By Kelsey Casselbury 2016-11-04 00:05:18
At one time, a family sitting around the breakfast table, each with an individual bowl of cereal and milk, plus a glass of orange juice—plus a newspaper for mom and dad—was the picture of an idyllic morning. At least that was the portrait the marketing and entertainment industries painted for decades. Whether it ever really existed is in debate—but what’s certain is that such an image no longer resonates as a current reality. The sales of both orange juice and cereal have declined steadily over the last two decades. And a relaxed family breakfast together every morning? Ha! Many factors have combined to vaporize the idealized image of breakfast—and contribute to the disappearance of cereal-with-milk at center stage. Hectic schedules. Urban/suburban traffic. School bell schedules. The rise of a wide array of alternate menu options, especially grab ‘n’ go and protein-centric items. Consumer concerns about sugar and artificial ingredients. That may be the changing situation at home. However, nearly 14 million children participate in the School Breakfast Program every day—and when it comes to schools, there’s a sense that cereal still pretty much reigns supreme. In large part, this is because most cereals—cold and hot—meet school meal nutrition standards. According to a study in a 2013 issue of the Journal of School Health, students who regularly consumed ready-to-eat breakfast cereal had a greater intake of vitamin A, iron and whole grains, when compared to non-cereal breakfast eaters. Plus, cereal is a comfort food; it’s simple to prep and serve; and it can be easily offered in a wide variety of flavors. Does cereal still command a significant market share among students participating in breakfast in your school or district? Whether it does or doesn’t, it may be time to take a fresh look at this breakfast mainstay. Hey, Mikey, They Like It! It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who knows kids that, when it comes to cereal, most tend to prefer sweeter flavors—a fact that, unfortunately, is at direct odds with the goals of the student nutrition staff to serve lower-sugar, healthier options. It’s an uphill battle that extends back generations. The tradition of developing (and marketing) sugary cereals dates back to the mid-1900s. Breakfast cereal itself debuted some decades earlier, just before the turn of the century, when Dr. John Harvey Kellogg (does that name sound familiar?) created what would eventually be known as Corn Flakes. Post also jumped into the new retail ready-to-eat (RTE) cereal market right around the same time with its Grape-Nuts cereal. In 1949, Post’s Sugar Crisps was the first cereal to air a TV commercial; it featured its cartoon bear mascot. Getting hip to the fact that consumers were adding sugar to their healthier cereal varieties, Kellogg’s debuted Corn Pops in 1950 and Frosted Flakes in 1952, with General Mills following with Trix in 1954. The advertisements for all of these cereals were the exact opposite of what we expect to see today—the companies were eager to boast the pre-sweetened status of their products. In the 21st century, though, the most popular options in schools are the ones that cater to the sweeter tastes while still balancing the nutrition required for school meals, says David Grotto, RDN, LDN, senior nutrition marketing business partner for Kellogg’s Specialty Channels. Thankfully, industry partners have stepped up to formulate RTE cereal products that meet both goals. At Kellogg’s, the majority of its K-12 cereal line—such as Frosted Flakes™ Multigrain, Froot Loops® and Rice Krispies® Multi-Grain Shapes—have 10 grams of sugar or less per 1-oz.-eq. grain serving. Grotto notes that less than 4% of the added sugar in the average American diet and 5% of the added sugar consumed by children specifically comes from ready-to-eat cereal. That’s less than a glass of orange juice or a container of fruit-flavored yogurt! It’s not only sugar, though, that industry members are removing, but also artificial flavors and colors and, in some cases, gluten. “We know that schools are looking closely at the labels on all the products they serve to kids,” says Danielle Benson, associate marketing manager for the K-12 channel at General Mills Convenience & Foodservice, which offers 19 varieties of K-12 cereals that are free from artificial flavors and colors, as well as eight gluten-free bowlpak options. “Ultimately, we want schools to feel even better about the cereal they are serving to students,” she explains. Cuckoo for Cold Cereal If there’s one thing school nutrition professionals know, it’s that cereal sells. According to Benson, one General Mills K-12 customer removed cereal as a daily option from the school breakfast menu. It was an experiment that reportedly resulted in a huge decline in breakfast participation. “Ready-to-eat or cold cereal is a perennial favorite on school menus,” says Benson. “We continually hear from directors who tell us participation goes way down when they take cold cereal off the menu.” One of the most significant K-12 cereal trends of late is giving students a DIY (do-it-yourself) option and allowing them to create their own cereal concoctions at a make-your-own cereal bar or station at breakfast. “Individualization is a popular consumer trend,” reports Grotto of Kellogg’s. Such stations feature a variety of cereal options, along with fresh fruit, yogurt or milk and additional healthy toppings. “Students, like all of us, are happier when given a choice,” General Mills Corporate Chef Monica Coulter remarks. “They appreciate the opportunity to mix and match ingredients, get a little creative and customize a dish to their preference.” There are other ways that you can offer RTE cereal in more creative applications for breakfast—and lunch and snacks, too! • Add a crispy cereal product as a salad topper for a bit of a crunch. • Mix several cereal varieties together, along with other trail mix-type ingredients. Give the concoction a catchy name and serve it as a snack or holiday treat. • Add cereal to a lunchtime salad bar alongside yogurt, cottage cheese and fruit. • Dip apple slices or celery sticks into nut or seed butter and then into dry cereal as a coating. “Kids, big and little, always like to incorporate play into meals!” exclaims Coulter. It’s Magically Nutritious! Of course, not all cereal options come in RTE form. