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The Cereal Chef - Healthy Breakfast Cereals and Cereal Mixes

This post may change how you view cereal, even if just a bit. Is cereal healthy? Well, that's a complicated question. Some might say it can be healthy but taste like sawdust, or it can be unhealthy and loaded with enough sugar in one bowl to last a day. In reality, there's a lot of variance between those two extremes, and that's what this post is about. I'll provide an overview of healthy breakfast cereals and explain how to create cereal combinations that are both tasty and healthy for you and your family to enjoy.

It's hard to completely avoid cereal, especially if you have children. You could, but it's a lot of work, and the deeper I get into my cereal "obsession", why would you want to? Cereal is tasty and enjoyable and can provide a lot of nutrition. I almost consider myself to be a cereal "chef". My family and I have found great enjoyment in the cereal mixtures I've developed over the past seven or eight years since my son started eating the same breakfast as we do. I don't typically use any cereal straight up; I usually mix two to three different kinds to get the right balance of sweetness, fiber and healthy grains. We don't eat cereal every day, but it's an easy breakfast three to four days a week, and I feel pretty good about the bowls of cereal we consume. I blend my mixture once a week and store it in a plastic bin.

Here are some general principles I follow to allow my family to enjoy cereal and feel good about it:

  • Always read the labels. I suggest this with any food product you buy. It may take you longer to shop, but I don't mind since I want to know what I'm putting into my body since I will be the one dealing with the good and bad consequences of those decisions. As it pertains to cereal, there are a few things I am really looking for. The main one is lack of PUFA oils (see below) and I also look at the sugar and fiber content provided per serving.

  • No high PUFA oils

    • These are tough to avoid as sunflower and canola oil are a part of almost any processed food, and that includes most cereals. However, I read the labels and have found plenty of cereals (see below) that don't include these oils. They use coconut oil or avoid the addition of these oils altogether. While these oils are almost impossible to avoid completely in your diet, I wanted to emphasize this point since I don't list any cereal or granola brand that includes any PUFA oil. What is PUFA? Polyunsaturated fats, which are good for our bodies up to a point, but not in excess. The link above includes more information on PUFA and which oils are best to be avoided (e.g. Canola and Sunflower top the list).

  • Sugar and Fiber Content

    • Sugar

      • Less than 8 grams of sugar per serving is my target. I will go up to 10 grams and sometimes even 11, but only if part of my cereal mixture includes something like Cheerios or Heritage Flakes that are very low sugar to counterbalance the more sugary part of the mixture.

    • Fiber

      • I don't have a specific number of grams of fiber I target, but I try and find something with 3 grams of fiber or more if I can. We all need fiber in our diet daily. The more of it in my bowl of cereal, the less I need to seek it out elsewhere.

  • Don't get too cute with all of these supposedly new types of cereal which recreate eating fruity pebbles or something similar. Ask yourself just how much you miss the taste of Froot Loops or Lucky Charms? I am always a bit skeptical of products that rely on chemicals to make something taste like a long forgotten food product we know is far from healthy.

  • Be careful about how much dried fruit you add to your cereal unless you are just eating a straight up bowl of Cheerios, Total or Bran Flakes. A "straight" bowl of one of these needs something and while fresh fruit is better, some raisins or another dried fruit are a good way to add some sweetness. However, if your trying to eat low sugar cereal and pick a low sugar brand or use one of my combinations below and then add a bunch of raisins or other dried fruit to it, you just made it a medium to high sugar cereal that I wouldn't have included on this list. Don't kid yourself.

  • Use cinnamon. It isn't sweet but tricks you into thinking it is. It's also very good for you and helps reduce the need to add dried fruit or sugar to zest up some otherwise boring cereal.

  • Don't overdue it on the milk. It make the cereal soggy. Unless you like soggy cereal, use a little bit of milk (1/3 cup) and use your spoon to mix the cereal with the milk so it gets coated. It stays crunchy, still has enough moisture and you don't have to dump any milk down the drain. This is a personal preference as I don't like soggy cereal and too much milk is the main reason it gets soggy.

