lost 6 pounds in 10 days.

That’s right. If this makes you lean in and want to find out how, well, I have good news and bad news. The good news is that I’ll tell you how I did it. The bad news is that if you try it you’ll feel absolutely horrible, you’ll learn that it’s probably not wise, sustainable, nor necessary, and you will probably have some strong thoughts on what I did by the time you reach the end of this article.

But you’re still reading, so I’ll share more.

Lightning-quick fat loss is the magical, elusive unicorn of our diet culture. We want fat loss and we want it fast. After all, dieting for a long time sucks.

I think by now many of us know that crash dieting is not the wisest path to lasting weight management. Yet many of us, in some dusty corner of our brain, still hold out hope that there’s something missing that will make fat loss happen more quickly. And with fewer days of feeling hungry.

Well, kids, you can lose weight faster. It’s called a crash diet. Crash diets take many forms, and while most are merely ineffectual for the long run, some are actually dangerous. The bulk of them are basically a bad idea for the vast majority of people.

Over the years, I’ve learned that a moderate approach to fat loss is both more enjoyable as well as sustainable than resorting to extremes. For nearly all of my days cutting over 100 pounds of weight, I have enjoyed eating pretty much all of the things I have wanted – just in smaller quantities and with a much heavier priority of incorporating lean protein and whole foods into my diet.

But what about when you want to get really shredded? I mean visible abs, lean-and-mean shredded. As my own body settled into a place with relatively low body fat, I noticed that weight loss really slows down even while on a deficit. That was my sign that I needed to be done for a while: maybe even forever. Months spent dieting is hard on our hormones. It was definitely time for a diet break. But first, an idea gnawed at me.

You see, in my own dusty corner of my brain, I can still appreciate looking lean. And you know what? That’s okay. As my vacation to Jamaica approached, I imagined how I might rock a bikini if I got shredded – the way a bikini competitor does – for just a few days: just long enough to feel smokin’ on the beach. Yeah, I know: there is no such thing as a bikini body. I agree with this idea. Yet I’ve had visible abs almost no days of my life, because I really, really love pizza. And that’s cool too. However, I was still curious: what would it be like to have some abzzz?

At the same time, I wondered if it would be helpful to understand what it’s really like to dramatically lean out short term for an event like a bodybuilding competition or a powerlifting meet, when lifters cut weight temporarily to strategically land at the top of their desired weight class.

First of all, note that I said “short term”. The ripped models you see on stages and magazine covers don’t walk around looking like that year round. And as you’ll soon learn, using this method sets most people up for months of frustration.

But I’d already talked myself into a plan after reading Lyle McDonald’s manual, Rapid Fat Loss. I’d do it for science! And journalism. Plus for aesthetics, of course. If nothing else, I’d have a hell of a story. I pitched the idea to my own coach, Jordan Syatt, who probably thought I was nuts. He never advocates this diet for his own clients but he gave me the green light, having been through the process himself at one point and knowing I’d likely learn something from the experience. Jordan also knew enough to be able to monitor me so I could do my experiment safely. As he gave me permission to proceed with my crazy project, he chuckled at my folly.

“You’re going to feel terrible”.

In my mind, my coach had just thrown the gauntlet to me. Surely he had no idea of my mental fortitude. I swore inwardly that I wouldn’t complain to him, not even once. After all, struggling to lean out for ripped abs rests upon the mountain top of first world problems.

How my fat loss diet worked:
There are various forms of a very low calorie diet (VLCD), many of which have been studied under controlled conditions for hospital-based studies. The Rapid Fat Loss Diet is a protein-sparing modified fast (PSMF) that places an emphasis on protein consumption to theoretically retain as much muscle as possible while losing fat.

McDonald theorizes that when you eliminate carbohydrates and fats for fuel and rely only on protein, your body then more effectively burns fat by using existing fat stores to get energy. Beyond McDonald’s extensive research, several studies exist to support the efficacy of the strategies McDonald uses. There are limitations, however, that many don’t consider. I wonder how results would play out among more seasoned athletes. Most studies of this kind are done with overweight or untrained subjects. Perhaps most critically, we need to remember that while theories may hold water, they don’t account for human behavior and emotional needs. Before you get excited and even entertain the idea of trying a VLCD, learn what I experienced.

