Ask anyone who's ever taken their child to the grocery store and they'll agree: Avoid the cereal aisle. Most children immediately gravitate toward the colorful boxes that feature their favorite cartoon mascot promising a tasty-yet, sugar-filled-breakfast.
This grocery experience wouldn't be so bad if the cereal in question was healthy, but a new study from Yale University's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity found cereals that are most frequently and aggressively marketed directly to American children as young as 2 are also the least healthy. In fact, cereals marketed directly to children have 85 percent more sugar, 65 percent less fiber, and 60 percent more sodium than cereals marketed to adults.
Of course, cereal is a convenient breakfast option - open box, pour milk and eat. And the idea of starting the day without fuss or protests from picky eaters is appealing.
However, cereal can be a part of a healthy balanced diet. Cereals made from whole grains contain nutrients that are vital for the health and maintenance of our bodies, such as dietary fiber, several B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and folate) and minerals (iron, magnesium and selenium).
Unfortunately, many commercial cereals are made from processed or refined grains that have been stripped of these nutrients during the manufacturing process. These nutrients are often added back in through the enrichment process, along with other additives such as refined sugar, salt and food colorings.
There is a simple solution to the cereal dilemma: make your own. With a little planning, you can offer your children hot or cold cereals that are healthy and devoid of artificial flavors, colors, and additives. Here's a guide to a few varieties of whole grains and some simple breakfast ideas to get you started:
STEEL CUT OATS
Steel-cut oats are whole grain groats (the inner portion of the oat kernel) which have been cut into only two or three pieces. Inexpensive and versatile, they are high in B vitamins, calcium, protein and fiber and can be prepared in about 20 minutes on the stovetop - along with cinnamon, vanilla, nuts, pure maple syrup, dried or fresh fruit for extra flavor or additional protein and fiber.
A big batch of steel cut oats can be prepared ahead of time and stored in individual containers in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. On those busy mornings, simply reheat individual portions on the stove by adding a little milk (dairy, soy, rice or almond) or water.
Millet, with its mildly sweet, nut-like flavor, is one of the oldest foods known to humans and possibly the first cereal grain to be used for domestic purposes. It is highly nutritious, non-glutinous and easily digestible. In fact, it is considered to be one of the least allergenic and most digestible of all grains. It contains nearly 15 percent protein, high amounts of fiber, B-complex vitamins, methionine, lecithin, and some vitamin E.
Millet is also particularly high in the minerals iron, magnesium, phosphorous, and potassium. Like steel cut oats, millet can be prepared ahead of time and stored in individual containers in the refrigerator.
Heralded as the "Mother Grain," quinoa has been cultivated for more than 5,000 years and contains more protein than any other grain. Quinoa contains an almost perfect balance of all eight essential amino acids, and is an excellent source of dietary fiber, magnesium, potassium, iron, phosphorous, calcium, vitamin E and several B vitamins. Quinoa is also gluten-free and easy to digest. This nutty-flavored grain cooks completely in about 15 minutes and can be eaten hot or cold, and goes great with dried fruit.
This nutritious staple of the Middle East is pulverized from whole-wheat kernels that have been boiled, drained, dried, cracked and shifted - basically a precooked cracked wheat. Bulgur is a natural whole grain food: no chemicals or additives are used in processing the product.
Bulgur, also called burghul, has a tender, chewy texture and comes in coarse, medium and fine grinds. Needing very little or no cooking it can be simply soaked and mixed with fruit, nuts, seeds or all natural yogurt for a quick and easy breakfast.
Amaranth, often referred to as a grain, is technically not a grain at all, but in fact a seed originally cultivated by the ancient Aztec people of South America. Gluten-free amaranth is high in protein, vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid), iron, phosphorus, zinc, copper, and magnesium. Like millet, it is also easily digestible. With its malty, slightly sweet and nutty undertones, it cooks up into a delicious breakfast cereal.
Here are two easy and delicious recipes to try:
MILLET WITH COCONUT
1/2 cup whole millet
1-1/2 cups water
1/4 cup grated unsweetened coconut
Pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg, or pinch ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon maple syrup
In a dry skillet, toast millet over medium-low heat, tossing constantly, until fragrant and slightly golden-brown. Put the grains in a plastic or paper bag, and crush them with a rolling pin until finely ground, or place them in a coffee grinder and grind. In a medium saucepan, bring water to a boil. Add millet, coconut, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cardamom. Immediately reduce heat to low and cover. Simmer for 15 minutes or until cereal is tender, checking halfway through cooking to make sure water has not all been absorbed (If it has, add another tablespoon or two of water). Serve with maple syrup.
1/2 cup steel-cut oats
2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 large organic apple shredded
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon chopped walnuts
2 teaspoons dried raisins
1 tablespoon Honey or Pure Maple Syrup (more or less according to taste)
Put water, steel cut oats, salt, cinnamon and apples in a medium-sized pot. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to very low. Cover and simmer for about 35-45 minutes, or until oats are tender and water is mostly absorbed. Serve with either honey or pure maple syrup and sprinkled with raisins, chopped walnuts and a little freshly grated nutmeg and cloves on top.
Additional Tips: I like to make enough for two breakfasts and save half for another day. Simply warm up leftover oats by placing it in a pot with a little water or milk (dairy, soy, almond or rice) and heat slowly on low.
(Joanne Capano is Naturally Savvy's Nutrition and Family Expert. A Registered Holistic Nutritionist, Capano is a regular contributor to www.NaturallySavvy.com, a Web site dedicated to educating people on the benefits of living a natural, organic and green lifestyle For more information and to sign up for their newsletter, visit www.NaturallySavvy.com).Copyright © 2015, CT Now