Taste Test: Fast Food Oatmeal

by in Dining Out, Taste Test, April 5, 2011

oatmeal

Oatmeal is the latest healthy food to hit fast food joints around the nation. But how healthy (and tasty) are these fast food versions? We tested some of the most popular offerings to see how they stacked up.

The Criteria
We visited 4 popular fast food and fast-casual restaurants that offer oatmeal as a breakfast option. We rated each on a 5-point scale (5 being highest) based on flavor, texture, cost and nutritional content, including the type of oats and how they’re prepared. Each restaurant offered various add-ins and flavors, which we found could sometimes sabotage a healthy cup of oatmeal.

Starbucks’ Perfect Oatmeal
Rating: 4.0
Cost:
$2.45 plus tax
Nutrition Info Per Serving (38 grams):
140 calories; 2.5 grams fat; 0 grams sugar; 4 grams fiber
Options:
Any of the following can be mixed in: brown sugar (50 calories, 12 grams sugar), dried fruit (100 calories, 22 grams sugar), mixed nuts (100 calories, 1 gram sugar)
Our Take:
We were surprised to learn that oatmeal is available throughout the day at Starbucks. To make the mix, the barista blends instant oatmeal with hot water and gives you packets of your chosen toppings. The consistency was a bit thick and mushy, but a quick swirl with a spoon helped the water and oats combine better. The first ingredient is whole-grain rolled oats, but other listed ingredients include thickeners like oat flour and guar gum. In addition, the oatmeal includes added B-vitamins, iron and vitamin A. The oatmeal comes unsweetened, so you can cut down on added sugar and calories if you use only a touch of the sugar and choose either nuts or dried fruit.

Cosi’s Oatmeal
Rating: 4.0
Cost: $2.99 plus tax
Nutrition Info Per Serving (7.5 ounces): 222 calories; 3 grams fat; 3 grams sugar; 4 grams fiber
Options: Choose any two: pistachios, granola, dried cranberries, fresh strawberries, whipped cream, Cosi Break Bar Bits, raisins, brown sugar.
Our Take: Oatmeal at the local Cosi is only served until 11 a.m., but management was generous enough to whip up an afternoon batch for us. The oatmeal is made from steel-cut oats and is pre-sweetened with brown sugar. There is no need to opt for more brown sugar as the oatmeal is just sweet enough, with a smooth consistency. One word of advice is to skip the Cost Break Bar Bits, which can really rack up the calories (one whole bar has 359 calories, though we’re not sure how much you get as a topping.) Instead, opt for the dried fruit, fresh fruit, nuts or a touch of granola.

McDonalds’ Fruit & Maple Oatmeal
Rating: 3.5
Cost: $2.29 plus tax
Nutrition Info Per Serving (9.2 ounces): 190 calories; 2.5 grams fat; 14 grams sugar; 3 grams fiber
Options: All included with order: diced apples (10 calories, 2 grams sugar), cranberry raisin blend (70 calories, 15 grams sugar), light cream (20 calories, 2 grams sugar)
Our Take: We were impressed from a food safety standpoint as the server excused himself before preparing the oatmeal to wash his hands thoroughly (points earned right there.)  He combined dried instant oatmeal (made from whole-grain oats) with hot water, brown sugar and a small amount of cream. The included topping is a  blend of apples, cranberries and raisins. You can also opt for plain oatmeal, but need to say so when you order. The oatmeal had a good consistency with a good mix of flavors and textures, but it was a bit too sweet.

Jamba Juice’s Steel Cut Oatmeal: Berry Cherry Pecan
Rating: 3.5
Cost: $2.95 plus tax
Nutrition Info Per Serving: 340 calories; 9 grams fat; 27 grams sugar; 9 grams fiber
Options: Various options available, including Apple Cinnamon, Berry Cherry Pecan, Blueberry & Blackberry, Fresh Banana and Plain with Brown Sugar Topping.
Our Take: These steel-cut oats are mixed with soy milk and come with the topping of your choice. Upon inquiring about some of the options, we asked if the blueberries and blackberries were fresh and were told they weren’t — they’re packed in syrup (which usually means more sugar and calories.) We opted for the Berry Cherry Pecan, which promised dried cherries, berries and pecans, but was unexpectedly sweet and salty with candied (meaning higher-calorie) nuts. Taste and flavor of the oatmeal was great, it’s steel-cut, which we love; the texture was both chewy and creamy, as it should be. If you decide to pick up oatmeal at Jamba Juice, opt for the plain with brown sugar or fresh banana.

TELL US: What’s your favorite fast-food oatmeal?

Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. See Toby’s full bio »

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