Want a Quick, Easy, Nutritious Meal? Try Eating Cereal at Any Age

(Disclosure: General Mills sponsored a virtual education session that I attended; I was not asked to or compensated to write this post.)

Cereal and milk is my “go to” breakfast. When I was a kid, Cheerios was a staple food in my household of seven kids and not just for breakfast but also for a snack. My siblings and I would break out the big frying pan and “fry” Cheerios in butter and then sprinkle with salt. I guess it was our version of popcorn or snack chips.

Top Selling Brands of Cereal in the U.S.

Today, I still eat Cheerios (although, I haven’t fried them in decades!) with add-ons like Fiber One and fruit.  And I’m not alone in loving cereal. Sales soared during the pandemic. About 100 million pounds more cereal were sold in the past year! Kids and parents alike were learning/working from home and easy, affordable breakfast options were a must. Cereal fits that description: it is easy and kids like it, and parents and caretakers like easy.  Amy Cohn, registered dietitian and Senior Manager of Nutrition & External Affairs, US Cereal, General Mills, Inc. says “The three things that consumers look for in cereal are:

  • It has to be delicious.
  • It has to be a brand kids will eat.
  • It has to be a great value.

Cereal and milk go together like a Batman and Robin. Indeed, 86% of cereal is eaten will milk, making for a dynamic duo.  The slide shown above illustrates the top selling cereal brands in the U.S. and they all fit Amy’s rubric about what people want in a cereal. Yes, there are sugar-sweetened cereals in this group, but kids who eat cereal, including sweetened cereals don’t have higher intakes of added sugar when compared to kids who don’t eat cereal. Yet, kids who eat cereal…any cereal…have overall better intake of nutrients and overall better diets.

Yet many parents and health professionals tell kids not to eat sweetened cereals and stick to more nutrition-forward brands. But as any dietitian will tell you good nutrition isn’t good nutrition unless it is eaten. So, in these days, let kids enjoy their favorite cereal and you can be confident that they are getting needed nutrients like whole grains, calcium, vitamin D, and B-vitamins, like folate.

What about older adults? Many older adults that I talk to shun carbs. This important nutrient is vilified by some and viewed as toxic by others. Both are fake news! As we age, we need more of some nutrients but less energy (or calories) so choosing nutrient-rich foods is even more critical. For those older adults who live alone making dinner for one can be daunting. Layer that with depressed appetite and increasing concerns about being food insecure, and dinner can be a hit or miss affair…often more miss than hit.

According to Feeding America the rate of hunger among adults aged 60 and older has increased by 38% since 2001, a lingering effect of the 2008-09 recession. Layered with the pandemic, the number of food-insecure older adults will surely grow. According to Feeding America, 63% of older households served by the Feeding America network are forced to choose between food and medical care.

For older adults cereal is great at breakfast but don’t over look it for dinner. This is a great opportunity to think of cereal for dinner and here are some ways to punch it up to get a few more essential nutrients, like protein, healthy fats, calcium, B-vitamins and minerals, like potassium.

Recipe for Tasty Breakfast Bowl for Dinner on those days when you don’t want to cook!

Step 1: Choose your favorite cereal, any cereal. Feel free to mix it up by combining a whole grain cereal, a high fiber cereal, and a sweetened cereal.

Step 2: Choose your dairy food carefully to get needed nutrients. Milk is our primary source of calcium, vitamin D, and potassium. Milk is the gold standard for nutrients, but if you can’t tolerate milk, consider soy milk. While plant-based milks are popular, they are not as rich in nutrients and are more costly. A glass of dairy milk (fat-free, 2%, or whole) has 8 grams of protein whereas a glass of almond milk has only 1 gram. And almond milk is much lower in potassium compared to dairy milk.

You might also consider adding your cereal to yogurt; I love Greek or Icelandic yogurt for the tangy taste and extra protein, but regular yogurt is a good option, too.

Step 3: Top it off. Add some chopped nuts to increase protein and healthy fats, and top with whatever fruit you like. You could choose frozen berries, a fresh banana, canned peach, or dried fruits, like raisins.

Step 4: Eat and enjoy: your breakfast bowl has most food groups represented (grains, fruit, dairy). OK, no veggies but maybe add a vegetable juice chaser!

Chris Rosenbloom is a registered dietitian and nutrition professor emerita at Georgia State University. Her book, Food & Fitness After 50 offers nutrition and exercise tips for adults. Follow her blog, Fit to Eat, by clicking here.