Porridge is one of the healthiest breakfasts there is, and also one of the most cheap and filling. Oats grow most or less everywhere and are increasingly popular in a plant-based world. The charity Refarmd is helping cattle and pig farmers to transition over to grow more oats in keeping with demands (for oat milk too). They get help to turn land into farm sanctuaries, along with seeds and training to make more money, by growing oats for your porridge! Try this Salted Caramel Apple Pie Oatmeal (Full of Plants).
US food campaigner Michael Pollan says that it’s not in the supermarkets’ interest to get you to eat a healthy bowl of porridge. It does not drive as much profit as a bowl of sugary Frosties or Cocoa Pops. That’s why (and he’s right if you look), you’ll always find the low-profit bags of oats on the bottom shelf in the cereal aisle, and the high-sugar junk food at eye level. Oats also help to ‘soak up’ bad cholesterol. So if your rocket is sky-high, switch from a bacon butty to a bowl of delicious porridge, and you’ll soon see the numbers come down. This is because they contain soluble fibre, that acts like a sponge to mop up any rubbish in your system, and pass it out the other end! It takes around 4 weeks to make a considerable dent in high cholesterol levels.
The way to know if a cereal is genuinely healthy is very easy. Look on the nutrition label (per 100g). A good healthy cereal should follow the ‘5 and 5 rule’. This means per 100g, it should have 5g or more of fibre (which is good to help prevent cancer and also provides ‘roughage’ to move junk food out of your system, helping to prevent constipation). And it should have 5g of less of sugar (this is usually listed in the carbs section). If you look at nearly all standard cereal boxes on the shelf (even the ‘healthy ones’), you’ll find that you’re hard-pushed to find any that follow this rule. Even the ‘crunchy nut cornflakes’ only have 2.5g of fibre and a whopping 35g of sugar (due to the honey). Now and then may be okay, but long-term, this is where all the major health problems lie. People are unwittingly eating very high sugar and very low fibre ways to start the day, and overconsumption of sugar leads to fat, which leads to big bellies that leads to heart disease, diabetes and some cancers. It’s all marketing greenwash. You’d be better off baking a healthy sweet breakfast muffin than eating most standard breakfast cereal brands. But for a simple bowl of porridge, you really can’t go wrong (if you’re gluten-free, check your oats are safe, as some brands may contain traces of gluten). You can make porridge with other grains like millet (not just for budgies) or quinoa (there is a brand grown in Shropshire, for less food miles).
What is Porridge?
Porridge is simply cooked oats, usually served with some plant milk and sweetened with maple syrup, occasionally with fresh fruits added like raspberries. And in Scotland, a dram of whisky is optional! Easy Peach Baked Oatmeal (Full of Plants) uses up seasonal fruits to make a lovely dish that serves 6. Perfect for a family breakfast, or eat it up within a couple of days if you live alone.
It was invented of course in the Highlands, when crofters’ wives would make it and let it dry into slabs, for their husbands to take as a portable snack, when working outside in bitter temperatures, for long hours. It was often also served to prisoners, hence the term ‘doing porridge’, which led to possibly the funniest TV comedy of all time being written, starring Ronnie Barker and Richard Beckinsale.
Popular across northern Europe, all you need is a good saucepan to cook it in, and a wooden spoon! The key to good porridge is (like risotto) to keep stirring! Making the effort to stir your porridge with real oats for 10 minutes, will transform the way you think about this dish. Real porridge is worlds away from those microwave sachets (which incidentally can’t be recycled, as they contain a plastic coating to stop the bags going soggy when you pour in the milk to measure it). Most recipes add a little salt.
Good Brands of Porridge Oats
- Pimhill Porridge Oats are grown on an organic farm in Shropshire, where they are also helping to hatch endangered baby barn owlets. The oats are cut in half before being rolled, to make a smooth porridge that’s easy to cook. Sold in sacks, the shelf life if 12 months if you store in a cool dry place. You can also buy jumbo oats, if preferred that make for a thicker chewier porridge and are also idea to make homemade granola or flapjacks. The mill handles wheat and nuts.
- Side Oven Bakery Organic Porridge Oats are sold in biodegradable bags, and make a flavourful and textured porridge, with gently milled premium oats. This brand also sells flavoured oats (sultana apple, spiced fig with pumpkin seed or chocolate cranberry). These oats are from a family farm in East Yorkshire.
