Take Breakfast Cereal to a New, Healthier Level

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It's not the greatest nutritional choice, but it's so convenient that nobody's giving up this staple. Learn how to choose and eat wisely.

Nothing beats breakfast cereal on busy weekday mornings. It’s a fast, easy way for kids to feed themselves and for parents to grab a quick bite while packing school lunches and checking last-minute homework assignments. Plus, using just a bowl and spoon means fewer dishes! What’s not to love about that?

Well, unfortunately, cereal’s big downside is its lack of nutritional value. While it may take the prize for convenience, unless you choose very carefully, you might as well hand your kid a chocolate bar for breakfast. There are ways to sidestep the sugar overdose, though, and get breakfast cereals working to your advantage as a busy parent.

TV journalist and fitness expert Jenna Wolfe shares her tips on how to handle breakfast cereal at home.

First, be aware of over-serving.

Most people eat much bigger servings than recommended, which is why Wolfe says you should measure cereal precisely when pouring it into a bowl. Lose It!, a weight-loss program for which Wolfe advises, published a list showing the average amounts of extra calories due to over-serving:

The worst culprits:
Frosted Mini Wheats: 100 extra calories
Cinnamon Toast Crunch: 100 extra calories
Frosted Flakes: 82 extra calories
Honey Bunches of Oats - Almond: 68 extra calories
Life: 60 extra calories
Honey Nut Cheerios: 50 extra calories
People typically eat about the right amount of these cereals:Granola: 2 calories below recommended serving sizeCheerios: 4 extra calories Multigrain Cheerios: 12 extra caloriesRaisin Bran: 14 extra calories

Second, avoid the most sugary cereals.

Not all cereals are created equally. Wolfe says to stay away from anything with more than 10 grams of sugar per serving. Be wary of sugar substitutes in the ingredient list, too – things like high-fructose corn syrup, brown sugar, and honey.

Third, look for other nutrients.

A cereal with more than 3 grams of fiber is a better choice, since fiber is more filling, good for your digestive tract, and can lower bad cholesterol. Protein will help satiate, too, so look for measurements above 5 grams if possible.

Fourth, improve it.

Add fresh fruit for extra antioxidants. Use full-fat milk for added energy, almond milk, or yogurt. Add sunflower or pumpkin seeds for texture and nutrients, a dash of healthy spices like cinnamon, cardamom, turmeric, or even polyphenol-rich cocoa powder.

Finally, expand on it.

Don't make breakfast cereal the only thing you eat in the morning. It can be part of your routine, but it's a good idea to take a page out of Wolfe's book and include a bard-boiled egg or more fruit to fill you up. I like a thick piece of toast slathered in peanut butter and homemade jam, washed down with coconut oil-whipped coffee. Cereal lacks the healthy fat that satiates and carries you through the morning till your next meal, so you'll need to find that elsewhere.