Prairie Fare: Compare cereals for best nutrition
“Mom, when you go to the grocery store, can you buy that new cereal?” my 14-year-old daughter asked.
My younger daughter nodded her head vigorously and added, “It’s really healthy cereal, Mom.”
“Yeah, it’s really, really healthy,” my older daughter added with a smirk.
I think she patted her younger sister on the head for coming up with that approach.
“What’s the name of the cereal?” I asked a bit skeptically.
Neither of my daughters could think of the name of the cereal. One of them remembered the TV jingle and they began reciting it, so I found it on the Internet.
I decided to search for this kid-appealing cereal at the grocery store. I was expecting a beckoning cartoon character at kids’ eye level. However, the cereal was perched above my head. Maybe it was so new that there wasn’t an available spot on a lower shelf.
My daughters’ pester power paid off, and I added the $4 box of cereal to my cart. This was becoming a research project for me: How do marketing campaigns entice my kids so effectively?
I noticed “whole-grain” and “fortified” on the front of the box, but I think “chocolate” was the selling point.
Evidently, the TV ads were more tempting than the cereal flavor because they didn’t eat it all in a few days. The cereal box now is perched on a shelf in my cupboard.
Well-chosen cereal plays a vital role in kids’ nutrition by providing fiber, vitamins, minerals and other key nutrients. To make the most nutrient-rich choices, you have to be a good label reader, including the Nutrition Facts label and the ingredient statement.
Many types of cereals provide whole grains in the diet. A whole-grain cereal includes all the parts of the grain, including the fiber-containing bran, the starchy endosperm and the fat-containing germ.
Most people fall short of the 25 to 35 grams of fiber that we need each day. Some types of fiber, such as soluble fiber found in oats, may help lower blood cholesterol levels and potentially our risk for heart disease.
Fiber also can help you feel full longer and reduce constipation. Kids and adults need to drink plenty of fluids with increased fiber intake.
Check out the amount of added sweeteners, which can be in the form of high- fructose corn syrup, dextrose, sucrose (table sugar), molasses, brown sugar or others. Compare the Nutrition Facts labels on several brands at the store.
You can “blend down” the sweetness of some cereals by combining sweetened cereals with unsweetened cereal. You can boost nutrition more by adding antioxidant-rich fresh or dried fruit, and nuts or seeds to your cereal bowl. Top with calcium-rich milk for a hunger-quenching breakfast.
Compare prices. Look at the “price per ounce” on the edge of many store shelves. Usually, servings for cereal are in ounces. Volumewise, an ounce of puffed cereal will appear like more in your bowl than an ounce of granola, so remember that nutrition information is based on serving size.
Here’s a cereal-based snack to pair with a glass of cold milk.
Cereal Snack Mix
2 c. Honey Nut Chex cereal (or similar cereal)
2 c. Honey Nut Cheerios (or similar O-shaped cereal)
1 1/2 c. peanuts, unsalted
1 1/2 c. chopped pecans
1/4 c. (1/2 stick) butter, melted
1 Tbsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. chili powder
1 1/2 c. dried cranberries, raisins or other dried fruit
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix the cereals, peanuts and pecans in a 9- by 13-inch baking pan. Melt the butter and add the spices. Pour the butter mixture over the cereal mixture. Bake for 20 minutes, stirring every five to eight minutes. Remove from the oven. Stir in the dried fruit after baking. Cool and store in an airtight container or divide into snack-sized portions in zip-type snack bags.
Makes 32 servings. Each serving has 130 calories, 9 grams (g) of fat, 2 g of protein, 11 g of carbohydrate, 1 g of fiber and 30 milligrams of sodium.
(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.)
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