12 Mistakes You're Making With Overnight Oats

For some of us — especially those of us who have to wake up early on a regular basis — breakfast can be the hardest meal to get through. You don't want to start off the day feeling hungry, of course, but you don't have a ton of time to be standing over a stove making sure your eggs are perfectly cooked. Some people elect to just skip breakfast altogether, but that's not a solution for those of us who wake up with their stomachs already grumbling.

The solution? You need to find a breakfast option that's fast, easy, and easy to eat while you're walking out the door. Perhaps this is why overnight oats have exploded in popularity over the last several years. It's a breakfast you prep the night before, so there's essentially nothing to do in the morning. Plus, you can just grab it out of the fridge and eat it immediately. Isn't that what you want first thing in the morning?

Unfortunately, though, there are a lot of ways you can go wrong with your overnight oats. If you want to prevent a breakfast mishap, you should learn about the most common mistakes people make when they're preparing their overnight oats. By avoiding these mistakes, you can guarantee that a delicious, easy and non-soggy breakfast is always waiting for you. Here's what not to do when making overnight oats.

1. Using water instead of milk

Can you technically use water instead of milk when you're making overnight oats? Definitely. Just like milk, the water will soften the oats, making them easier to digest. But just because you can do something doesn't necessarily mean that you should. Although water will get the job done, it's going to yield much less delicious results than milk will. When you use milk, the oats will take on a fuller flavor and a creamier texture, which is what most of us are going for when we make overnight oats. Using water instead of milk is likely to give you runnier, less flavorful overnight oats.

Of course, you don't have to use cow's milk if that's not your preference — pretty much any kind of milk is going to up the flavor ante more than plain water will. Oat milk is an obvious choice, but you could also use cashew milk if you want that creamy texture without using actual dairy. Soy milk is also a good option if you're trying to get more protein into your diet, and even if you don't usually like how soy tastes, the oats will cover up that flavor.

If you don't have any milk on hand, of course, you can always use water as a last resort. Just don't expect the best overnight oats you've ever eaten.

2. Forgetting to add salt

When most people make overnight oats, they're using a lot of sweet ingredients. For example, maybe you like to add bananas and berries to your oatmeal. Perhaps you're more of a syrup and brown sugar kind of person. And if you're really into breakfast, you may just break a few pieces of chocolate into your oats. But just because you're focusing on all of those sweet flavors doesn't mean you can forget about balance. The best dishes (salty or sweet) have a balance to them, and too much of one flavor can overwhelm your taste buds after a few bites.

This is exactly why you may want to consider adding a few pinches of salt to your overnight oats. Too many sweet foods eaten together can be cloying, but salt can do a lot to counteract all that sweetness. This is especially true when you're eating your overnight oats cold. Cold temperatures can dampen flavors, which makes it harder to taste what you're eating. By adding salt to your oats, you're bringing those flavors out more, which will make your breakfast so much more enjoyable. It's a small step that can pay huge flavor dividends.

3. Using instant or steel cut oats

When you're shopping for oats at the grocery store, you may notice that there are seemingly limitless options to choose from. You may have your favorites, but if you're new to the world of overnight oats, you may not know exactly what to buy. Although instant oats and steel cut oats can be delicious when you cook them the right way, you're not going to want to use them for overnight oats. Instead, you should look for old-fashioned rolled oats, which you should be able to find at most grocery stores.

So, why shouldn't you use these other varieties? It all comes down to texture and consistency. We love instant oats because they're so easy to make even when you're pinched for time. But if you leave them sitting in liquid in the fridge for more than a couple of hours, they're going to get super soggy — probably not what you want for your first meal of the day. Steel cut oats have a different problem. They don't absorb moisture as fast as their counterparts, so you'll be left with hard, gritty oatmeal in the morning if you try to use them for overnight oats.

Old-fashioned rolled oats can achieve that creamy consistency you're going for without getting soggy in the process. Use them for best results.

4. Adding berries to your oats at night

Most of the fun of making overnight oats comes down to all the ingredients you add in. There are basically limitless options — just mix in whatever sounds best to you. Many overnight oats enthusiasts want to add fruit to their oats, which can add natural sweetness and a ton of flavor. For some fruits, that's not a problem. Apples and bananas, for example, generally do well in the fridge overnight, even when sitting in soggy oats. There are some other fruits, though, like berries, that should be added right before you eat your oats... not before.

Because most berries are juicy with such thin skins, they can get mushy really, really quickly. Just a few minutes in your oats, and they'll already be breaking down. Therefore, if you leave them in your oats overnight, you'll be met with a mess the next morning, and your oats may take on an unattractive blue or red color.

If you want to actually be able to taste the individual berries in your overnight oats, you should add them in at the last minute. Luckily, this shouldn't add too much time to your breakfast prep if you already have the berries washed and ready to go the night before. Just throw them in your oatmeal jar, and you have a perfectly fruity, non-soggy breakfast.

5. Not stirring your overnight oats

We get it: A lot of times, you're in a hurry first thing in the morning. You're trying to get ready for work, get the kids out the door for school, or even just pick out an outfit so you look presentable wherever you're headed for the day. But that doesn't mean you should forget to stir your overnight oats before you dig into them.

If you put your different overnight oats ingredients into the jar in layers the night before, this step is especially important. Otherwise, you're going to get whole mouthfuls of peanut butter or agave syrup or chia seeds, which will leave the rest of the oats unbalanced. But even if you did mix your overnight oats before putting them into the fridge, you'll want to stir them again in the morning. Overnight, the ingredients can settle and get soggy, and you'll want to make sure they're evenly distributed before you dig in. It only takes a few seconds to stir your oatmeal, so make sure not to skip this step if you want the best possible breakfast.

