there are a few key factors that go into selecting a cereal or other packaged snack that will offer the best nutritional bang for your buck: sugar, fiber, the INGREDIENT LIST, and protein. oh don’t forget about portion sizes!
Before we go further I will say that I generally live by the 80/20 rule. Meaning that I work to help our family consume roughly 80% real whole foods, primary fruits and veggies, over 20% processed or packaged foods. I believe this is the key in helping combat what we regularly call “picky eating”. But like you I live in the real world, and sometimes we just need packaged food, so let’s arm ourselves with wisdom to make good choices!
Anything with 10 grams or more of added (or refined) sugar pretty much turns breakfast/snack into dessert. This is particularly important if you want to avoid a blood sugar crash later — and the shakiness, irritability, and anxiety that can come with it (can you say, toddler tantrum!).
To feel fuller longer, look for at least 3 grams of fiber per serving, preferably more. A diet high in fiber will help with digestion, keeping your body regular — not to mention a whole slew of other health benefits.
Fiber can also reduce your cholesterol levels, keep those tricky blood sugar levels steady, and even improve physical performance. Do understand however, that the fiber that’s in cheerios is different than the fiber in black beans. Your body runs best when fueled with a diverse range of fiber from a variety of plant based foods.
Don’t skip over the ingredient list
The first ingredient, for cereal for example, should be something like a whole grain, whether it’s whole wheat, whole oats, or whole barley. Grains with the word “whole” in front of them may help reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer.
Also look for ingredients you recognize and can pronounce, rather than mysterious processed ones. Tocopherols you’ll often see on cereal labels. This is just a form of vitamin E that’s widely considered safe. Many of our packaged foods are fortified with synthetic vitamins. This begin as early as the 1920’s and became increasingly popular to replace the nutrients lost during processing and serve as a public health intervention to help solve the deficiency of micronutrients found from an increasingly modernized diet.
Power up with protein
If you want to load up on some protein during breakfast/snack time, which can help curb overeating later, look for labels with at least 3 grams of protein per serving. We often over emphasize protein but its value is still there. Providing our family with food that has more properties to maintain fullness can keep the kids from screaming for more snacks every 20 minutes.
Does your favorite cereal or snack fall short? Pair it with nut butters, fruit or raw veggies to round out your meal.
Keep portion sizes in mind
It’s easy to forget that packaged items have a suggested serving size.
Bulking up cereals, bars and other packaged items with chopped nuts or fruit, like a sliced banana or a handful of berries, is an easy way to make your breakfast or snack more filling if the one serving isn’t cutting it. Look for simple ways to create a balanced diet that makes eating healthy possible for your whole family.
Don’t just check labels on your cereal or bars but other packaged products as well.
Store bought sauces or salad dressings
At first, this process can feel overwhelming! No one has time to stand in the grocery store reading all the labels. That’s why it is important to rely first primarily on one ingredient whole foods. But, you can start slowly with the products you already have at home. Then as you begin to better grasp the idea of reading labels, start with one or two new items. Over time you will find this gets easier and you learn a lot a long the way.
Honestly, it can be hard to transition into less processed foods if that’s primarily what you are used to consuming because they are created to keep you coming back for more. Allow your family to make slow and steady changes that stick.
Ultimately your body will thank you and your cravings do change!
Because it has to be said!
I do not endorse buying a bunch of expensive snacks because they claim to be “healthy”, “natural”, or even “organic”. I endorse eating as much real food as possible. Eating healthy is for everyone – not only for those in a certain tax bracket. Learning to read labels is a tool you can arm yourself with to make better choices for yourself and the ones you love.
I have not mentioned calories, fat or carbohydrates in this list. When you dig deeper into the 80/20 lifestyle you can stop counting calories because you can always have more fruit and veggies!
Live well friends,
P.S. I would like to note that I am not a registered dietitian nor am I pretending to be one on the internet. While my educational back ground is based in research, my main experience is as a mom who wants to give her kids the best. I am driven to share information with the people I care about because I believe we could all use a little help. Plus, I like to use small words that make sense to me and hopefully to you too. 😛