Monday, September 13, 2010

Food Finds: Cereals, Hot and Cold

I'm overwhelmed. As I move down the cereal aisle, hovering around the oatmeals I feel paralyzed. Where do I begin to decode the hidden information on these packages?  How can I guide you to navigate  the absurd abundance of food choices, in this single section of the cereal aisle, as well as in the many sections throughout the market?  There's the lower sugar, the high fiber, the weight control--the choices are endless. And if you read my NuVal blog entry you know I am not a believer in the "oversimplify" method, providing a single score or value to a product.

So here are the facts. If you are lured to oatmeal for its fiber content, motivated to help with constipation, forget it. Wrong type of fiber to help move things along. For that, try All-Bran Bran Buds, high in insoluble fiber, from wheat bran. It contains an unusually high amount per serving, and it tastes good. Only 1/3 cup and you get 13 grams of total fiber, 10 grams insoluble. The other 3 grams come from psyllium and oats, sources of soluble fiber. This is the type that helps lower cholesterol (if you are able to take in 7-13 grams of it per day) and helps slow the rise in blood sugar (really only an issue for those with diabetes, not for the rest of you). No need for a whole bowl of Bran Buds, either. Try mixing cereals or add some Bran Buds as a crunchy topping to yogurt.

Ok, back to the oatmeal. If you have time on your hands, about 30 minutes, my favorite is steel cut oats. For Americans, this cereal will look quite different than the Quaker you are used to. Think whole grain rice or barley cut with a sharp knife, then cooked. It has a chewy texture and is quite satisfying. A quick version could be prepared as follows:

Soak the oats overnight. Before going to bed, boil four cups of water in a pot, add one cup of oatmeal. Simmer 1 minute. Cover pot and store overnight in refrigerator. The next morning cook the oatmeal on low heat for 9 – 12 minutes, stirring occasionally.

But beware of the serving sizes! On McCann's Irish oats, the steel cut type, 1/4 cup dry makes the equivalent of one serving, as compared to most cereal labels. For Quaker oats, AKA rolled oats, the package can be misleading regarding serving size. The heart symbol portion may seem like a wise choice, but for most of us, this portion would be excessively filling. Both varieties are healthy and tasty options, with zero sodium. Add a bit of brown sugar (or not, if you are diabetic and closely counting the carbs) and cinnamon for additional flavor. Dried fruit added during cooking is also a nice treat (dried cherries are my personal favorite). For either type of oats, you can cook multiple portions in advance and refrigerate, then microwave reheat. Or, you can have the convenience of microwaving the rolled oats. Just be sure to place in an extra large bowl and cover with plastic or a volcano will erupt in the microwave! Really! And if you must do the packages, you can mix and match, one plain and one flavored pack. With the exception of young kids, I don't know anyone who only needs one package.

Another hot cereal that ranks is Bob's Red Mill varieties--the 5, 7, and 10 grain versions (I think I've got that right). Grainier texture, it's a very satisfying hot cereal which, like most things, tastes even better with a bit of sweetener (and in this case, a splash of milk).

Given the cool temperatures these mornings, I should stop here. But cold cereals do give us a lot of options and are so convenient. So here are a few word about my favorites:

-Kashi Heart to Heart. Cheerios-like, but tastes sweeter, without them adding more sugar. Hmmm. I suspect they manage it by reducing the sodium, which is at a lower level than Cheerios. And you must try the warm cinnamon variety! Yum.

-Kashi Cinnamon Harvest. Think Shredded Wheat with flavor, but less sugar than frosted varieties. Quite good!

-Barbara's Shredded Spoonfuls. Bad name, I must admit, because it makes us think shredded wheat, which will turn lots of you away. But trust me--it's delicious and nothing like Shredded Wheat.
These three choices are modest in fiber (about 4-6 grams) and overall tasty, yet healthy options.

-Barbara's Puffins. A particularly good choice for kids, and several versions are gluten free.

-Nature's Path Flax Plus Flakes. More fiber (the constipation-curing type) in a simple flake. And stands up to milk better than regular bran flakes.

So start with these. And tell me what you think. Are there others that are your favorites that might be worth mentioning? There are plenty of others I didn't mention, but could have, if I had the time and the space on this page.

As a final note, I must confess. I was raised on Captain Crunch and Fruit Loops, and Tony the Tiger I thought was GRREAT! 


  1. We rate oats very highly in our house for breaky and snacks. I make a kid-friendly bircher - basically just rolled oats soaked in pear juice and vanilla yoghurt with dried cranberries/sultanas thrown in. Easy-peasy and means that it's already ready whenever hunger strikes (usually with my kiddies that means pre-dawn).

  2. Hi Plain Jane,
    How long do you soak the oats for? And are sultanas raisins? Please let me know where you are from--I am always curious about the source of the recipes and food recommendations!

  3. I soak the oats over night (but they are still yummy for a couple of days). Sultanas are different to raisins (sorry I wasn't aware this was an aussie thing). They are bigger and juicier than raisins (but I'm sure raisins would be fine too).

  4. As a cereal (hot and cold) lover, really enjoyed the post.
    My favourite way to make oats (or Red River Cereal - maybe it is a Canadian thing - which is all seedy and YUM) is to substitute at least half of the liquid with a combination of applesauce and (100%) fruit juice then adding berries (frozen) half way through cooking. Even my sweet tooth doesn't need to add sugar.
    Thanks for the cereal recommendations, I am going to look for those Puffins!

  5. Yum! Funny the similarity between the Canadian and Aussie recipes for oats. Can't wait to try it.