People have been enjoying oatmeal for breakfast for centuries, and for good reason: This hearty whole grain offers some health benefits, as well as being tasty and super comforting.
"Oatmeal is beneficial for many reasons, specifically for its soluble fiber content, which has been linked to improved cholesterol," Rachel Fine, RD and owner of To The Pointe Nutrition, a nutrition counseling practice in NYC, says. Eating fiber helps keep you full between meals, is good for your digestion and helps you maintain blood sugar control for sustainable energy, she says.
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Instant oatmeal makes fixing a bowl for breakfast an easy option if you're busy. With just some hot water, breakfast can be served in a few minutes. But select your instant oatmeal carefully: "Not all instant oatmeals are equally nutritious," Charleston-based registered dietitian Lauren Manaker, author of The 7-Ingredient Healthy Pregnancy Cookbook, says.
Some options have high amounts of added sugars or contain artificial or highly processed ingredients, which can undercut the health benefits of this breakfast food.
With help from a few registered dietitians, we've sussed out the very best instant oatmeals you can find in your local grocery (or add to your online shopping cart) — along with a few options that are best avoided.
The Best Instant Oatmeal
- Best Overall: Bob’s Red Mill Classic Instant Oatmeal ($8.49, Amazon.com)
- Best Budget-Friendly: Good & Gather Organic Plain Instant Oatmeal Packet ($2.99, Target.com)
- Best Steel-Cut: Quaker Quick 3-Minute Steel Cut Oats ($5.50, Walmart.com)
- Best High Protein: Kodiak Cakes Protein-Packed Oatmeal ($29.48 for a pack of six, Amazon.com)
- Best Gluten-Free: Bob's Red Mill Blueberry Hazelnut Oatmeal Cup ($26.43 for a 12-pack, Amazon.com)
- Best Flavored: KIND Apple Cinnamon Almond ($19.90 for 30 packets, Amazon.com)
- Best Organic: 365 by Whole Foods Market Organic Instant Oatmeal Original ($5.49, Amazon.com)
- Best Hearty: Bob’s Red Mill 5 Grain Cereal ($24 for a case of four, Amazon.com)
- Best On-the-Go: MUSH Ready To Eat Oats ($59.99 for a 12-pack, Amazon.com)
How We Chose
We consulted with two registered dietitians for their take on the instant oatmeals they enjoy at home and recommend to their clients.
To determine which products to include on the list, we looked for options with ingredients that add nutrients and don't load up on sugar or other not-so-great additives.
1. Best Instant Oatmeal Overall: Bob’s Red Mill Classic Instant Oatmeal
Nutritional information per packet: 140 calories, 3.5 g of fat (0.5 g saturated fat), 23 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of sugar and 4 grams of protein
If you want to doctor up your oatmeal to your own preferences, try starting with this classic option. "This oatmeal is made with minimal ingredients — whole grain rolled oats, flaxseed and a touch of salt — to allow for people to add whichever toppings their heart desires," Manaker says.
You can prep this oatmeal on the stovetop or in the microwave. With either option, it'll be ready in under 5 minutes.
Buy It: Amazon.com; Price: $8.49
2. Best Budget-Friendly: Good & Gather Organic Plain Instant Oatmeal Packet
Nutritional information per packet: 100 calories, 2 g of fat (0 g saturated fat), 19 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of sugar and 4 grams of protein
Another great option is available courtesy of Target's private label brand Good and Gather. Manaker likes that this low-cost option is organic. This is ideal for oatmeal purists (the package contains just rolled oats, without any add-ins). Plus, it's "perfect for being served under good-for-you toppings like walnuts and fresh berries," she says.
A serving size is 100 calories and provides 4 grams of protein.
Buy It: Target.com; Price: $2.99
3. Best Steelcut: Quaker Quick 3-Minute Steel Cut Oats
Nutritional information per 1/3 cup: 170 calories, 3 g of fat (0.5 g saturated fat), 31 grams of carbohydrates, 1 grams of sugar (0 g added sugar) and 6 grams of protein
Unlike most oats, which are first steamed, then rolled and flattened, steel-cut oats are made from whole, hulled oat kernels cut with a steel blade, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Steel-cut oats have some health benefits: Since they're less processed, and take longer to digest, they have a lower glycemic index than other oat options, per the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The downside: "Steel-cut oats typically take a very long time to cook," Manaker says. Not so with this version from Quaker, which cook in minutes.
