Not everyone—in fact, few—may think about whole grains as nostalgic comfort food, but I do. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area with parents who loved to cook delicious, all natural meals with ingredients from our local Co-op and garden, and whole grains featured prominently in our family meals.
While I thought we were simply eating delicious dishes, Mom and Dad had ulterior motives, namely, making sure that my brother and sister and I had all of the strength and energy we needed to fuel us through our various sports, school and extracurricular activities. Hearty grains—in breads, cereals, salads, soups and more—laid the perfect foundation for the stamina we needed.
Now, as a busy working mother, endurance athlete, fitness instructor, and cookbook author, I need more strength and endurance than ever, and my favorite comfort grains continue to serve me well. Whether it’s steel cut oats, millet, bulgur, quinoa or amaranth, whole grains contain the fiber, minerals, phytonutrients and vitamins I need for maximizing my speed and endurance, stabilizing my blood sugar, and repairing my muscles after a grueling training session.
As if that weren’t enough, my big quinoa salads and barley soups also prevent the release of the cortisol hormone, which contributes to fatigue and poor mood, bone health, athletic performance and ligament health.
The only downside (if you can call it that) to many of my favorite grains is that they can take a while to prepare. But I am happy to share my solution, one that I am certain you will use as often as I do once you try it: I make my whole grains in my sleep. Overnight. In my handy little thermos.
I wish I could claim ownership of this nifty technique, but many of my backpacker friends knew all about it long before they shared it with me. You don’t need a hiking trip or a backpack, to likewise hijack this method for preparing grains, just a well-insulated thermos, some boiling water, and your favorite grains.
It’s as easy as this:
Step 1: Place your favorite Bob’s Red Mill dry grains into a thermos with a tight-fitting lid (preferably vacuum seal). About 1/4 cup to 1/3 cup is perfect for an individual portion.
With the exception of wheat berries and kamut (see note), you can use almost any grain you like, including farro, steel-cut oats, quinoa, amaranth, pearl barley, you name it. (Note: kamut and wheat berries will still work, but you will need to soak them overnight before using the thermos method).
Step 2: Add a pinch of salt (optional, but really brings out the flavor of the grains).
Step 3: Add boiling water to the thermos. Use the water-to-grains ratio specified on the package to determine how much to add. For example, if using 1/4 cup dry quinoa, add 1/2 cup boiling water.
Step 4: Seal the lid and swish the contents around a bit.
Step 5: Go to sleep!
In the morning, unscrew the lid and enjoy your perfectly cooked grains!
I like just about any grain with a splash of milk (dairy or non-dairy) and a drizzle of maple syrup or honey, but sometimes I like to jazz things up with some dried fruit, chia seeds and nuts, too.
There’s no need to limit this method for breakfast: stir in some black beans and salsa, or leftover chicken and some jarred pesto for an instant lunch to go (already in the thermos!) Alternatively, set up your grains and boiling water (or boiling broth) in the morning and return to cooked grains after work (perfect for a salad, side dish, or stir-fry).
Enjoy! You’ll be jumping and leaping for joy with all of your added energy!
Camilla Saulsbury is a wife, mom, bestselling cookbook author, blogger, recipe developer, fitness expert and endurance athlete. Her culinary focus is translating food and flavor trends into fast, fresh, whole foods-based recipes that deliver deliciousness and energy in equal measure. Visit PowerHungry.com to read more from Camilla.