How to Make Porridge
Use 350ml of plant milk to 50g of plant milk (or if you don’t have scales, measure out 1 mug of oat to 2.25 cups of plant milk (oat is the creamiest, some people like coconut milk just ensure it’s a brand not harvested by monkey slaves like Biona or Nature’s Harvest). Add a pinch of salt, bring to the boil and then simmer for 4 to 5 minutes, stirring now and then, to ensure it doesn’t stick. Cashew Butter Cup Oatmeal (Full of Plants) uses buttery nuts for a creamy breakfast that you could also have for dessert. This breakfast gives you lots of energy, and only takes 5 minutes to make. Keep chocolate away from pets.
Porridge is just as quick to cook than if using a microwave, this way (as long as you buy quick-cooking oats). Serve in bowls with plant yoghurt, a little more plant milk on top to thin, and drizzle with a touch of maple syrup.
Chocolate Quinoa Porridge (Pick Up Limes) is made with a Latin seed that is high in protein, fibre and vitamin B (good for your nerves!) The recipe contains coconut milk, brown sugar and cocoa powder.
Where to Buy Good ‘Instant’ Porridge
The Great British Porridge Company makes more ethical sachet porridges, ready in 60 seconds if you can’t wait. Unlike Quakers, these are all plant-based and the oats are ground in-house to give three textures, so the oats ‘cook’ as soon as hot water is added (no need to microwave). You can also use them to make overnight oats, by adding cold water, fruit juice or milk, and leaving them overnight in the fridge, before a quick stir next morning. Sold in stores or online at Nature’s Health Box, the flavours include:
- Blueberry & Banana
- Apple & Cinnamon
- Strawberry & Peanut
- Red Berry & Pumpkin Seed
- Cafe Latte
Other Breakfasts to Make with Porridge Oats
Oaty Banana Smoothie Bowl (The Veg Space) may not be as trendy as a kale green smoothie, but it’s quick, cheap and easy to make, and more filling too. Use the base to add your favourite seeds, nuts, fruits – or even a few shavings of dark chocolate. You need a good blender to grind oats this smooth. Nutribullet make the best budget high-powdered blenders, which you can buy from Argos, if you don’t live near a good kitchen shop.
Energy Bars with Beetroot & Blackcurrant (The Veg Space) are ideal as a breakfast or mid-morning pick-me-up. Chewy and sweet, these filling babies contain fruits, banana, nuts and seeds.
Apricot & Ginger Energy Bars (So Vegan) are very simple to make, and last up to a week in an airtight container. They contain lots of nuts and seeds, and are sweetened with maple syrup.
Carrot Cake Overnight Oats (Crowded Kitchen) are ideal to avoid the hassle of cooking the oats in the morning. You just make this recipe the night before, then leave the oats to do their thing overnight, to enjoy first thing when you get up.
Berry & Banana Crumble Bars (Rainbow Nourishments) are sweetened with banana and maple syrup. Packed with oats and chia seeds (avoid for children and swallowing difficulties), these make a wholesome breakfast, snack or pudding.
Baked Oatmeal Waffles (Rainbow Nourishments) only need 3 ingredients! Very easy to make, and they’re gluten-free too. Most waffle irons are coated with toxic Teflon, but Wellbake make silicone waffle trays that are far simpler, cheaper and avoid the mess. Naturally non-stick, you can bake 8 waffles at the same time in just 15 minutes, as both fit side by side in the oven. Fridge & freezer flexible, they are also easy to rinse and dishwasher-safe.
Mexican Chocolate Buckwheat Porridge (Full of Plants) offers something different for Cocoa Pops fans. Soak the buckwheat groats to make them easier to digest, and reheat leftovers next morning for an almost-instant breakfast.
Make Your Own Oaty Snack Bars
Rather than buy plastic-wrapped snack bars full of refined sugar, milk and palm oil, why not make your own? Ones based on oats are also good for your heart, as they contain lots of fibre (soluble fibre literally ‘soaks up’ bad cholesterol, and provides filling snacks to help avoid the cake trolley at 11am!) These Apricot Oat Bars (Crowded Kitchen) are not too sweet.
If used, choose vegan butters free from palm oil. Keep recipes away from pets due to toxic ingredients (chocolate, coffee, dried fruits and nutmeg). Also avoid xylitol (just a few dropped crumbs can be lethal).
Blueberry Almond Crumble Bars (Short Girl, Tall Order) are ideal to use up seasonal fruits. The almond cookie layer is topped with jammy compote and finished with a crunchy almond top.
Apple Pie Bars (Short Girl, Tall Order) are finished with cinnamon sugar, and a streusel topping.
Caramel Apple Pie Bars (Crowded Kitchen) give all the traditional flavours, with heart-healthy oats.
These Cranberry Crumb Bars (Crowded Kitchen) have a buttery-(vegan) oat crust. If you live in Europe, you can sub with lingonberries (Swedish) for a more local fruit.