Jan. 7, 2014 at 11:08 AM ET
If you're like us, instant oatmeal is a winter staple. Two minutes for a hot, healthy breakfast? You can't beat it. But it can be hard to find the one brand that's just right. So we played Golidlocks ("Too sweet!" "Too bland!") and tested dozens of oatmeals, both new and old, to find the best ones on the market. Here are a few favorites, from apples and cinnamon to chocolate. Yes, chocolate!
Best Apples and Cinnamon
Whole Foods’ 365 Everyday Value Organic Apple Cinnamon Instant Oatmeal ranked highly among our tasters for its creamy consistency, tart apples and perfect amount of cinnamon.
Get it now: Whole Foods’ 365 Everyday Value Organic Apple Cinnamon Instant Oatmeal, $3.99, available at Whole Foods Market stores nationwide
Maple is a tricky flavor to nail. It usually tastes cloyingly sweet or totally fake. But McCann’s Maple & Brown Sugar Instant Irish Oatmeal had the most real maple flavor without being a sugar bomb. We also liked McCann’s heartier texture.
Get it now: McCann’s Maple & Brown Sugar Instant Irish Oatmeal, $4.99 for a 15 oz. box, available at grocery stores nationwide and at MyBrands.com
Plain oatmeal can be so…plain. We like Trader Joe’s Oatmeal Complete because it isn’t flavored with anything, but has more than just oats. Each serving contains vitamins B6, B12, A, D and E, flax and folic acid, soy protein (each packet has 7 grams of protein total) and 35 percent of your recommended daily calcium. Nothing plain-Jane about that!
Get it now: Trader Joe’s Oatmeal Complete, $2.99 at Trader Joe’s stores nationwide
Looking for an oatmeal that will keep you feeling full ‘til lunch? Kashi GoLean Hot Cereals have a bit more protein (8-9 grams) than other instant oatmeals on the market, plus 5 grams of fiber. Added bonus: a little crunch from Kashi’s “7 whole grains and sesame” blend to break up the otherwise smooth texture. We like the Honey & Cinnamon flavor because it’s not too sweet and has just the right hint of spice.
Get it now: Kashi GoLean Honey & Cinnamon Hot Cereal, $3.99 for 8 1.4 ounce packets at the Kashi Store
Best Steel Cut
Steel cut oats are much heartier than regular oats, but they also require stovetop cooking. Bob’s Red Mill’s organic Quick Cooking Steel Cut Oats cut the cooking time down to five to seven minutes—not much more than microwaveable oatmeal, but you still get that thick and chewy texture.
Get it now: Bob’s Red Mill’s organic Quick Cooking Steel Cut Oats, $16.49 for 5.5 lbs. at Bob's Red Mill
Quaker’s new Perfect Portions line gives oatmeal fans complete control over breakfast. Instead of individual packets, the unsweetened instant oats come in a 12.7-ounce resealable bag, so you can make exactly as much as you want and sweeten it the way you want it—with your favorite honey, sugar substitute, fresh fruit or nothing at all!
Get it now: Quaker Perfect Portions, $2.29 for 12.7 oz. at grocery stores nationwide
Best Wild Card
Bored with your usual oatmeal routine? Try Earnest Eats Hot and Fit cereal, a mix of superfood grains (whole oats, quinoa, amaranth) plus a few unexpected add-ins. The Asian Blend includes dried mangoes, green tea, raw almonds and sesame seeds; the American Blend (our favorite) has dried cranberries, almonds, cinnamon and pepitas; and the Mayan Blend has cocoa, cinnamon, sunflower seeds and raw nuts. The cereal, which comes in 14-ounce containers so you can control your own portions, cooks up in about five minutes on the stovetop or in the microwave.
Get it now: Earnest Eats Hot and Fit cereal, $6.99 for 14 oz. at Earnest Eats
Best Sweet Treat
Chocolate oatmeal? Yep, it’s a thing. Three Sisters Cereal combines dark chocolate with whole grain rolled oats and other natural ingredients to create a creamy, hot chocolate-like bowl of oats. It’s good made with water, but even better with milk.
Get it now: Three Sisters Cereal Dark Chocolate, $2.29 for a 7.75 oz. box, available at Whole Foods Market stores nationwide
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.