Oh, cereal. We love it so much, we could eat it around the clock. And apparently, we aren’t alone, since food companies are saying that more of us are pouring a bowl for meals other than breakfast, and snacking on it between meals too. And why shouldn’t we? It’s quick, easy, doesn’t require an oven or a stove, and cleanup is a snap. As registered dietitians, we have to examine the bowl from a nutritional standpoint, and we must admit that there are advantages for letting cereal stand in for heavy lasagna or a fast food burger and fries.
In general, breakfast cereals are relatively low in calories, and eating a bowl of cereal with milk can save you several hundred calories compared to what you would take in from a standard meat-starch-vegetable meal. So if you are among those trying to cut calories or drop a few pounds, think of cereal as a smart choice. Assuming you choose wisely, cereal can also deliver an ample amount of fiber, B vitamins, minerals, protein, whole grains, and other beneficial nutrients. How about if, like so many of us, you’re just a busy mom that needs dinner in pinch? Pair a healthy cereal (we love Kashi’s line of ready-to-eat cereals) with low fat milk and a side of fresh fruit, and you’ve got a quick dinner on a busy weeknight. Who cares if it’s a bit non-traditional? Most kids would happily eat cereal, and it’s much more forgiving to your waistline and your wallet than ordering takeout.
Like we mentioned before, though, the key to making cereal part of a healthy evening meal is choosing wisely. The cereal aisle is loaded with junk cereals that provide way too much sugar and nearly no nutrients. Instead, try filling your bowl with low-sugar staples like shredded wheat, bran flakes, wheat chex, or multi-grain Cheerios. Muesli or granola can be a good choice, but be sure to check the label and avoid sky-high amounts of fat and sugar. If you’re bored with regular cow’s milk, try swapping it in favor of almond, rice, or plain or vanilla soy milk for something different. For more staying power than milk, try adding your cereal to a six ounce serving of Greek yogurt and an ounce of chopped nuts. The extra protein and healthy fat is sure to keep the kids (and you) full until bedtime!
Chopped fresh fruit will add color, texture, and sweetness to your bowl. Consider tossing in sliced bananas (our favorite), chopped apples or pears, fresh blueberries or strawberries, or peaches. In the winter, you can substitute raisins, dates, or dried cranberries, cherries, or apricots. Also, don’t forget to be creative! A small handful of dark chocolate chips or a dusting of shredded coconut are interesting additions that really bump of the flavor without adding too much extra fat and calories. If the kids are really hankering for one of their less-healthy favorites, try mixing 1/3 cup in with a more nutritious variety for a satisfying compromise! For a bowl that is warm and comforting, don’t forget about oatmeal and other whole grain hot cereals. And feel free to doctor it up with a plethora of healthy, great-tasting toppings!
When it comes to whipping up breakfast for dinner, cereal is only the beginning! Other ideas include eggs (scrambled, quiche, frittata, omelet, etc) with whole grain toast, 100 percent fruit juice, and fresh fruit, or whole grain pancakes with real maple syrup, low fat milk, and fresh fruit. Both of these options are quick, easy, affordable, and can be made to feed as many or as few people as necessary. The details are completely up to you, so have fun! Who knows, maybe breakfast for dinner will become a weekly tradition!
For more tips on building a better breakfast, stocking your pantry with healthy staples, or trying something new for dinner, be sure to take a look at our other blogs! Also, visit the ADA website atwww.eatright.org for more information on healthy eating. Have you tried making breakfast for dinner recently? Let us know how it turned out on Facebook or Twitter: @FamilyFoodLLC!