It's hard to think of a more healthful way to start your day than with a bowl of oatmeal topped with some nuts or seeds and some berries. That’s because this grain goes a long way toward getting your system in gear for the day ahead.

Oats keep your blood sugar regulated so you have a steady source of energy for hours after eating. In fact, regularly eating whole grains such as whole oats or oat bran can help reduce your risk of Type 2 diabetes thanks to their role in steady blood sugar levels. Oats are a major source of fiber so they keep you feeling full for hours — and not just full, but satisfied. They’re a great way to curb an appetite and cravings.

A quarter-cup serving provides you with 13 percent of your daily recommended amount of protein. And all that stuff you’ve heard about oats being a heart-healthy food is absolutely true. The type of soluble fiber found in oats can lower total cholesterol by as much as 23 percent. Oats can also reduce high blood pressure. But that’s not all. Oats also contain antioxidants called avenanthramides that help prevent free radicals from damaging good cholesterol, giving an added boost of heart protection.

Oats are great for the immune system by boosting the ability to battle bacterial infections. With oats as our sidekick, our immune systems can more rapidly respond to infection and clear out the microorganisms that are causing trouble. So waking up with oatmeal may be a good way to also boost your immune system for the day ahead.

It's impossible to sing the praises of oats too loudly. If you change one thing about your morning routine to increase your overall health, make that change involve adding oats to your breakfast. In fact, it’s so important that many of the recipes we suggest below offer fun, unique and delicious ways to prepare oatmeal so you won't ever get bored with this hearty breakfast. But we don't stop there — check out ideas for dinner and dessert as well!

Pan seared oatmeal with blueberries

Photo: Jaymi Heimbuch

Pan-Seared Oatmeal with Blueberries

Breakfast is where oatmeal is most commonly found, but that doesn't mean your oatmeal breakfast has to be common! This recipe not only has you searing your oatmeal for a toasted crust, but also poaching your blueberries in honey. Decadently different and yet healthy.

Sweet Potato and Oatmeal Breakfast Bake with Pecan Crumble

Another unique way to enjoy your oatmeal is to mix it with sweet potatoes, bake it and top it with a sweet pecan crumble. This recipe is a must-have when the weather turns crisp and cold in autumn.

Pumpkin Raisin Oatmeal

If you love pumpkin pie, you'll likely love having this oatmeal recipe for breakfast. It uses pumpkin puree, a little bit of honey and brown sugar, and of course pumpkin pie spices, among other ingredients.

Oatmeal Brulée in a Jam Jar with Fruit and Nuts

This recipe is perfect for breakfast with the family or even when you have guests over for breakfast or brunch because it adds a bit of fun rustic flare to a simple oatmeal dish. The sugar on the top is bruléed into a wonderful crackly crust and then topped with your favorite fruits and nuts.

Baked Banana Oatmeal Brulée

Another amazing recipe for oatmeal brulée, this time with bananas taking a starring role. This recipe is easily customizable, as you can add in other nuts, seeds or even chocolate chips to the mix when it goes into the oven.

homemade granola

Photo: Jaymi Heimbuch

Homemade Granola for a healthy snack

Another place where oats shine is in granola. This simple recipe is perfect for making a stock of delicious granola that can be used as a snack on its own, or as a topping in parfaits, salads, in trail mix or even on ice cream.

Homemade Peanut Butter Granola Bars

Granola bars are wonderful to have on hand for a filling and healthy snack while on the trail or quick meal when you're in a rush at work. We have a couple recipes for you to try, starting with this classic version that uses peanut butter, chocolate chips and raisins.

5-Ingredient Breakfast Granola Bars

Another option makes your granola bar even more simple and yet more healthy. This version uses oats, chia seeds, your favorite nuts, peanut butter (or your favorite nut butter) and a bit of agave or honey. You can also customize it with other things (like chocolate chips!) if you'd like.

cinnamon apple smoothie

Photo: Jaymi Heimbuch

Cinnamon Apple Protein Smoothie

Let's not relegate oats to oatmeal and granola. They're also a wonderful addition to healthy smoothies. Just let them soak in some water or milk and add them to your blender with other ingredients, such as apples, cinnamon and protein powder. If you like apple pie, then you'll love this.

Blueberry Oatmeal Protein Smoothie

Another favorite smoothie recipe is this one that combines blueberries, chia seeds, almond butter and protein powder with a few other ingredients for a smoothie that tastes like a dessert!

Black Bean and Oat Burger

Want to add oats to your savory lunch or dinner? Here you go! Black beans, hummus, oats and seasonings combine into a wonderful vegetarian burger patty.

Chocolate, Hazelnut and Oatmeal Cookies

And let's not forget dessert. Oats are perfect for cookie baking. These cookies are gluten-free thanks to oats and a few other flours that blend into just the right texture for a chewy chocolate-y treat.

Jaymi Heimbuch ( @jaymiheimbuch ) focuses on wildlife conservation and animal news from her home base in San Francisco.

Oats: 12 recipes to get this super grain into your diet
Oats are an essential part of a healthy diet. We go way beyond ordinary oatmeal with these outstanding recipes for breakfasts, snacks and even burgers!