Some of the information in this post was inspired by an educational session sponsored by General Mills but the opinions are my own, and I was not paid for this post.

According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2015-2016, cereal is the number one breakfast food eaten at home. Cereal has always been in my pantry cupboard, and is a go-to snack and breakfast food for us. As I raised my children, I always made sure they had breakfast before they left for school each day. Usually this was something simple like a bowl of cereal or toast with a glass of milk. Cereal was always a hit because it was quick and easy (read: they could stay in bed a little longer). As teens, they would skip breakfast sometimes (Gasp!), then cereal became a go-to after school or evening snack.

Healthy and Affordable

Of late, I see consumers shunning simple breakfast foods like toast and cereal. Why? I’m sure that the media’s negative portrayal of carbs (otherwise known as carbohydrates – and important source of fuel for our bodies) has something to do with it. Many celebrities tout the dietary regimes they follow to maintain a lean physique, and they often claim to ban most carbohydrate foods. It’s implausible to compare a wealthy celebrity’s (or Instagram sensation’s) diet to that of someone on a fixed or low income (in our local school district, almost 45 percent of the children qualify for free or reduced breakfast and lunch. A bowl of cereal with milk definitely contributes significantly to their diet quality).

Cereal is also a vehicle for other nutrients – Calcium and vitamin D from milk or yogurt, and antioxidant vitamins C and A from fruit.

Focus on Health and Nutrition

It can be discomforting to consider how Instagram posts about food or diet impacts young people and parents making choices for their families. When celebrities talk about what they eat, it sends a message that “you should eat this way if you want to look like me”. Well, I hate to break it to you, but most of us aren’t gonna look like J Lo no matter we eat or do. A lot of that is in the genes, and most of us aren’t in the business to be camera-ready for closeups on screen. It’s unfortunate that unqualified influencers don’t realize the harm they can do when they make suggestions about food and health (although Instagram is working to reduce inappropriate posts and health claims).

For regular people, when it comes to choosing food, balanced nutrition is paramount. Put items into your shopping carts that meet both your specific medical needs and fit your food budget. I often see people on social media dissing cereal with posts like “it’s a dessert, not breakfast”. There are certainly several cereals on the market that are higher in sugar, although brands are working to change that. Still, there are also many cereals on grocery store shelves that are low in sugar.

Good Grains: Vitamins, Minerals, Fiber, Protein, Energy

What’s in a bowl of cereal? A bowl of cereal is the number one source of thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, B6, folate, iron, zinc, B12, vitamin E and vitamin A for all Americans at breakfast, according to 2019 Nielsen consumer data. A four-ounce pour of low fat milk over your cereal provides about 130 milligrams of calcium. This meets fifteen percent of your daily need.

“Nutrients such as fiber come built into our Big G cereals through whole grains. Interesting to note, cereal is the #1 source of whole grain and fiber for all Americans at breakfast”, according to Amy Cohn, RD, CDM, CFPP, Nutrition & External Affairs Sr. Manager at Big G Cereals

Since cereals are fortified, they are good sources of iron and B vitamins.  This includes folic acid, a B vitamin that’s  especially important during child-bearing years. “Cereal has long been identified as an ideal food to fortify due to its convenience, affordability, wide consumption across the life span and its ability to have a uniform distribution of nutrients”, says Cohn.

Did you know that Americans only consume about half of the 25-38 g of fiber they need every day? A bowl of cereal can add fiber to breakfast or snack time.  Most ready-to-eat whole grain cereals  offer 2-5 grams of fiber per serving. Some offer up to twenty five percent of your daily need. Fiber from whole grains helps keep you full, it’s good for your gut health, and it’s heart-healthy.

You may not think protein when you think of grains, but grains do provide protein! A serving of cereal can provide anywhere from 3-8 grams of protein. When you top it with six ounces of milk, it provides a total of 10 grams of protein or more, depending on the cereal.

Do You Need to be Gluten-Free or Grain-Free?

There are good reasons for some people to avoid grains. People diagnosed with Celiac disease can’t process gluten (a protein in wheat, rye, and barley. It’s also found in malt and brewers yeast). This causes gastrointestinal issues (bloating, diarrhea), problems with absorption of nutrients, and changes to the intestine. Other people may be allergic to wheat. If you have symptoms, you should be clinically diagnosed by a gastroenterologist. In these cases, you should follow your doctor and dietitian’s advice about your dietary restrictions. You should definitely seek a consultation with a registered dietitian. If you have not been diagnosed with these disorders however, there’s no reason to avoid these grains.

Cheerios® are made from oats and are gluten-free.

Food Insecurity: A Food For Everyone

If there is a food for everyone, it’s cereal. It can be eaten at breakfast, snack time, any meal, or on-the-go. More importantly, it’s a food that everyone has access to. Cereal is appealing, affordable, enjoyable, and it’s nutritious. As Cohn stated, “While many nutritious foods come with super high price tags for buzz-worthy ingredients, they are most certainly not accessible by all. We’re always here to spread the word that good nutrition isn’t nutritious if it isn’t eaten and affordable.”

Those who are at the most health risk benefit by adding cereal to their diets. Cereal with milk can add nutrients that are often lacking (calcium, vitamin D, potassium, fiber and iron). On the other hand, most cereals are low in nutrients you need to consume less of –  saturated fat, sodium and sugar.

It’s also nice to know that cereal isn’t just nutritious and affordable, but it’s also good for the planet due to its low carbon footprint. “When it comes to sustainability efforts, General Mills is a leader. We have numerous efforts around sustainability and reducing our carbon footprint” says Cohn. Here is a link to a page that describes in detail what General Mills is doing.