What is Cereal Day, you ask? Well, every March 7, we, the breakfast enthusiasts of the world, celebrate the food movement that literally revolutionised morning eating.
The first proper breakfast cereal, corn flakes, was invented by American doctor John H Kellogg in 1877 while he was the director of a sanitarium in the US state of Michigan. Kellogg was an early proponent of health and wellness through diet, and with his brother later founded the cereal company that still bears his name.
Kellogg saw that the traditional meat-based breakfasts of the time could lead to high cholesterol and gastrointestinal problems. The rise of breakfast cereals made from corn, wheat, bran, oats and other grains added desperately needed fibre and complex carbohydrates to the average diet.
Fast forward 100 years. The cereal movement has morphed into a dystopia of neon colours, cartoon characters and toys in boxes, which would be wonderful developments if they didn’t come with buckets of processed sugar, artificial dyes, preservatives, bleached flour and other hyper-processed ingredients.
To mark this Cereal Day, we’ve put together this helpful guide to finding the perfect breakfast in a bowl.
Know your grain
Most breakfast cereals are based on oats, corn, bran, wheat flour, rice or a blend. Each of these has its own nutritional properties that are worth knowing.
- Bleached flour is especially popular for kids’ cereals because of its ability to retain dyes and artificial flavourings, but it lacks nutrition without added supplements
- Rice cereals (eg Kellogg’s Rice Krispies) have an agreeable, slightly sweet flavour with low calories, but are lacking in complex carbohydrates and fibre
- Corn flakes are a relatively low-calorie choice, but they also have little fibre
- Bran-based cereals are very high in fibre and often fortified with vitamins and minerals, but low in raw energy
- Oat cereals are rich in complex carbohydrates and fibre but can be rather bland, prompting manufacturers to load them with artificial sweeteners
Check the label
Don’t judge a cereal by the front of the box. Many brag about being a “good source” of fibre or vitamins, but really contain relatively little of these relative to their calorie counts and sugar content.
The key items to check for are:
- Vitamins and minerals
- The ingredient list for preservatives and artificial flavourings
Although cereal manufacturers love to brag about how their products are “fat-free!” or “low calorie!”, this is just resume-padding. Breakfast cereals by their nature tend to be low fat or fat-free and rarely have much protein (though there are exceptions). Finally, the calorie count itself is not as important as the calorie source (100 calories of bleached flour, for example, is worse than 200 calories of whole oats).
Watch the serving size
The listed serving size on most cereals is around 30 grams or three-quarters of a cup. That’s the size contained in those single-serve cereal boxes at hotels and convenience stores. The amount you’ll actually pour into a bowl in your kitchen is probably double that.
There is no need to stick with only one option. To maximize energy and fibre, a half-and-half mix of bran cereal and oat muesli. Or mix plain corn flakes with a just little of the frosted version to add a little sweetness without the truckloads of sugar.
Whole milk is good milk
For the milk part of the cereal, skim or reduced fat milk might be a good way to cut back calories for a strict diet. But bear in mind that “low fat” doesn’t necessarily mean “healthier”.
Make your own
You can usually make better versions of the cereals that come in a box using local, organic ingredients. Here are a few recipes:
- Homemade Bran Flakes (The Conscientious Eater)
- Homemade Corn Flakes (Always Order Dessert)
- Homemade muesli with apple and pomegranate (Shilpa Shetty Kundra)
- Easy, Healthy Homemade Granola (Elizabeth Rider)
- 5-ingredient Granola Bars (Minimalist Baker)
- Homemade puffed rice (What’s Cooking Good Looking)
…Or at least, add your own toppings
Ditch cereals that have raisins, almonds, berries and other added ingredients if you can simply add them yourself. These are often processed, preserved, dried and/or glazed with sweeteners.
Instead, buy the plain cereal and try these toppings:
- Chopped almonds
- Chia seeds
- Yoghurt (in place of milk)
If you’re going to cheat, cheat big
Natural, healthy eating is good for body, mind and soul.
On the other hand, so is pouring yourself a giant bowl of neon-coloured, freeze-dried marshmallows on a weekend morning while bingeing on Stranger Things.
As today is Cereal Day, we are designating this Saturday, March 10, Cereal Cheat Day. Try these for a wonderful morning for both you and your cardiologist.
Chocolate-coated Graham cereal with marshmallows. Try with a handful of Jet-Puffed mini marshmallows, a scoop of vanilla ice cream and rainbow sprinkles to taste.
A sugar cereal that has stood the test of time, the sweet, nutty staple of summer vacations, college dorms and post-breakup junk food binges. Try with minced Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and pancake syrup.
John Kellogg made his cereals intentionally bland because sweetness and spice make people too excitable. Seventy years later, his company launched Honey Smacks.
The only thing better than a sugar-blasted cereal sold by a cartoon leprechaun is making it yourself. This recipe has all the labour of home cooking with all the sugar and calories of junk food – the best of both worlds!