My typical cereal mix usually includes a mixture from 3 different groups:

  • Healthy Flakes of one sort or another. This is the base. At least half of my cereal mixture (50 to 70% is my target) usually comes from one of these. Here is what I pick from in this group in order of preference:

    • Total (6 grams of sugar, 4 grams of fiber)

    • Nature's Path Heritage Flakes (5 g sugar, 7 g fiber)

    • Simple Truth Organic Bran Flakes (3 g sugar, 7 g fiber)

    • Barbara's Original Multigrain Spoonfuls (7 g sugar, 5 g fiber)

    • Original Special K (5 g of sugar, 1 g fiber, but 7 g protein)

    • Wheaties (5 g sugar, 4 g fiber)

    • Regular Cheerios (2 g sugar, 4 g fiber)

    • Weetabix (2 g sugar, 4 g fiber)

    • General Mills Rice Chex (3 g sugar, 2 g fiber)

  • Something a bit sweet. I typically add something from the list below to my healthy flakes with this often making up 25 to 50 percent of my cereal mixture.

    • Quaker Cinnamon or Original Life (10/8 g sugar, 3 g fiber)

      • This is my Go to. It is on the end of healthy but it's decent and if 25 to 33% of the mixture is this, I feel good about it.

    • Nature's Path Sunrise Crunchy Cinnamon (8 g sugar, 4 g fiber)

    • Seven Sundays Real Cocoa Cereal (5 g sugar, 3 g fiber)

    • Quaker Oatmeal Squares Brown Sugar (9 g sugar, 5 g fiber)

    • Barbara's Cinnamon Puffins (7 g sugar, 6 g fiber)

    • Special K Protein Original Multigrain - Touch of Cinnamon (9 g sugar, 5 g fiber)

    • Barbara's Original Morning Oat Crunch (10 g sugar, 6 g fiber)

  • Granola

    • Unfortunately, I've found very few granola brands that use coconut oil vs. a PUFA oil (canola oil, sunflower oil or sometimes soy oil), although I continue to look. I mostly use Purely Elizabeth and Bob's Red Mill 90% of the time. I wish there were more options. Maybe I will start making my own, but it's harder to get the clumps to stick together than you think. Here are the brands I use:

      • Purely Elizabeth (7 g sugar, 2 g fiber). This brand is on the expensive side, but is also the most tasty to me. Any of the varieties are good but I really like the Classic and Oatmeal Raisin variations.

      • Bob's Red Mill Classic Granola or any version of Bob's granola (12 g sugar, 5 g fiber).

      • Trader Joe's Toasted Coconut Granola (10 g sugar, 4 g fiber). This is one of the few packaged items at Trader Joe's that doesn't have PUFA oils and is a solid granola.

    • I use granola sparingly as it usually has a fair bit of sugar and a lot of calories. That said, it can be healthy and it really helps to make a bowl of Cheerios or Total that much better with a little bit of cinnamon. 75% Total or Cheerios or Special K with 25% granola is a nice mixture. It's more work, but my favorite combinations feature a little bit of granola, something from my sweet cereal mix and a bunch of flakes.

My Favorite Cereal Mixes

  • Mixing and matching with anything I listed above works but here are a few variations I make and consume frequently.

    • Total and Cinnamon Life - 50/50 mixture

    • Heritage Flakes / Cinnamon Life / Any Granola listed - 50/30/20 mixture

    • Total / Barbara's Multigrain Spoonfuls / Any Granola listed - 40/40/20 mixture

    • Natures Path Heritage Flakes and Quaker Oatmeal Squares Brown Sugar - 50/50 mixture

    • Barbara's Original Morning Oat Crunch, Original Life and Any Granola listed - 50/25/25 mixture

To happy and healthy bowlfuls of crunchy cereal.



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