6. Forgetting to add spices and seasonings

You're making your overnight oats, and you think you've added everything you need. In addition to the oats themselves, you've also added in some fruit, nuts, seeds, and maybe even a sweetener of some kind. That must mean you're done and can put your oatmeal in the fridge, right?

Well, you may want to think again if you're interested in eating the most flavorful overnight oats possible. You can't underestimate the role spices and seasonings can play in your oatmeal. We've already talked about salt, of course, which you definitely shouldn't skip, but if you're making sweet oatmeal, other spices may be needed. Cinnamon is one of our favorites, but other warming baking spices, like cloves, ginger, and pumpkin pie spice would also make delicious additions. Play around with different flavor combos to figure out what you like best. Add in the spices slowly at first until you figure out how they really affect the flavor of your oatmeal. Not only will this make your breakfast more flavorful, but it'll also be more fun to switch up the flavors you're using.

7. Omitting nuts and seeds

Now you know you have to use plenty of spices in your overnight oats, but have you ever thought about the other ingredients you shouldn't skip? If there's one omission we never think you should make, it's nuts and seeds. Yes, fruit and spices can add a ton of flavor to your oatmeal, but they usually don't impart much in the way of texture. However, nuts and seeds add both flavor and crunch to the dish, so they play a double role in making your breakfast delicious.

There are so many different types of nuts and seeds you can add to your overnight oats. Chia seeds won't really retain their crunch, but they'll give your oatmeal a creamier, almost jelly-like consistency. Larger, crunchy nuts like almonds and walnuts can usually hold onto their texture even after they've been soaking in liquid for a while. And pumpkin seeds (especially if they're toasted) can offer a serious crunch.

You may want to play around with different nut and seed combos to get a better idea of what kind of flavor profile you really want. Either way, you know you're making your overnight oats more flavorful (and healthier, too) in the process.

8. Assuming you have to eat it cold

Do you like the idea of overnight oats but aren't a huge fan of how they taste straight out of the fridge? You're not the only one. Many people love the fact that overnight oats are such an easy way to eat a healthy breakfast in the morning, but the idea of eating cold slop out of the refrigerator is less than appealing to them. If you fall into this category, we have news for you: You can totally warm up your overnight oats in the morning. You don't have to eat them cold!

Technically, yes, you could make oatmeal from scratch first thing in the morning. However, that's going to take significantly longer than it would to just open up a jar of prepared overnight oats. By making your overnight oats the night before and heating them up in the morning, you're saving yourself all that time of putting all the ingredients together, but you still get to enjoy a warm breakfast.

9. Making your overnight oats too far in advance

If you love to meal prep for the week, then overnight oats seem like an obvious choice. First of all, they're easy to make, so you're not spending hours putting breakfasts together for the week. Secondly, you can just grab them and go in the morning without worrying about the kind of nutrition you're getting. But while it's okay to prep your overnight oats a few days in advance, you won't want to let those jars sit in your fridge for too long.

Technically, you can make your overnight oats about five days in advance without having to be too concerned about food safety. Leave them sitting for much longer than that, and you might start to notice some funkiness. However, even five days is a long time to let oats sit in milk in your fridge. The consistency may not be what you're looking for by day three, and by day five, you may not even want to touch the stuff that's been hanging out in your fridge for almost a week.

Overnight oats are great because they take so little time to prep. Therefore, don't worry about making too many containers of overnight oats on a Sunday before the work week. Just take a few minutes out of your evening to make them a night (or two) before, and you'll notice tastier results.

10. Thinking your overnight oats have to be sweet

The vast majority of recipes for overnight oats you'll see are on the sweeter end of the spectrum. They may contain fruit or sweeteners or even chocolate. We love these kinds of overnight oats, but not everyone enjoys sweet foods first thing in the morning. But just because you prefer a savory breakfast doesn't mean that you have to pass up on the overnight oats completely. Adding just a few savory ingredients to your oats can transform them from a dessert-like breakfast into something with a flavor profile more reminiscent of shrimp and grits than cinnamon sugar oatmeal.

You'll want to find a savory ingredient that can infuse salty goodness into the oats. Chicken and vegetable broth are both good options, as is miso. Then, you can get creative with the other toppings you want to add in. A fried egg is a solid addition, as is bacon or wilted greens like spinach or chard. Don't forget to add some spices like pepper, garlic powder, or even cumin, and don't be afraid to experiment!

11. Omitting yogurt if you want extra protein

If you want your overnight oats to be more filling (and to keep you feeling full for longer), you should consider adding some protein to your recipe. Perhaps the easiest way to do this is by using yogurt. Just one serving of plain Greek yogurt can provide you with 20 grams of protein, which is an easy way to bump up the nutrition in your breakfast. Plus, adding yogurt to your oatmeal can also make it creamier. If you don't happen to have milk on hand, using yogurt and water can yield similar results.

Not a yogurt person? No worries. You can also add protein to your overnight oats by using a scoop of protein powder in the mix. For best results, you'll want to choose a protein powder flavor that goes well with the other ingredients you're using. We love making our overnight oats with chocolate protein powder and then adding in some creamy peanut butter for added flavor.

12. Not preparing your overnight oats with enough soak time

The name "overnight oats" implies that you absolutely have to soak your oats in liquid overnight. However, that's not necessarily true. You can make overnight oats in as little as two hours if you're in a rush. That being said, the oats probably will not take on the same creamy consistency you're used to if you usually make your oats overnight. For better results, you will want to leave your oats in the fridge for several hours, preferably overnight. This will allow the oats to soak up more of the liquid, giving you less of a cereal consistency and more of an oatmeal one.

If you know you're not going to have a ton of time to make your overnight oats one evening, you may want to just make them one day ahead of time to ensure that you've soaked your oats for long enough. Otherwise, instant oatmeal may be the way to go.