As a Nutritional Therapist, parents always want to know what I feed my children for breakfast. We all know that cereal isn’t the best choice, but we find ways to justify the ones we choose; it’s not got that much sugar, it’s wholegrain, it’s not as bad as some… I struggle with my own children’s choices, especially since I have one child who is particularly sensitive to wheat and dairy, and I am not a great believer in wheat or dairy being good for anyone, yet strive to not be faddish with my children’s food choices. So, which cereals make a good choice?
In the best of all possible worlds, I would recommend avoiding all shop-bought cereals altogether. They are a convenience food designed to be eaten quickly and fill us up equally quickly, but not necessarily for a long time. For the most part, they are refined, high glycaemic index foods that release their energy quickly, resulting in an energy slump after the inevitable sugar high. As such, they are not helpful for children trying to concentrate at school, and will leave them feeling tired, craving sugar, and with a lack of focus.
In addition to their processed state, most children’s cereals have sugar added to them, with some brands containing up to 50% sugar. And it is not always as simple as just looking out for sugar in the ingredients list. Manufacturers disguise sugar content by using varying terminology for ingredients which are effectively still sugar. The following ingredients are all sugar, or have the same effect on the body as sugar:
- Agave nectar
- Brown sugar
- Cane crystals
- Cane sugar
- Corn sweetener
- Corn syrup
- Crystalline fructose
- Evaporated cane juice
- Fruit juice concentrates
- High-fructose corn syrup
- Invert sugar
- Malt syrup
- Raw sugar
If sugar, or any of the above ingredients feature in the first three ingredients of the contents of your product, then you can be sure that it contains a lot of sugar. In terms of good sugar-free or low-sugar choices amongst shop-bought cereals, Shredded Wheat has no added sugar, and Weetabix and Rice Krispies are both low in sugar.
Many popular cereals also have added salt. Again, due to the highly processed nature of the cereals, there is little inherent flavour, so salt is added to make it taste more agreeable. Kellogg’s Cornflakes and Rice Krispies have both been found by the National Food Alliance to be 10% saltier than seawater. High salt intake can raise blood pressure and increases the risk of stroke.
Many of the cereals we see on the shelves have been fortified with vitamins. This is purely because they have been processed so extensively to make them “appealing” and easy to eat that little goodness is left in them. Vitamins are added to con us into thinking they are a healthy choice for our children.
Healthier breakfast cereal suggestions
Bircher muesli is a great option. It’s basically porridge oats with added nuts and fruit. Obviously, if you make your own you can control what goes in and customise it to your tastes accordingly. The key is to remember to soak the oats over night so they become soft and unctuous the following morning, when you can add fresh fruit to them.
Jamie Oliver’s Pukkola, or a type of Bircher Muesli
Makes many servings
You can throw all the following ingredients in some Tupperware and use it as the basis for this breakfast. This should provide sufficient to create this breakfast for a week or two. Obviously, you can play around with this and change the ingredients at will.
Basic Pukkola Mix
- 8 large handfuls of whole porridge oats (Scott’s Original – Scott’s Porage Oats are good)
- 2 large handfuls of ground oat bran
- 1 handful chopped dried apricots (sulphur-free, if possible)
- 1 handful chopped dried dates
- 1 handful crumbled walnuts
- 1 handful smashed almonds, hazlenuts, or brazil nuts
Pimping your Pukkola
- Rice, almond or coconut milk to cover
- ½ crunchy apple or so (per person)
It’s best to prepare a bowl of this the night before so the oats mix soaks overnight and it becomes soft and yielding. Add your Pukkola mix, cover with milk of your choice, grate in your apple and stir it in to stop it discolouring. Refrigerate.
Eating your Pukkola
- add a handful of berries, or seasonal fruit
- add a spoonful of live yogurt, if you like
Makes about 5 servings
Preheat oven to 150C (300F)
- 1 cup of pecans
- 1 cup of almonds
- ½ cup dried cranberries or cherries
- ½ cup shredded coconut
- 2 tbsp almond butter
- 2 tbsp coconut oil
- ½ tsp vanilla essence
- pinch of salt
This is an absolutely delicious, grain-free, high protein breakfast “cereal”. This quantity should last one person a week or so. A little goes a long way, as the nuts are nutrient-dense, so go easy on the portion size.
- Pulse the almonds and pecans in a food processor until broken up but not pulverized
- Melt the coconut oil in a saucepan, and add the vanilla, salt and almond butter
- Add to the food processor with the nuts, and pulse again a little to combine
- Add cranberries or cherries and the shredded coconut, and pulse one last time
- Spread mixture on parchment lined baking sheet, and bake for 20 minutes or so until golden
This can be eaten dry, topped with live yogurt, or eaten as a “cereal” with coconut, rice or almond milk (almond milk is my favourite).
- 1 cup of porridge oats (Scott’s Original – Scott’s Porage Oats are good)
- 1 cup of water
- 1 cup of rice, almond, coconut (or indeed full-fat cow’s milk)
- A handful of berries
- A handful of seeds (pumpkin are good)
- A drizzle of organic maple syrup, or a spoonful of nut butter (I like almond butter) to taste
- Add oats, milk and water to a small saucepan
- Bring to the boil
- Simmer gently for a couple of minutes until desired consistency is achieved
- Turn off heat, add pan lid and leave till ready to serve
- Serve with a handful of berries, some pumpkin seeds, some cinnamon or a little maple syrup if required
Better shop-bought optionsIf you don’t have the time (or inclination) to make your own, my wheat-sensitive daughter eats (and enjoys) Oatibix Bites, Lizi’s Treacle Pecan Granola, Berry Granola – Organic – Rude Health.