For my 10 day period, my daily calorie target was between 600 kcal and 700 kcal. My protein goal was at least 130 g daily, which left me with little more than some spinach for carbs. What I quickly found was that nothing sucks the joy out of eating like having little more than meat and eggs to eat each day. My one bowl of plain Greek yogurt topped with Walden Farms calorie-free syrup became my holy grail of desserts. I finally understood how people doing an intense fat cut for a bikini competition become enthusiastic about protein mug cakes: I made several. They tasted vaguely of cocoa and not of meat, so I became momentarily grateful. How quickly I had fallen away from my culinary and dietary dogma that boiled down roughly to “make mostly healthy shit that tastes great. And always eat real dessert”.

Dear Diary…

Day 1
When I began the fast, I mostly felt hungry and a little depressed about having to miss out on my favorite foods for the coming week or so. On day 1, my energy was fine. But by the end of the day, I was so hungry that I balled my fists in frustration. I ate my bowl of spinach and tuna and distracted myself with Netflix. I’d already found that social media was a bad idea, as it was brimming with recipes for beautiful food that I couldn’t eat. Screw you, Instagram.

Day 3
My energy was now waning, though with careful timing, I made it through my workout. My coach warned me that I’d likely not be able to complete all of my sets and that this was okay. I left the gym feeling a bit smug. My bench press wasn’t even weak. Victory! By now, my hunger had diminished – that was a bit unexpected given my low intake, though on other fat loss phases I’d observed that my hunger adjusted to lower calorie intake fairly quickly. I stumbled upon a few silver linings too as I discovered that egg whites scrambled with cinnamon and stevia become pretty tasty when topped with PB2. Maybe this diet wouldn’t be so terrible after all.

Day 5
I looked at my husband with a mixture of sadness and disgust while he devoured an orange beside me, and he merely urged me to give up. I then sullenly pointed out that he was a super unsupportive jerk, deeply inhaled the scent of the fruit, and huffed off to the living room. An orange would definitely be the first thing I ate after finishing my fantastically dumb diet.

Day 6
I became very tired… a kind of fatigue that I could feel deep within my bones. I couldn’t imagine having to go work outside my home full time while doing a VLCD. Unlike many, I had the luxury of doing most of my work from my house, and more frequently this week, from my sofa or bed. This was the day that I could begin to feel the crushing weight of the world fall upon my chest in the afternoon. I wasn’t even hungry most of the time, and yet I could barely muster the energy to do anything past 12 pm. Teaching my evening class became a Herculean effort.

Day 7
I sent out a newsletter to my followers. My coach read it and replied, asking me if I’d written my recent emails hastily. I asked him why. I could tell Jordan was politely informing me that my work was suffering. He noted that I’d made quite a few glaring grammatical errors, which are completely out of character for me. I normally catch everything or at least take the time to scour my writing before I shout it out to the world. My mind was foggier than a day in London town. I just sighed and went to bed after eating a tiny bowl of sugar-free Jello. Yes, this was my new daily dessert. And let me tell you, on a VLCD, that stuff is jiggly gold.

Day 8
This day was my lowest point on the VLCD. Jordan emailed me, concerned about my welfare. I caved, breaking my vow to remain steely in the midst of my difficult yet completely self-imposed discomfort. My reply included a torrential downpour of strongly worded sentiments about how truly awful and stupid this diet really was. My coach always wins. Always. Damnit. On Day 8 I cried. For no good reason. I was exhausted, emotional, and mad about nothing in particular other than feeling like a train wreck. Yet with only 2 more whole days to go, I wasn’t stopping. I rolled around listlessly in my bed for a few minutes and then dozed off, leaving my work for the next day.

Day 9
My attitude shifted. I was nearly at the finish line and somehow it all felt more doable. Perhaps the emotional breakdown from day 8 was cathartic; I have no idea. My workout was so unproductive it was comical. I could barely lift the bar to bench press. I wandered around aimlessly and then trudged back up the stairs and drove straight home to my bed. In retrospect, I don’t think I lost any measurable strength but my body was completely carb deprived and my mind was utterly unfocused. There was no way I was going to have a good gym session. Lesson: carbs are really important for both gym performance and life.

