3 Ways to ‘Healthify’ your Breakfast Cereal for the Best Start

NCES Healthy Breakfast CerealAs you probably already know, we love celebrating ‘healthy’ days throughout the year! We’re big fans of the UNL Food Calendar and use many of the days they highlight to bring attention to different nutrition topics. This week is National School Breakfast Week, which also happens to coincide with Cereal Day (tomorrow). So, to further the message of creating a healthy breakfast, we’ve compiled our RD’s tips for the best ways to make the most of your breakfast cereal.

Many RD’s tend to shun breakfast cereals. It’s really not surprising given all the added sugar, empty carbs and deceitful marketing surrounding popular cereals. However, there are many companies out there fighting to provide healthy breakfast cereal options. Plus, by using some of our tips below, you can really beef up your breakfast cereal to a level that will please any dietitian.

  1. Don’t skip reading the nutrition label. All cereals are not created equal. And, just because the image or text on the front of the box implies that the cereal is a healthy way to start the day, you still need to read the label. Look for things like:
    1. Whole Grains: Check the ingredients label to see if the first ingredient is a whole grain.  If the first ingredient is enriched or refined whole grain then it’s best to but it back on the shelf.
    2. Low-Sugar: You are looking for cereals with 15 grams or less of sugar per serving
    3. High fiber to jump start your metabolism and help your body process food
    4. Protein to keep you full and fuel your body through the morning
  2. Stick to the serving size. Most cereal serving sizes are between ¾ and 1 cup. However, most cereal bowls easily lend themselves to servings at least double that size. Use a measuring cup, or one of our NCES Right-Sized Portion Bowls to keep your cereal portions in check.
  3. Full your bowl with nutritious add-ins. Fruit like bananas and strawberries, as well as nuts and dried fruits like blueberries help to provide the fuel your body needs to get through the morning. Since you’re focusing on cereal portions now, you’re bowl may look a little emptier than your used to. So, fill it up with fresh, filling options!

Breakfast tends to be one of the hardest meals for many Americans. Mornings are busy and donuts are easy. However, understanding how different foods can fuel your body for the day will help you build the best cereal. Cereal isn’t the only way to start your day either! When you’re choosing breakfast foods, focus on these same tips. Protein and Fiber will help you start the day strong, making foods like eggs and peanut butter a good choice. Just remember to focus on portion control. How you start your morning can determine your attitude about eating for the rest of the day.

For more great tips on starting your day with a healthy breakfast, check out the NCES “Breakfast: The Most Important Meal of the Day” video, available as a Lunch N Learn Presentation or on DVD.


Six Picks: The Top 6 Things You Need to Know About Breakfast

  1. It’s your body’s chance to catch up. Breakfast is the way to recharge your body’s blood sugar, or glucose, levels after 8 to 12 hours without a meal or snack. That makes breakfast your main source of energy until lunch.
  2. It keeps you from overeating. Eating breakfast will help you feel full longer, preventing you from snacking on high fat and high calorie foods to tide you over until your next meal.
  3. It’s even for those who aren’t hungry in the morning. While you’re asleep, your body digests that late-night meal or snack more slowly, since you’re in a resting state. After you get up, that full feeling will go away after an hour or so. Eating breakfast will counter that.
  4. Breakfast doesn’t have to be made of breakfast foods. There’s nothing wrong with a slice of veggie pizza or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for breakfast. As long as it’s nutritious, then it’ll work wonders for you.
  5. Even for those on the go. If you like to sleep late, and you don’t have time to make a full breakfast, there are ways to still get that nutrition. Granola bars, string cheese, baby carrots, yogurt smoothies, and trail mix are all great starts to the day.
  6. Without it, trouble ensues. The effects of a skipped breakfast are numerous. Some of them include: short attention span, lack of alertness, slower reaction time, low blood sugar, and decreased work productivity.

Break the Bad Breakfast Habit

By Corey M Jackson, Guest Writer

I love the Sausage Egg and Cheese McMuffin at a certain restaurant that shall remain nameless (though they use the prefix ‘Mc’ before a lot of their entrees). Each ingredient is something I enjoy separately from the others, and I enjoy them all together as well. The trouble is: Its 560 calories, 32 grams of fat, and 56% of my recommended daily sodium intake. Well, those are actually just a few of the problems.

I fully realize that eating like that every morning would definitely land me any of a few heart conditions, such as hypertension, and that I need to find another way to get my morning fix of deliciousness. So here’s a few tips for any of you that are in the same boat as myself.

Instead of sausage, use low-sodium turkey sausage. It contains less fat than regular sausage, as well as having significantly less sodium. To be honest, I can’t taste the difference.

Using egg whites, instead of the yolk, will get you all of the protein, with almost none of the cholesterol. That’s good news for anyone in my family. An easy and healthy alternative there.

Now when it comes to the bun, instead of using a pancake infused with an abundance of syrup (which is mouth-watering, I know, but hear me out), use a whole grain English muffin. These have a lot of vitamins and minerals that you wouldn’t get with the pancake and syrup, and the calorie count goes way down as well.

Lastly, if you really want to help yourself out, skip the cheese. It’s cheaper, and you save yourself a lot of heartache in the long run. Literally.

If you buy up all of these items at the beginning of the week and make yourself a few sandwiches all at once, you can have some in stock that you can just heat up when you’re too busy to make one in the morning. Drink it down with some 100% orange juice or low-fat milk, and you’ve got yourself a pretty healthy breakfast, at a lower cost as well. Didn’t I mention that?

Total calories: low-sodium turkey sausage (110) + egg white (16) + English muffin (162) = 288 calories

Total fat: low-sodium turkey sausage (5.8g) + egg white (0.1g) + English muffin (4.5g) = 10.4 grams of fat

Total sodium: low-sodium turkey sausage (186mg) + egg white (55mg) + English muffin (276mg) = 517mg of sodium