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Low Risk, High Reward: Heidi Swanson's Blueberry Baked Oatmeal

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Every other Thursday, we bring you Nicholas Day -- on cooking for children, and with children, and despite children. Also, occasionally, on top of.

Today: A kid breakfast that's more wholesome than pancakes, and won't send parents down a sugary spiral, either.

The weekend breakfast was long ago annexed by the American father. This alone should make us suspicious. The American father is a clever, devious creature.

His most devious move, of course, was to requisition the grill as a uniquely male site, and to endow it with an aura that made grilling seem as if it required some sort of mystical sense of the ancient ways of fire rather than the possession of opposable thumbs. And then — and this is the truly clever part — he displayed his mastery of fire only occasionally, so that when he did it was by default a special occasion and everyone felt very grateful and thanked him profusely and trotted out their high-grade adjectives.

More: Speaking of high-grade adjectives: Aretha Frankenstein's Waffles of Insane Greatness.

But the American father was not satisfied. He realized that weekend breakfast offered a very similar low-risk, high-reward return: using those same opposable thumbs, he would mix together a small number of ingredients, according to an eternal, invariable recipe, and conjure up waffles or pancakes or French toast. The near-miraculous weekend-only appearance of these dishes made everyone in the household behave in a highly atypical manner. No one said, Not waffles again. No one said, That syrup looks disgusting. No one said, Only one bite. And everyone felt very grateful and thanked him profusely and trotted out their high-grade adjectives. 

All of which is to say: I stand here before you, humbly, on the shoulders of giants.

But the regular weekend-only appearance of pancakes or waffles or French toast brings with it its own problems. Not for the children. For the parents.

Children can eat an endless quantity of pancakes or waffles and it only makes them stronger. I quote from the closing lines of the great Anytime Mapleson and the Hungry Bears: “And Anytime ate 1,297 pancakes. Then he drank a big glass of milk and ate 537 more. After that, he forgot to count.”

But parenthood brings with it rapid senescence and some devastating physiological changes: 1) The discovery that spinning around repeatedly no longer has the addictive, mildly hallucinogenic effect it had in childhood but instead feels pretty much like death; and 2) that you can no longer eat 1,297 pancakes before falling asleep. Or even three pancakes. This is a problem, since as the parent of small children you are always about to fall asleep anyway, so in order to avoid a pancake-induced coma you have drink even more coffee than you are already drinking, which means that when you are finally able to go to sleep, you instead stare at the ceiling and see cups of coffee swimming before your eyes. It’s a terrifying vicious circle of pancake consumption and sleep deprivation and it ends with the children in the orphanage. The memoir is forthcoming. 

So you start looking for other recipes.

For all intents and purposes, Marion Cunningham’s The Breakfast Book is the only cookbook you need to consult before 11am. It is hugely charming; it is eclectic; it is comforting and weird in equal measure. There are fantastic muffin recipes and then there are things like spicy, sweet-sour orange slices (which are also fantastic). It’s highly domestic escapist literature. 

But I am incorrigibly promiscuous and sometime last year I cheated on The Breakfast Book: I made the baked oatmeal from Heidi Swanson’s Super Natural Every Day. I have made it a half-dozen times since. It’s fruit layered with milk-soaked oats layered with nuts. It’s wholesome but not so wholesome that it is caught trying to be wholesome. And it is narcolepsy-proof. 

Not least, it is different enough, and sweet enough, to feel like a special occasion. To feel like weekend-only breakfast. And if it deviates slightly from the rules laid down by the American father for weekend-only breakfasts, it respects the basic formula: when he makes it, everyone feels very grateful and thanks him profusely and trots out their high-grade adjectives. I speak from experience.

Heidi Swanson's Baked Oatmeal

2 cups rolled oats
1 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon fine-grain salt
2 cups milk
1/3 cup maple syrup
1 large egg
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 bananas, sliced into 1/2-inch pieces
1 1/2 cup blueberries or a mix of berries

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by James Ransom

Tags: dinner vs child, Nicholas Day, kids, parenting, weekday, breakfast, kid food, oatmeal, baked oatmeal, blueberries, banana, everyday cooking

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Comments (26)


over 1 year ago Ashley Williams Gold

I am having to eat dairy free while breastfeeding, do you think I could substitute the milk for almond milk?


about 2 years ago sherrygerard

Oh my gosh this was excellent. The pan did not last 24 hours!


about 2 years ago atriviale

I made this on Saturday morning and it's now hard to imagine wanting to eat oatmeal any other way. It was delicious.


about 2 years ago suzannea

That should have been cadence not chance. So sorry, autocorrection error.


about 2 years ago suzannea

This sounds delicious. Your chance brings to mind, "Where The Wild Things Are."


about 2 years ago cuceesprouts

It is now my most favorite breakfast recipe. I posted it on my blog a while back http://cuceesprouts.com...


about 2 years ago GretchenJoy

This is in regular rotation around our breakfast table. I double the recipe every time and bake it in a big lasagna dish. There are NEVER any leftovers. When the kids catch the scent of it baking in the oven they race to the kitchen to make sure there's enough for them.


about 2 years ago tigerlille

Honesty compels me to report that I made this recipe with very high expectations in March. We hated it.


about 2 years ago SuzanneR

Made this for breakfast today. Used frozen blueberries (didn't bother thawing) and skipped the extra melted butter on top. Loved it!


about 2 years ago Loren Jones

i wish you had a vegan substitution for this recipe it looks yummy!@


about 2 years ago ValerieClarkNY

very amusingly written and the recipe looks good too. Loved your aside about how, after adulthood, spinning around makes us think about death rather than hallucinate pleasantly.


about 2 years ago alimcka

Delicious even without the egg.


about 2 years ago Chbrown

Would it be possible to use steel cut oats for more nutrition and toothiness?


about 2 years ago Nicholas Day

It would!


about 2 years ago lkbee

Looks like an amazing recipe! Do you know if this refrigerates and/or freezes well?


about 2 years ago Nicholas Day

Never tried it. Hasn't lasted that long.


about 2 years ago Brette Warshaw

We tried it after a night in the fridge -- still great!


about 2 years ago Ruth Ellen Treloar

Love your writing style. And this baked, extremely low-sugar, gluten-free breakfast idea. Oatmeal is recommended for breakfast to provide a large amount of slow-burning carbs (turning to the sugary material our brain uses) that will last for a few hours.


about 2 years ago susan v

Could i substitute low fat greek yogurt for the milk? Can't wait to try this...


about 2 years ago Nicholas Day

No idea -- but worth trying, I think.


about 2 years ago Nancy Worner Fleck

Do you have to put bananas on the bottom? I really do not like them and would hate to have the taste of them all through what sounds like an awesome recipe!


about 2 years ago Nicholas Day

I'm sure you could leave them out -- I'd just put another fruit in its place.


about 2 years ago bugawa

My kiddos definitely prefer this without the bananas-- chopped apples, peaches, or more berries have all worked well for us.


about 2 years ago Kenzi Wilbur

Kenzi is the Managing Editor of Food52.

He never really made breakfast, but I remember my dad making meatloaf on occasion. I was very young. Had I known them, I probably would have trotted out my high-grade adjectives.


about 2 years ago Marian Bull

We used to call my dad "the breakfast chef". Unrelated: he used to make me hot dog omelets.


about 2 years ago Angela

love the cheating on Breakfast Book story! that's a bible in our house too! but Heidi Swanson's a pretty good cheat! :)