Day 10
Hell yeah, I was nearly there. I began fantasizing about what food I would eat first. I felt surprised that I didn’t think about pounding down some donuts or a burger. All I craved was a bowl of oatmeal and one perfect piece of fruit. I breezed through this day as I saw the end point firmly within my grasp.

beautiful orange

Breaking the Fast
The alarm sounded for my 4 a.m. wakeup call. I climbed out of bed and headed straight to the kitchen, where I peeled my beautiful, perfect orange and savored every bite. Then I took a picture of my leaned out bod, preserving it for posterity.

Jamaican Me Crazy
The idea of dealing with an all-inclusive resort after being on a crash diet flooded me with unease. Would I binge? I went in with a plan, and I ended up doing just fine on that front. Unfortunately, I also caught E. coli on my beach vacation, which both curbed my opportunities to overindulge and bloated me to hell and back. My leaned out midsection ended up being even more short-lived than I had imagined.

bloated

If that’s not some kind of cosmic injustice, I don’t know what is. After recovering from the infection, my appetite returned with a vengeance. There are tales everywhere of figure competitors who binge themselves into oblivion after a show. I can now understand why. I was ridiculously hungry and craved all of the carbs. Thankfully, I both had the wisdom to know I should keep my eating moderated and a coach to support me. Still, I went on a cooking bender of epic proportions. I just fed most of it to friends and family. I baked my ass off in a feverish frenzy that I still can’t quite explain. My Instagram feed had never looked more delicious.
instagod

In the end, I did indeed lose 6 pounds… but for only a few days. It’s crucial to understand that I didn’t shed all that much fat: I lost a fair amount of water from carb depletion. After you eat those energy-boosting carbs again, your scale weight will increase once more.
As for my final result? After the dust settled from my trip and illness, I found my scale weight was back to right where it was resting when I began my crazy, awful, no good, very bad diet. And that’s what one should expect. Because in reality, diets like these aren’t meant for real, lasting change. At best, a seasoned pro can use them to manipulate their physique or scale weight for a day or two. But at what cost?

Yes, there is a cost.
The costs of crash dieting are real. First of all, you’ll feel miserable while doing these diets. You will lose muscle mass as well as lose valuable time that you could spend banking up improvements in the gym. Moreover, the behaviors that many people display following an extreme fat cut make crash dieting counterproductive to the point of them rarely being worthwhile. It’s very typical to see figure competitors binge their way to becoming heavier than they were before they leaned out dramatically. On the flip side, people can develop really disordered thinking about food, becoming fearful of eating. I didn’t binge or restrict food because I have a good deal of experience with weight management as well as eating disorders.

My coach also monitored me every step of the way, yet still had to help me work through a little mental anxiety after it was all done. Some of those feelings actually did arise in me. And that surprised me. Most people don’t have my background, and so the prospect of encouraging someone to follow a diet like this makes me even more uneasy after I’ve been through the process myself.

So don’t resort to extreme dieting. Just don’t. If you have a vision of yourself that you want to see for an event, that’s alright. But make a plan that doesn’t include the risks I mentioned. It is absolutely doable to lose body fat while enjoying your life. Even when you’re already quite lean – I’ll use my client “B” as an example. (She’s shy about using her real name so let’s just call her that.)

B, a 34 year old mom of 2, has a wicked sense of humor and is one of the smartest, coolest women I have ever known. In my eyes, B has always looked like a million bucks. But she came to me wanting to lean out and get some definition for a few special events next summer. She also wanted to finally get started with consistent strength training as well as honing in her nutrition.

In roughly 8 weeks, B made rock star progress, losing 11 pounds while taking 2.5 inches off her waist and an inch off her hips. She took pleasure in seeing her muscle definition begin to appear. She also learned to deadlift, squat, and went from 0 chin ups to 2. B She blew my socks off with the giant strides she made in her fitness in such a short time.
.clientB

Here is what B did to get there:

-Ate at a caloric deficit LESS than 500 kcal under her maintenance calories. Her deficit was actually one of the most modest I’ve given to anyone.
-Lifted weights 3 times per week and did a few days each week of light conditioning work.
-Cooked most of her meals at home.
-Developed consistency: this was her key to such rapid success. She followed her program 99% of the time. But it was easier to do because none of it was drudgery for her.