"Like classic steel-cut oats, these oats are a good source of fiber and are full of whole grain goodness," Manaker says.
Buy It: Walmart.com; Price: $5.50
4. Best High Protein: Kodiak Cakes Protein-Packed Chocolate Chip Oatmeal
Nutritional information per packet: 200 calories, 4 g of fat (1.5 g saturated fat), 30 grams of carbohydrates, 10 grams of sugar (that includes 10 grams of added sugars) and 12 grams of protein
Protein is an essential macronutrient, often described as the building block of life. Oatmeal has some protein, but it's not classified as a high-protein food on its own. Adding a swirl of peanut butter can up the protein content of your breakfast.
Or, try this protein-packed oatmeal from Kodiak Cakes, which has 12 grams of protein per serving. That's more than a large egg, which offers 6.3 grams of protein, according to the USDA.
This oatmeal option will "help keep you feeling fuller throughout a busy morning," Fine says. Just note that along with the protein, you're getting more sugar than other instant oatmeal options, thanks to those chocolate chips.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $29.49 for a pack of six
5. Best Organic: 365 by Whole Foods Market Organic Instant Oatmeal Original
Nutritional information per packet: 150 calories, 2.5 g of fat (0 g saturated fat), 27 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of sugar and 5 grams of protein
If you want your oatmeal to contain only USDA-certified organic rolled oats — and nothing else — then the original version of 365 Everyday Value Organic Instant Oatmeal is right for you. You won't find added sodium or sugar in this instant oatmeal, which can be prepared (in the microwave or on the stovetop) in minutes.
The oatmeal is also Non-GMO Project Verified.
Buy It: Amazon.com; Price: $5.49
6. Best Gluten-Free: Bob's Red Mill Blueberry Hazelnut Oatmeal Cup
Nutritional information per cup: 290 calories, 7 g of fat (1 g saturated fat), 49 grams of carbohydrates, 13 grams of sugar (including 9 grams of added sugars) and 7 grams of protein
Here's the good news about oatmeal if you have a gluten intolerance: It's naturally gluten-free. That being said, sometimes oatmeal is manufactured near other products that contain gluten. So, if you can't tolerate gluten, make sure to opt for instant oatmeal — like these cups from Bob's Red Mill — that are made in a gluten-free facility.
"The addition of flax and chia seeds elevates the nutrition in these oatmeal cups to pack tons of nutrition into these convenient cups," Manaker says.
Buy It: Amazon.com; Price: $36.52 for a 12-pack
7. Best Flavored: KIND Apple Cinnamon Almond
Nutritional information per packet: 170 calories, 4.5 g of fat (0.5 g saturated fat), 29 grams of carbohydrates, 7 grams of sugar (including 4 g of added sugars) and 5 grams of protein
"Many flavored oatmeals are loaded with added sugars," Manakersays. This one uses the natural sweetness of apples along with some spice from cinnamon for flavor instead. That means you can get a flavorful option, without loading up on too much sugar or anything artificial, she says.
Note: This is another gluten-free option.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $19.90 for 30 packets
8. Best On-the-Go: MUSH Oats
Nutritional information per container of MUSH Dark Chocolate: 260 calories, 8 g of fat (1 g saturated fat), 40 grams of carbohydrates, 12 grams of sugar (0 g of added sugars) and 8 grams of protein
Making instant oatmeal is a fast process, but hot water is involved, which means you'll need a stovetop or microwave. If you're truly busy, or need a grab-and-go option, the MUSH cups are ideal. They're "the ultimate instant oatmeal because they are already made — no cooking required," Manaker says.
