I’m willing to bet that most of us ate cereal for breakfast when we were kids because of the prize buried somewhere in the box. I’m also willing to bet that most of us opted for the impatient route when it came to procuring said prize…i.e. shoving our dirty little hands into the newly-opened cereal box to grab the prize before the first Cheerio ever left its plastic casing. Regardless of how much bacteria we spread to get some crappy toy, cereal used to be synonymous with breakfast. But now that we’re smarter about added sugars and whole grains, cereal seems to be taking a back seat in the breakfast department. But I, for one, am not ready to let go.
Without fail, I eat cereal or oatmeal every single day for breakfast. And the oatmeal was only a recent addition. I just like the familiarity of a bowl of cereal, milk, and fruit in the morning. Yes, I occasionally add peanut butter, low-fat sausage, or Greek yogurt to my breakfast mix; but the staple has always been cereal. Now in my travels as a consulting dietitian, I’ve gotten the opportunity to talk to a ton of different people. One mom, in particular, sparked my interest in this whole cereal-for-breakfast thing. She said she was trying to stay away from breakfast cereal, and was trying to get her kids to do the same. She was finding this task to be very difficult, which I completely understand. I feel like if my mom tried to take away my cereal when I was little, she’d be in for a fight. Way worse than the fight that would occur when she got the bottom of the stairs before 3-year-old me.
So why the cereal embargo? Like I said, we as consumers have gotten smarter about choosing foods that are low in added sugars, and high in whole grains and fiber. This is especially true when it comes to buying foods for kids. Hence, sugary cereals like Fruit Loops (12g sugar per serving), Frosted Flakes (10g) and Lucky Charms (10g) have been getting the proverbial boot. But as usual, I’m here to play Devil’s Advocate. Yes, those cereals are higher in sugar and yes, they are lower in fiber. BUT cereal companies have not only increased the percentage of whole grains in their products, they also fortify their cereals with a ton of vitamins and minerals that we all need. So you don’t have to give up on cereal just yet, because there are a lot of good choices out there to start your morning:
- Quaker Oatmeal Squares
Now this is probably my favorite cereal. One cup of Oatmeal Squares provides 210 calories, 200 milligrams potassium, 5 grams fiber, 6 grams protein, and 13 vitamins and minerals. Once you add milk, you get even more protein and calcium. Plus, whole grain oat flour and whole wheat flour are the first two ingredients. There are still 9 grams of sugar per serving, but remember, the fiber helps to slow the absorption of that sugar. Bonus of this cereal—on the days when I don’t have time for the full cereal-and-milk production, I toss Oatmeal Squares in Greek yogurt and voila! Cereal…just…thickened.
- Shredded Wheat Spoon Size
Yup, this cereal may taste like cardboard to many, but it still makes the list because it’s probably the healthiest cereal out there. Here’s the 411 on Shredded Wheat nutrition per 1 ¼ cups: 200 calories, 230 milligrams potassium, 9 grams fiber, 6 grams protein, and 13 vitamins and minerals. All this and 0 grams of sugar. It looks great on paper but some people can’t get beyond the taste, so get creative. Sprinkle a little brown sugar into the milk or even mix the Shredded Wheat with Frosted Mini Wheats. You don’t have to go straight from Apple Jacks to Shredded Wheat without an intermediate step to help ease the transition. It’s kinda like the nicotine patch.
- Wheat Chex
The Chex family of cereals has become popular largely because of its gluten-free varieties. Oh, and because of Chex Mix, of course. Ohhh, and because of the Muddy Buddies yummmm. But I digress. Of the available varieties, Wheat Chex is your best bet on the fiber front. Per ¾ cup, Wheat Chex has: 160 calories, 170 milligrams potassium, 6 grams fiber, 5 grams protein, and 13 vitamins and minerals. This one is low in sugar too, with only 5 grams per serving. Plus, there’s an awesome recipe for Apple Cinnamon Chex Mix that you should try at some point in your life.
I wouldn’t feel right leaving the Founding Father of breakfast cereal off this list. When it comes to Cheerios, there are a million different flavors, so it’s all about finding the best option. And sometimes it’s best to stick with the original: plain Cheerios are made from 100% whole oats, and 1 cup gives you 100 calories, 180 milligrams potassium, 3 grams fiber, 3 grams protein, and 13 vitamins and minerals. This is a low sugar option, with only 1 gram per serving. You can even boost the fiber by adding fresh blueberries or strawberries. As far as the other flavors, we know something like Frosted Cheerios or Yogurt Burst Cheerios will have more sugar. But then there’s Multigrain Cheerios. Don’t let the “multigrain” fool you. Just because this variety is made with different whole grains, there are 6 grams sugar per serving here. The last Cheerios variety worth mentioning is a brand new one: Cheerios with Ancient Grains. Here we have the same oats we know and love, with a sprinkling of quinoa, kamut, and spelt. You’ll get 5 grams sugar and 2 grams fiber with this one, but it’s important to note this variety is fortified with 10% of your daily value of vitamin D, which is unique and something we all need to increase.
Regardless of which cereal you prefer, as long as you’re buying something high in fiber and low in sugar, you’re on the right track. Even if you now buy “adult” cereals without the fun prize, you can still have some fun with your breakfast knowing that you’re getting the prize of good nutrition. See, now THAT is profound.