In short, B had passion and drive that went far in fueling her consistency. Yet she did absolutely nothing extreme to get those results. I completely promise you that you’ll reach your goals without needing to do a miserable crash diet: plus the reward of taking it slower is worth the patience – you’ll gain skills that will help you sustain your physique for life.

Looking to learn exactly how you can build strength and get lean for life? Become an insider below and I’ll send you my e-book, Fat Loss on a Budget, in a flash. It’s free!

 

10 Surprising Secrets I Learned from a “Naturally Thin” Friend

question mark fruit

I wished for years that I could be “naturally thin” like Sarah, until I changed my mind about what that means. You’ll soon see why.

I met the woman who would become one of the dearest friends I’ve ever had in a painfully loud play area at a local mall. Despite the din of our young children shrieking, Sarah had a warmth and nurturing calm about her. We soon bonded over our babies, knitting projects, a mutual warped sense of humor, and most of all, a love of cooking and eating phenomenal food.

Over the years, Sarah and I have spent hours upon hours together – whether lifting weights in the gym or knitting at a coffee shop, we compare notes about favorite recipes, the new best restaurant in town, or the steamy appeal of chef Eric Ripert.

French silver fox, am I right?

French silver fox, am I right?

But in the early days, when Sarah would wax poetically about a loaf of brioche, I would look at her standing there. She’s a tall, lean blonde with legs that go on for days. And I’d wonder: how the hell could she eat all this stuff and stay slim? I knew that she’d never been on a diet. Meanwhile, I was pregnant with my third kid and was reaching an all time high point in my own weight. After my son was born I was over 100 pounds heavier than I am today.

I started paying attention to my health and actively began a slow but sustainable fat loss process that would span several years. And most critically, I began noticing things that Sarah did that were different from how I managed my own life. I’d attributed her lean build to good genes and great luck. But mostly I was off base. We can control so much more about our body composition than we believe.

Genetics certainly must play at least a bit of a role in weight management. We all know people who seem to be able to stay slim effortlessly. But do they?

I’m not a scientist, so I can’t say for sure. I think there’s probably some truth to the idea that it’s harder for some people to stay lean than others, just like it’s difficult for some people to gain weight. However, I think we attribute too much to passive genetics and not enough to what we can do to actively manage our weight.

The more I saw what Sarah did on a daily basis, the more I was able to link her successful weight management to habits instead of her family history. Here are the biggest “light bulb” moments I discovered through spending time with Sarah – and changes that I would make over time that ended up being the same things I do now to successfully manage my weight as well as help my clients with their own fat loss programs. Take a look at these tips:

1. Learn how to handle food-focused gatherings.
Sarah hosted a large potluck dinner one night for our mom’s group. What I remember most strikingly, because I was just starting to diet, was that I felt like I was missing out. I saw loads of decadent food around me that, at the time, I felt was forbidden. Most people around me were loading up their plates. Many went for seconds.

But then I peeked at Sarah’s plate. She had very small portions of several things, including the items I’d labeled “naughty” in my head. Hmm. Could she be on to something? She never went back for seconds. But she got to taste everything she wanted.

She also sometimes left a little bit on her plate, stopping when she was full. Even with dessert. Imagine that!

2. Make a meal plan. 
My friends and I share our meal plans in a private Facebook group. We post our week’s worth of dinners along with links to recipes when available. It gives us ideas for future meals, accountability for staying organized, as well as a place to talk about great recipes. And perhaps Eric Ripert from time to time.

Here’s an example of one of my own:
picmonkeymealplan

Sarah realized a few weeks ago that she’d posted a menu every single week for an entire year. When we have meals planned, we’re less likely to hit the drive through at the last minute or call for pizza delivery.  If we want to have pizza or leftovers, we just write it on the menu plan.

And yes, a few times we’ve penciled in “Friday: I can’t even. So make your own damn dinner, family.” But having everything laid out really relieves stress and keeps us on track for eating well.

3. Learn to love to cook.
We both love a good restaurant but dining out is a special treat, not a regular part of our routine. Cooking at home not only saves money – it allows us to control portions, ingredients, and methods of cooking. We also learn to appreciate just how delicious nutrient-rich foods can be when we learn to prepare them correctly and with creativity.

