The power of porridge!

by Mary Beth Ladenheim

Pursuant to last week’s post about general good eating tips comes this week’s admonition: friends, eat a hot breakfast. Because hot breakfast makes a body feel incredible. Behold:

Hot breakfast is unequivocally awesome.

The hot breakfast I’m talking about here isn’t biscuits and gravy or oatmeal or a microwaved pastry or a cup of coffee. No, I’m talking about porridge.

It isn’t just for the English, folks. Nor are its benefits out-dated; it just has a terribly unappetizing, impoverished-sounding name. Porridge. And that’s too bad. But let us not forget that a rose by the name of porridge would smell just as sweet.

Serious sniffers know this thing would still smell incredible even if we called it “porridge.”

People of yesteryear didn’t just eat porridge because that’s all they had. They ate it because they believed it was good for them. If hot breakfast cereal has become unfashionable since the advent of chocolate rice puffs and dehydrated marshmallows shaped like horseshoes, that’s a reflection of the power of marketing and not of the power of porridge.

I’d wager that of all the self-care tips we give people throughout their course of treatment, implementing a hot breakfast strategy at home is the most permeating. Its influence is vast because the belly has long arms. In addition to soothing belly woes, hot breakfast helps other physiological processes that are dependent upon the stomach such as immunity, energy levels, and concentration.

Last week we used the analogy of a pot and a fire to talk about the human body’s digestive process. Routinely giving the body warm, easy-to-digest food in the morning is like providing ample wood to feed an even fire under that sweet pot. This in turn creates the foundation for appropriate physiological functioning throughout the rest of the day and the foreseeable future. This is why hot breakfast is so far-reaching.

When we first started making and eating hot breakfast porridge in acupuncture school, I lost about 5 pounds and Brian gained about 5. I had a surplus of fat; Brian had a deficit, and both surplus and deficit were corrected when our spleens/stomachs got the boost they needed to function more appropriately.

Since that time, we’ve become porridge dévotés. We slow-cook our grains for about 7 hours in the crock pot. It’s like making chili; you get the ingredients in the same pot, leave them alone, and together they make magic. Before cooking, we soak the grains overnight in water because grains are best digested when they’ve been soaked. Click here for a series of excellent posts on the subject, as well as discussion about phytic acid found in grains and legumes.

Soaking and slow-cooking are distinguishing factors between what we’re calling hot breakfast and something like instant oatmeal. Instant oatmeal may be hot and it may be breakfast, and it’s certainly better than a cold breakfast or no breakfast – but it’s still not “hot breakfast.” It’s as different from hot breakfast as a January Brazilian tomato is from an August tomato from your yard. They’re only the same in name; in experience they are different in kind.

After our porridge has cooked to the point that the grains have broken down beyond al dente, we blend it all with a wand blender and refrigerate the batch. Then we heat up each day’s portions in the morning while the baby chimes “Hot breakfast! Beets!” in the background. (I’m not making that up. But, then, she’s never had chocolate.)

We eat hot breakfast every morning, and when we travel we bring it with us in mason jars. We typically arrive with more breakfast than clothing options. I am fully aware that to some family and friends, this is bizarre.  I am also quite sure that they are used to us by now, and accept it as one of our lovable oddities. Our steadfast porridge plan doesn’t mean that we never enjoy pancakes or croissants or omelettes. We do. We just have them as second breakfast. First breakfast is always porridge.

Porridge is limitless in its composition potential. You can do a vegetarian, fish, or meat version. It can be sweet or savory, thin or thick. We often change our recipes when we’re feeling creative, bored, or like our bellies need a different kind of support. Some batches are incredible, some batches are flops, but we’ve fiddled around with all manner of hot breakfast recipes: Mama-to-be Porridge (when gravid,) Mama porridge (when post-partum,) Daddy Porridge (for the hard-working man,) Summer Porridge (lighter than,) Winter Porridge (heavier, with more meat.)

Here’s a basic recipe for you to get started with:

Powerful Porridge

Base recipe:

  • 1 c grain of choice
  • 1 qt stock
  • 4-8 c water (Varies widely based on personal preference and cooking temperature in slow-cookers.)

Combine grain and 4 c water in a slow cooker (e.g. crock-pot). Soak overnight (optional: add 2 Tbl whey, yogurt, buttermilk, or lemon juice.) In the morning, add stock and cook on high setting until the liquid comes to a boil.  Then turn down to low setting for about 6-7 hours. Stir occasionally.

Add extra water if the cereal becomes too thick or starts sticking to the pot. Your cereal is done when its consistency is smooth like rice pudding. Add salt to taste. Portion it out in serving-sized containers for easy heating in the mornings. Dilute if desired when reheating.

You may want to substitute different grains to the base recipe and make additions like vegetables (especially root vegetables), beans, meat, or nuts. It is usually best to cook these additions separate and then add then in the last 30 minutes of cooking.

Portion size will vary depending on the belly, the state of its woes, and how good your porridge is. I usually eat about 2 cups each morning. Brian’s bowl is somewhat fuller than mine. Play around with it, but remember that this is your breakfast. It’s not like a side of grits.

You could also add some spices to your day’s batch – ginger, cardamom, and cinnamon are nice options. Some people like nuts, raisins, and honey. Others prefer a bit of spring onion and sunflower seeds.

Once you get into a groove with making and eating hot breakfast, prepare to be amazed at how much the foundation of your life strengthens as your stomach gets what it needs.


  1. Rook says:

    MB- Is this the recipe for the porridge I had when i visited ya’ll, the stuff in the mason jars that made me feel so much better? I was just about to ask you guys for the recipe, I’m gonna start a batch tonight!

    1. mayladenheim says:

      Yes, Rook! It’s the same stuff. Enjoy! (And come back soon to eat more.)

  2. Dan B says:

    Do you add veggies/sweeteners before or after simmering for 7 hours?

  3. mbladenheim says:

    We typically cook the veggies separately (e.g. roast a sweet potato or beets) and then add that to the cooked porridge. Then we generally blend the whole thing, but sometimes we don’t. Occasionally it’s nice to have the chunks. That there’s a personal choice, for sure.

    I would add sweetener to each day’s serving. So, in the morning put that day’s serving in a pot, add water to the desired consistency, and heat. Then add whatever seasonings and sweeteners appeal to you. That way you can vary it and/or experiment without risking the whole batch.

  4. Susanne says:

    Is there a good substitute for barley as I am allergic to barley?


    1. mbladenheim says:

      The grains we typically use are barley, quinoa, millet, rice, and/or steel-cut oats. Any of these will provide a good starting point! (Some people are avoiding rice right now, due to arsenic content. Here’s a link to a Huffington Post article if you’re interested or concerned about this issue.)

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