Top 5 Ways to Improve Oatmeal

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I start every day with a bowl of oatmeal and a big cup of coffee. It's simple, filling and gives me the energy I need to make it until lunch.

As good as some of those flavored oatmeal packages are (two words: banana bread), sometimes I want more than just a swirl of cinnamon or seasoning of maple and brown sugar. So, while searching for other methods to spice up my oatmeal in the morning, I came across many different ideas to turn plain oats into a delicious breakfast treat.

Here are my top five ingredient combinations to improve oatmeal.

5. Honey and Peanut Butter

Add a swirl of honey to sweeten a cup of oatmeal, then blend in some creamy peanut butter to thicken the oatmeal -- crunchy peanut butter could give it some more texture, too. You'll love the flavor combination of sweet and savory with honey and peanut butter swirled throughout your oatmeal. It's a great way to naturally sweeten your breakfast and add some good protein as well. You can also toss in some sliced bananas to create the same flavors as the classic peanut butter, honey and banana sandwich.

4. Blueberries, Cinnamon and Flax Seed

Breakfast is the kick start to your day, so you might as well add healthy ingredients to your oatmeal. I love swirling in a handful of blueberries and a tablespoon of flax seed to my oatmeal, then sprinkling the top with ground cinnamon. Stick a bowl of that in the microwave to make the blueberries burst open and paint the oatmeal with their sweet, colorful juice. Flax seed is a great way to add fiber and good fatty acids to your breakfast; it also adds a little more texture to your oatmeal.

3. Canned Pumpkin, Pecans and Spices

If you're a pumpkin lover like me and are already having fall-weather flavor withdraws, then this oatmeal combination is for you. Cook your oatmeal with a tablespoon or so of canned pumpkin, then swirl in chopped pecans coated with cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg. It's like pumpkin pie for breakfast. Adding the spices to the oatmeal will enhance the flavors of the canned pumpkin, bringing out a natural sweetness. For an extra-special treat, substitute candied pecans for regular pecans.

2. Dark Chocolate, Brown Sugar and Dried Cherries

I have always loved the combination of dark chocolate and dried cherries. Add brown sugar into that mix and you've got a sweet and delicious union of flavors. First, swirl in brown sugar with milk or water, and cook the oatmeal, then drop in dark chocolate chips and dried cherries after you cook the oatmeal. The heat from the oatmeal will slightly melt the chocolate and will release the natural sweetness from the dried cherries. You'll love the different textures from the smooth dark chocolate and chewy dried cherries.

1. Eggs

Yeah, that's right. Add an egg to your oatmeal. For those of you with a savory tooth instead of a sweet one, try adding an egg to your oatmeal either as a poached egg on top, or poured into the oatmeal to give it a creamy and fluffy texture (cook the oatmeal first, then use the hot oatmeal to cook the egg). At first, when I stumbled upon this recipe, I didn't think that was appetizing, but adding an egg to your oatmeal is a good idea for several reasons. First, if you like a creamy oatmeal, this is the perfect idea to give your breakfast more fluffiness. Second, adding an egg gives you more protein than you would receive from just having oatmeal. Finally, if you like to eat breakfast for dinner, adding an egg to oatmeal lets you create a savory rendition of your favorite breakfast. Sprinkle on some cheese, chives, salt and pepper, and maybe some bacon; bacon is always a good idea.

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