4. Eat mostly nutritious, whole foods.
I have spent enough time with Sarah to know that she always has really good chocolate in her pantry, but most of the time, she fills her plate with nutrient dense foods like plenty of lean protein, vegetables, and fruits.

5. Snack smarter. 
Sarah once shared with me that every day at about 3 p.m. she got a serious hankering for a snack. Instead of mindlessly grabbing nibbles of things, she was usually prepared with Greek yogurt to keep her satisfied until dinner, which her family often ate at around 7 or 7:30 at night.

6. Be realistic. 
Sarah is an amazing cook. But she also has three kids to haul around to soccer practice, choir rehearsals, and piano lessons. Her menu plans purposefully include very minimalist meals like a sandwich for dinner on busy evenings. Toss those at the kids, load everyone up into the car, and go.

7. Ditch the moral value that you attach to food. 
One of the funniest and truest things that Sarah ever told me was “we have multiple pleasure holes. Our mouth is one of those holes, and it’s okay to want to fill it with pleasurable food.”

She’s right! Food isn’t just fuel. It connects us to one another at the dinner table and across cultures. It gives us pleasure. If she enjoys a decadent dessert, she smiles at her good fortune and goes back to normal life the next day. There’s no guilt when you don’t label a food as “bad”. There’s no shame spiral of saying “I ate this terrible thing and I’m bad and screwed up so screw it.”  It becomes a lot less stressful to strip away that kind of power from food. Eat it less frequently and in smaller quantities if it’s really high in calories and not all that nutritious.
 
8. Work out with consistency. 
There’s no way that exercise will make up for poor eating habits. However, the more we move and the more muscle we have, the better our metabolism hums along and we burn some extra calories each day. We also have better energy to do all that stuff like meal plan, cook, and feel in control of our days. In short, regular exercise isn’t just about the calorie burn. It is a critical component in helping us have a positive mental outlook toward our bodies, our health, and our overall lives.

Sarah has awakened nearly every day each week at 5 a.m. to exercise: for years. She doesn’t work out like a lunatic. She doesn’t care even a little bit about “beast mode” or winning a race. She just wants to move. Sarah lifts weights because she wants to be strong for life. She cycles because it feels good. Sometimes we even bike to restaurants.
 
9. Know when you need to make a change – then be a problem solver.
Sarah notices when she’s gained a few pounds. She observed the other day that she’d been hitting the jelly beans a little too hard and said she didn’t even find them very satisfying to eat. So she stopped buying them as frequently. She evaluated a potential problem and solved it.

10. Develop an Active Mindset
Within our group of friends, Sarah has earned the nicknames “Mama” and “Macguyver”. She’s the one we turn to when we have a household emergency and need to know how to fix something ourselves. She can repair a toilet, tell us when we need to actually go to the doctor, and brings us soup when we’re sick. She is always the one who will have band-aids (and maybe a wrench) in her handbag. We’ve already designated her property as our compound in the event of a zombie apocalypse, because when the shit hits the fan, Sarah offers us the best chance of making it.

Sarah has had really tough stuff of her own to wade through. Everyone does. But she always makes it through with grace and a mindset that allows her to take control of situations and make the best of them. This same frame of mind is crucial in tackling any challenge, whether it’s with our careers, our families, or our fitness.

I’m so grateful to have Sarah as my resourceful, generous, big-hearted friend. When I shared a draft of this article she replied “I don’t know about this, I feel like I have life 0% figured out”. If that’s true, then we’re all screwed. She is humble but one of a kind.  And if you’re lucky to know someone like her, follow closely and take some notes. I guarantee you’ll learn something.

So all in all, does it really matter if someone is “naturally thin”? Nah. We can only control our actions – but look at how many there are that can impact our health. That’s great news in my book.

 

Want to torch fat, sculpt muscle, and get hella strong? Just send me your email below to join my insider list. I’ll even deliver my e-book Fat Loss on a Budget to your inbox. It’s free!

 

How to Make Oatmeal like a Boss

photo credit: Daniella Segura

photo credit: Daniella Segura

Oatmeal is life.

