Ask a Foodie: Is Cereal Really the Breakfast of Champions?
Short answer: No. But we’ve put together a list so that you may change that.
PHOTOS BY LEAH LIZARONDO
Breakfast. The most important meal of the day. Consider the gravity of that. It’s the meal that sets the stage for how our day will begin and, consequently, how it will be. Yet it often is the most nutritionally deficient meal. Breads, cupcakes (yes, most muffins are cupcakes without the icing) and cereal. Maybe some bacon and eggs. Basically, white flour and fat. Hardly any fiber. Tons of sugar. Very much a champion way to start. NOT.
I won’t even go into the green smoothie proselytizing today. Let’s just talk about a breakfast favorite, especially for kids: cereal. Is it a good way to start the day?
According to this site, the top five breakfast cereals are: Honey Nut Cheerios, Frosted Flakes, Honey Bunches of Oats, Cheerios and Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Going down the line, you’ll see Lucky Charms and Froot Loops in the top 10.
The worst of the top-selling cereals are Lucky Charms, Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Froot Loops, each with about 12 grams of sugar per cup and fewer than 3 grams of fiber.
What does this mean? If a child eats a bowl of cereal in the morning, that’s almost the same as consuming 3 teaspoons of sugar straight out of the jar. What’s worse, the fact that there is very little fiber in their bowl will ensure that the sugar will cause a crash during math class.
Let’s make the picture worse. Say the child eats a cup of one of the worst offenders: Kellogg’s Honey Smacks — that’s 4 teaspoons of sugar. Refined white sugar. And we wonder why kids can’t pay attention in school. And why they call me The Cereal Killer. I hate candy masquerading as breakfast.
So is cereal absolutely off limits? Not necessarily. We have to be realistic, right? It’s the quickest breakfast option. Kids will get protein anyway from the milk that they’ll have with it. Sure. But milk has no fiber either. Young school-age kids need anywhere from 25-38 grams of fiber per day. So if one out of three meals starts with almost no fiber, how will they catch up?
Fiber is found in whole plant food. Vegetables. Beans. Whole grains. That mac ‘n’ cheese they will have for lunch at the cafeteria won’t up their fiber much.
You see where I’m going. We need to make sure that kids truly have a breakfast of champions.
How? Cereal is OK, but you need to add to it. And I’m not just talking about milk.
For one, Cheerios are the best option in the regular cereal aisle. A cup of Cheerios only has 1 gram of sugar; plus it has 3 grams each of fiber and protein.
So a cup of Cheerios with a cup of milk (dairy or soy) will give children about 11 grams of protein. School age kids need between 19-50 grams of protein a day.
What would make it even better? Add a ½ cup of blueberries (my kids love frozen ones — they make the cereal like a cold treat) and you get a boost of vitamin C and a host of other nutrients, plus 2 more grams of fiber. Add a medium banana and you get potassium and a nutrient boost, plus 3 more grams of fiber.
Cheerios with milk and fruit can give young children 25 percent of their fiber needs and almost half of their protein needs.
OK. Grab a pen. Here’s how I make it a Superhero Breakfast. I have a secret sauce — rather a secret cereal-topping mix. My kids ALWAYS have this with their cereal.
In the fridge, I have a container with a mix of hemp seeds, chia seeds and milled flax seeds in a 2:1:1 ratio. With each bowl, I drop in 2 tablespoons of this mix.
I know it sounds precious and a lot of trouble but . . . it’s not. With each serving, my kids now have about 5 more grams each of fiber and protein.
The kicker? They also get A LOT of Omega 3 fatty acids — something we ALL are deficient in.
Breakfast of Champions? Nope. Of superheroes.
Between the fruit and the topping, here is the before and after:
|Cereal + Milk||Cereal + Milk + Fruit|
|Fiber: 3 grams||Fiber: 11 grams!|
|Protein: 11 grams||
Protein: 17 grams!
PLUS: superhero nutrients + omega 3s!
For littlest school-age kids, that is almost 50 percent of their fiber needs and almost 100 percent of their protein needs. And oh, hi Omega 3s!
I rest my case.