Swap your cereal


Do you have fond childhood memories of eating marshmallowy, chocolatey or fruity bowls of breakfast cereal and digging into those boxes for a new pencil topper, sticker or magical color-changing spoon? Do you also remember being hungry (dare I say hangry) within an hour or so of breakfast? What about as you got older and your more sophisticated palate preferred sugar-coated shredded wheat or plain Os with fruit, or even when you managed to choke down a bowl full of twig-like fiber cereal? If you were like me, you may still have noticed your stomach growling long before lunch time or a tendency to make not-so-balanced impulse eating decisions at lunch.

Hooked on cereal, but it’s sending your energy and hunger on a rollercoaster? Read this! #saslife Click To Tweet

At some point in your life, you’ve probably been told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Somewhere along the line, this well-meaning advice may have morphed into the thought that eating something…anything… is better than nothing before starting your day. If that “something” is full of processed carbohydrates and not much else, it’s time to think again.

Most breakfast cereals just don’t count as a complete breakfast on their own. Trying to stick to a serving of cereal with lots of carbohydrates and void of protein and fat first thing in the morning can send energy, mood and eating patterns on a rollercoaster for the rest of the day. But cereal sure is quick and sometimes pretty tasty, so what’s one to do if they want to level up but don’t want to let cereal go?

If You’re Set on Cereal

If don’t want to give up the convenience and comfort of a bowl of cold breakfast cereal in the morning, it's worth taking a closer look at your options. You can’t just replace your cartoon character covered box with one that has words like “natural,” “organic,” “granola” or “keto-friendly” though. Many healthy-looking choices still have added sugar and little fiber or protein, or are generally highly processed with ingredients that don't lead to satisfaction that lasts. For example, one keto cereal I’ve come across contains two different types of inflammatory oils and four different types of sweeteners.

The key to making smarter choices is to look at ingredients lists and nutrition facts labels to determine if you are truly upgrading your morning meal. Check out the tips below.

*Learn how to spot added sugar on an ingredients list.


Pumping up the Protein

Getting more protein into a food that traditionally has minimal amounts requires extra processing from beans, seeds, milk, etc. When choosing a cereal, consider whether you are looking for either:

  1. a higher protein cereal OR
  2. a more natural/less processed option and then adding a source of protein (e.g., Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, hard-boiled eggs, smoked salmon) on the side to round out the meal.

Below are a few options — some higher protein and some less processed.

*Check the nutrition facts for specific products — the protein and sugar content varies by product within the brand and formulations change periodically. In general, flakes and Os tend to be more processed/sweetened than those that look like grains.

**Less processed, lower in protein.

The Bottom Line on Breakfast

  • Most cereals do not constitute an anchored meal/snack on their own because their level of starch and sugar (non-fiber carbohydrates) far surpasses their level of protein and fat. The higher protein options will suffice if you treat your breakfast as more of a snack than a meal, but it’s best to truly make cereal only a “part” of your complete breakfast.
  • Consider adding a combination of ground flax seed, nuts, Greek yogurt, and/or protein powder to boost your cereal’s nutrition, or a side of protein (e.g., eggs, smoked salmon, turkey sausage, etc.).
  • If you are ready for a breakfast overhaul and you’re open to thinking outside the box, try leftovers for breakfast or another savory breakfast. You may be surprised by how much better you feel after making the switch.
  • On mornings that you are truly not hungry but falling back on cereal because you think you should have something, it’s okay to skip breakfast (along with skipping any sweeteners in your coffee). The exceptions to this are if you have a medical reason that requires you to eat in the morning, you suspect you may have an eating disorder, or if you find yourself making poor choices later in the day as hunger creeps up on you.


Blueberry Pecan Parfait

Makes 1 serving

1 cup plain Greek yogurt
½ tsp cinnamon
1-2 Tbsp chopped pecans
½ cup puffed grain cereal (I used Arrowhead puffed kamut)*
½ cup fresh blueberries**
1-2 Tbsp ground flax (optional)


  1. Mix Greek yogurt and cinnamon until well combined.
  2. In a small glass or bowl, layer half of the yogurt, pecans, cereal, flax (if using) and then blueberries. Repeat layers with the remaining ingredients, starting with yogurt and ending with blueberries.
  3. Serve and eat immediately to enjoy the maximum crunchiness from the cereal and nuts, but it will stay good in the fridge for up to 3 days.

* Choose puffed rice or puffed millet to make this a gluten free option.
** You can substitute thawed frozen berries and the berry juices will help to naturally sweeten the yogurt.



About Author

Jen Sohl-Marion, MPH, RDN, LDN

Manager of Nutrition and Healthy Living Programs

Jen is the Manager of Nutrition and Healthy Living Programs at SAS Institute in Cary, NC. She is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and an Integrative and Functional Nutrition Certified Practitioner. Outside of work, Jen enjoys hiking with her family, practicing yoga and spending quality time with her dogs.

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