I am partial to grandiose statements like these, particularly when it comes to food. Damn, I love oatmeal. I love it even more now that I’m coming off a long-lived fat loss cycle and now have more carbs to play with… but even when I was carb poor, I made room for at least small portions of oatmeal. It makes for a great pre-workout boost as well. 

We’re coming to the end of winter so perhaps the feeling will pass, but lately all I want to eat is jacked up, fancifed bowls of oats. I’ll get to a few recipes soon, so hang tight. Let’s take just another moment to reflect on how badass oatmeal really is. First let’s talk nutrition.

Oats are whole grains.  I can tell you that oatmeal fills you up, helps you poop better (yay!) and is filled with soluble fiber, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. One serving of just oats is around 117 kcal with very low fat, a healthy source of carbs, and contains protein too. It also can decrease your cholesterol and colorectal cancer risk. Good stuff all around, yes?

But let’s be honest, that’s not why I’m craving oatmeal. I’m not eating it plain. Oh ho ho, that would be silly and sad. Oatmeal is the most perfect canvas for whatever your heart desires. It works with both sweet and savory flavors, so get creative and punch up your oats with some fun ingredients.

Get Started By Using the Best Base
First of all, you need to make some oatmeal, right? There are all sorts of varieties available to you, from quick oats that cook fast to old-fashioned rolled oats, and steel cut. Let’s toss out the obvious tiny little packages of flavored oatmeal, because while those are okay in a pinch, they’re not that tasty. If I want a bunch of added sugar, it’s going to be luxurious maple syrup tapped from the trees of Vermont by a rustic syrup farmer or some shit, not a craptastic fake peach flavor.

The biggest difference among oat varieties is simply how much the oat groat has been processed. They’re all pretty similar with nutrient profile. But the processing nuances give them all their own special texture. My go-to lately has been steel cut oats. They don’t even look much like oats. They more resemble short grain rice or even quinoa. Except they taste great, unlike quinoa, which can go to hell for being overplayed and underwhelming in flavor. Quinoa is merely the current it girl. Oatmeal is O.G.

My favorite is steel cut. You might say it’s the manly man of oatmeal, with a firm body but warm and… well, that got weird. Ok, moving on.

Steel cut oats have more chew than the oatmeal most of us grew up eating. When you cook it, it becomes creamy yet has a fantastic, chewy texture that will make you a convert if you’re not already.

The only downside is the cooking time – it’ll take you around 25 to 30 minutes to prep a batch. On the upside, you can prepare a big batch and reheat it all week. It’ll still taste wonderful. And c’mon, we all have time. How many minutes do we dump every morning checking social media? Scroll through your Instagram while you give your oats a loving stir here and there. You’ll #multitask and have #instafood in no time.

How To Make (Better) Steel Cut Oats
First of all, forget all those overnight slow cooker steel cut oat recipes. They mostly blow. Usually, the outside edges burn and the middle gets mushy and strange. Gross. It’s not that hard to prep these the morning before using, or like I said, if you’re all about #mealprepmonday, make a big batch and reheat.

I should have included pictures of the step by step instructions, but I’m one of those people who scrolls directly to recipe details, so I’ll spare you that. Plus it’s so easy. Also I forgot to take pictures while I boiled oats. Please forgive me, as I have three kids who distract me with last minute math homework, can’t find socks, and fight over the Xbox. That’s life.

The Big Secret for Awesome Oats
First of all, you can chill out about the basics – the directions are on the bag. Seriously, that part is easy, and depending on different recipes, you may have slightly varying instructions. But usually directions have you boil about 3 parts of water to 1 part oats. You boil up your water and then add your oats.  You can use milk for part or all of your liquid too, though as you’ll see, I sometimes just add more milk at the end of cooking.

But back it up a bit. Here’s how you can make your oats even better – just toast them first. You can use a nonstick skillet with a spritz of oil spray or be a bon vivant and use a few teaspoons of butter. But toast them, with or without spices, and THEN add them to your boiling water. Turn down your water to moderate heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until they absorb most of the the liquid. Watch them closely as most of it evaporates and turn the heat down even lower to finish them off.

