What’s the best cereal for dinner?

Cereal for dinner is a “thing”. Especially during the lock downs. It might sound like a sketchy way to deal with an evening meal, but not necessarily. Ready-to-eat cereal can substitute for dinner anytime you’re too busy or stressed to shop for groceries, cook or wait for take out.

Good Points about Cereal for Dinner:

  • Convenient
  • Very little mess
  • Cereal has a long shelf life
  • No cooking needed
  • Vegetarian by default; vegan if you use soy milk

The key to keeping this dinner option as healthful as possible is your choice of cereal. You need to sort through the dozens (or hundreds?) of choices in the cereal aisle to find the hidden gems. How do you choose? Here are some Rules for Cereal:

Low or no added sugar.

This rule eliminates most of what’s on the shelves. In fact, you’re pretty much limited to shredded wheat, puffed rice, oatmeal and a handful of expensive “natural” whole grain varieties. Uncle Sam cereal is an OK choice, with a strong whole grain flavor. Technically it’s sweetened a bit with barley malt, but not enough to trigger an “added sugar” listing.

What about popular Health Halo cereals? You might think don’t have added sugar. Think again. Consider plain Jane original Special K: one serving has 1 tsp added sugar. How about Cheerios? OMG! Can you even find original Cheerios in the store anymore? There are now 21 fruity/sweetened/chocolate/pumpkin-spiced varieties listed on the Cheerios website. For the record, original Cheerios has 1/2 tsp sugar/serving. How about Raisin Bran? Bran! Healthy, right? Yes fiber is good, but there are 2 tsp added sugar per cup.

For dinner? Just… no.

So is all added sugar so terrible? Many people object to any. Fortunately we have labeling for “Added Sugars” now, so choose accordingly. A teaspoon of sugar is 4 grams. It’s not a terrible amount. 12 or more grams? I’d just say no, whether breakfast or dinner. Certainly don’t add even more sugar to sweetened cereal.

You like the taste.

This should go without saying, but when it comes to healthful eating, plenty of people have the misconception that “healthy” = “tastes bad”. Not necessarily true. Let’s put it this way: if you’d rather eat Cheerios than plain shredded wheat, fine. Just make sure it’s original Cheerios, not the Oat Crunch variety with 15 grams sugar (almost 4 tsp).

Some Whole Grain content

If you can find a 100% whole grain cereal you like, good for you. Oatmeal is one popular example. Raisin Bran type cereals are (usually) another. Shredded Wheat is another. The pricey “natural” cereals are also all or mostly all whole grain. But beware the “Whole Grain” health halo. Plenty of junky sugary cereals tout “made with whole grains!” or “contains whole grains!” or something similar on the package. When you peruse the actual ingredients list, you find that the whole grain in question is far down the list, sometimes lower than sweeteners.

this is cereal?

You’re OK with the price

Again, goes without saying. Don’t spend a lot of money on a fancy health halo cereal if the price makes you cringe.

What you put on it matters

You aren’t likely to eat dry cereal. What you put on it matters, too. Usually that’s some sort of milk, yogurt or some combination of the two. Since we’re talking about a meal, that milk should have some significant protein content, since the cereal itself usually isn’t very high protein. The best choices are either cow’s milk or soy. Other plant “milks” are woefully low protein, and many are also high sugar. A low protein, high sugar “milk” on top of a high sugar cereal? Nope.

Add a banana or some other fresh seasonal fruit to make your cereal dinner more substantial. If cereal alone isn’t enough, add toast or a bagel with a nut butter. Now if we could just find a good wine that went with cereal…

Copyright: All content © 2021 Nutrition Strategy Advisors LLC. Photographs © Donna P Feldman, unless otherwise attributed. Reproduction or use without permission is prohibited.