cerealmuffinGeneral Mills Cereals sent me a delivery of cereal, recipes and helpful tips that I’ll be using to help families transition back to school this fall.

I was at the gym this week after a few weeks off. August had been so hectic with travel and transition, that I just had to break from my usual workout routine at the gym. When I saw one of the trainers, I said “Happy New Year!” and she laughed.

But truly, September almost feels like a new year to me. Summer can be much less structured for families with children in school the rest of the year. During the summer, hot temperatures and travel may have you cooking less at home, and meals get sporadic, but now you feel like you have renewed motivation to create a comforting meal at home.

Easier said than done perhaps? Many families get so busy, that come September, they don’t even realize that they don’t have a meal planning strategy. Without a plan, junk food happens. Children may wake up late, or have a long commute to school, which encourages either a quick, low quality, or skipped breakfast. Lunch meals for adults who are at work may be grabbed on the go through a fast food lane. The dinner hour may be sabotaged by after school snacking or evening commitments for school sports or business meetings.

How Can You Stop the Crazy Train?

Well, it does take a bit of planning and goal setting, but you can do it. In the coming weeks, I’ll offer some quick and easy meal ideas for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but first, you have to make a lifestyle change.

  • If you find yourself skipping breakfast (and the kids are modeling the same behavior), think about what you can eat or drink in the time you have. It may mean setting the alarm 20 minutes earlier or prepping some items before you go to bed. But if there are easy choices around the kitchen in the morning, you don’t have to think, you can just grab and go.

Where Did Breakfast Go?

I recently heard that some millennials feel that a bowl of cereal is “too much work” (after all, there’s a bowl and spoon involved). For my generation, a bowl of cereal was the go-to breakfast – easy and nutritious. In my household, everyone still enjoys a traditional bowl of cereal – for breakfast, snack, or even as a light meal.

If you haven’t had cereal on your shopping list lately, try it again as a creative ingredient in recipes that take your breakfast on the go – smoothie bowls, muffins, or energy bites. Cereal fits into the lifestyle of every age group – from preschoolers, to high school and college students, to busy middle-agers (yep, that’s me).

  • Smoothies and Smoothie Bowls: A smoothie bowl is like a smoothie, only you pour into a bowl and enjoy with a spoon. What’s the point? You get more nutrition packed into the bowl than say, your typical oatmeal. Plus you get to experiment with a variety of flavors and ingredients. Use your blender or juicer to blend up a frozen banana or berries, 4-8 ounces of milk (less for smoothie bowl, more for smoothie bottle), and a half cup of your favorite high fiber cereal (such as Cheerios®). Add a tablespoon of peanut butter and a dash of cinnamon, and you have a breakfast bowl (or bottle) to go. This can work great for both high school and college students who enjoy taking their blender bottles with them, and have busy schedules.
  • Cereal on Stand-by. While your college freshman is out of your sight and control now, a gentle reminder that breakfast is a good way to begin the day can’t hurt. Many college meal plans offer a 14 meal-per-week option, which unfortunately encourages students to choose lunch and dinner over breakfast. They may however be very open to an easy breakfast of cereal with milk in their room. Some may be able to use their ‘flex cash’ to purchase milk to keep in their dorm fridge.
  • Muffins. Who doesn’t like a muffin? Muffins are a quick one-bowl bakery item. By baking them at home you can control the portion and ingredients. You’ll find your homemade muffin to be less sweet and more substantial (less like cake, and slightly more dense) than bakery muffins. Bake them when you have some time, then freeze in a zipper bag and just grab one anytime. Since cereal offers both whole grain and vitamins/minerals, you can easily create a tasty muffin that provides a very quick breakfast or snack for your busy teen.
  • Keep fruit in the fridge, and ready-to-eat. If it’s melon is sliced or chopped into chunks, it’s more likely to get eaten. If a bowl of grapes are on the counter, someone will grab some. If you slice up apples or pears and place it into bowls on the dinner table, it will get eaten. Simple strategy that really works.

Remember, healthy eating is worth it. It may not always be the easiest choice, but it’s one that’ll make you feel good. Start your day off right.