At this point, add your fixings- whatever your little heart desires. Worried about calories? Try cooking some diced apples separately with a bit of cinnamon to intensify their sweetness, then add them in at the end of cooking. Small amounts of banana pack quite a bit of a sweet hit. Go easy on the added nuts – they add calories rapidly, yet very small amounts still add crunch and can be a healthy, delicious addition to your bowl. 

If you want to beef up your oatmeal with more protein, whisk in some egg whites to improve the protein profile. You won’t taste them, and in fact the addition will make them creamier. I’ll share a few variations that rocked my socks. You ready for the fun part? Here are my favorite recipes. Let’s do dis.

Sweet and Spicy Buttermilk Oatmeal with Peaches and Blueberries

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I adapted this recipe from Saveur Magazine, decreasing the fat and sugar a bit by going easy on the butter and choosing a mix of unsweetened dried fruit and fresh berries. Instead of adding nuts to the mix, I choose to sprinkle them on as I eat a bowl so they remain toasty and crunchy. I never know what to do with leftover buttermilk from recipes – here’s a delicious solution. 

Ingredients:
1 tbsp. unsalted butter

1 cup steel-cut oats
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
12 tsp. ground green cardamom
14 tsp. ground star anise
1 (1”) piece ginger, peeled and mashed into a paste (I used 2 tsp of refrigerated ginger paste, which I found next to the fresh herbs in the grocery store). 
12 tsp. kosher salt
34 cup buttermilk
14 cup whole milk
1 tbsp. honey
12 cup unsweetened dried peaches, chopped (I had some of these on hand as a treat. Sweetened dried fruit is basically candy in terms of sugar content. This is a bit better. Better still would be fresh peaches, but I was fresh out. Boooo.) 
12 cup fresh blueberries
Orange marmalade or raspberry jam, for serving (optional – if I do this, I use low sugar jam. The oatmeal is already fairly sweet.)
1 tsp of chopped toasted pecans per bowl, for serving.

Instructions:
Melt your butter in a 4 to 6 quart saucepan. Pour in your spices, oats, and ginger.  Toast for a few minutes until everything smells fantastic and the oats are a bit toasted. This will seriously only take a wee bit of time, so don’t wander away.

I know I said to add your oats to boiling water, but in this recipe, just stir your salt and water right into the pot you are using for the oats. Bring it all to a boil and stir until the oatmeal is thick and tender. 

Next, add your milks and simmer another 5-10 minutes until the oatmeal is thick again. Toss in your fruit, give it some stirs for another minute or two, and serve with optional toppings. 

Serves: 4-6 depending on how big you like your bowls.

Lemon Ricotta Oatmeal
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I wasn’t sure if I’d like this. I adapted this recipe from an idea I found in Cooking Light magazine awhile ago.  Mint in oatmeal seems weird – yet it’s in dessert all the time. It meshes beautifully with the lemon. I prepare the ricotta mixture separately and then just dollop a few tablespoons into my oats each time I eat them. 

Ingredients 
1 bowl Prepared, plain steel-cut oatmeal
2 Tbsp Ricotta blend:for the blend, mix 1/2 cup part-skim ricotta cheese, the zest and juice of a lemon, plus a tablespoon or two of honey, depending on how sweet you like it. Taste it and adjust. Store extra mix in the fridge for another day’s bowl. Or later that day – I’d never judge you for that.

Instructions:
Scoop 2 tablespoons of your ricotta mix on top of your oats, and garnish with mint, you fancy pants. I think this would be lovely with fresh berries added too. Go crazy. 

Shakshuka on Oats
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I’m enamored with shakshuka lately, the North African dish that is super popular all over the middle east, and more recently in the states too. It’s a spicy, tomatoey egg dish that will blow your socks off. My favorite recipe for shakshuka is from David Lebovitz, so check that out here to get the recipe for the sauce and his instructions. I prepare batches of the sauce ahead of time and make single serving portions. Traditionally, the runny eggs and sauce should be mopped up with wonderful bread. But if you have plain oatmeal to use, why not spice it up with a serving of shakshuka? Just slide a prepared serving right onto your bowl of oats. 

Other savory options include topping with a poached egg and sliced green onions, a fried egg and sriracha or really whatever leftovers you feel like reheating. If you think of plain oats like rice you’ll get more ideas. It sounds a little odd but it makes for a tasty and healthy breakfast. 

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