She likes the Dark Chocolate variety, but MUSH comes in several flavors, including blueberry, coffee coconut and strawberry. "These oats are made with quality ingredients and are easy to eat — even in the car," Manaker notes. The ingredient list is short, and the oats are both gluten- and dairy-free.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $59.99 for a 12-pack
9. Best Hearty Oatmeal: Bob’s Red Mill 5 Grain Cereal
Nutritional information per 1/3 cup: 120 calories, 1.5 g of fat (0 g saturated fat), 24 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of sugar and 5 grams of protein
If you crave a hearty oatmeal, opt for this variety from Bob's Red Mill, Fine says. It "incorporates five different whole grains providing a spectrum of nutrients, including flax," Fine says — flax delivers a lot of health benefits, including high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids (ALA). "ALA fatty acids convert in the body to EPA and DHA, which are two important omega-3s specifically important for heart health and brain health," Fine points out.
Along with oats and flaxseed, this grainy option also contains rye, wheat and triticale (a hybrid of wheat and rye).
The cook time is a bit longer for this variety, but it's still fairly speedy, taking about 10 to 15 minutes on the stovetop and 3 to 5 minutes in the microwave. Be aware that the manufacturer recommends storing these oats in your fridge or freezer (not the pantry) to keep them fresh.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $24 for a case of four
3 Instant Oatmeals Options That Are Best Avoided
If you're eating oatmeal, you might be choosing it because it's easy to prepare or a filling meal option. Often, though, people opt for oatmeal for its health benefits. If that's the case, you want to make sure you're choosing one that doesn't undercut those benefits. Here, we share some instant oatmeal options that are best avoided:
- Glutenfreeda Gluten-Free Blueberries, Strawberries & Brown Sugar Instant Oatmeal Cup — This cup of oatmeal has 14 grams of sugar, which is no surprise, since sugar is the second ingredient on the list right after oats.
- Quaker Instant Oatmeal Dinosaur Eggs — This product contains 11 grams of added sugars. "Oatmeals that contain novelty additions like dinosaur eggs add much more sugar than what most children need in their breakfast — especially if they are not balancing their oats out with some protein and healthy fats," Manaker says.
- Simple Truth Organic Natural Maple & Brown Sugar Flavored Instant Oatmeal — This is another option where a sweetener (organic dried cane syrup, in this case) is the second ingredient. And, while the package touts "natural maple," note that it only has added flavoring; there is absolutely no pure or natural maple syrup in the ingredients.
As you're considering this list of oatmeals that are best avoided, keep in mind that many dietitians recommend against classifying foods as "good" or "bad." Doing so, Fine says, "can instill a subconscious moral hierarchy around food that translates into future food guilt when a 'no-go' option is the only option available."
Things to Keep in Mind When Buying Instant Oatmeal
Instant oatmeal that's nutritious but just doesn't taste delicious to you isn't a good choice. "First things first, choose an option that will satisfy you — this means one that you will genuinely enjoy," Fine says.
You'll want to review the ingredient list before stocking up. "Instant oatmeal should be made with real oats," Manaker says. In fact, oats should be the first ingredients on the list.
Most of us overdo it when it comes to sodium, and it's prepared foods (like instant oatmeal) not the salt shaker that tends to be the culprit, per the FDA. Aim for less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day (that's around a teaspoon), according to the FDA.
Keep an eye on the sugar and sodium that's included, Manaker recommends. "The addition of a small amount of sugar can make the taste of oatmeal a bit more appealing," she says. But make sure that you don't add too many spoonfuls — or choose an option with many grams of added sugar — since that transforms the nutritional profile of your breakfast into something more dessert-like.
Be particularly mindful when choosing options for kids, since add-ins like dinosaur eggs can up the sweetness significantly.
Save time by finding instant oatmeals that come packed with flavorful add-ins. "Oats that are made with spices like cinnamon, nuts like walnuts, and seeds like flax seeds are all great choices," Manaker says.
Oatmeal is already a great source of fiber, but you can add additional fiber with chia seeds, nuts and dried fruit, Fine says. Nuts and seeds also boost the protein and fat content of the oatmeal.
Dietary Needs and Preferences
"If a person lives a gluten-free lifestyle, they should choose an oatmeal that is made with oats that are processed in a facility that is certified gluten-free," Manaker says. Keep any other dietary preferences or needs in mind — for instance, if you're on a low-sodium diet, check how much sodium is in a serving size.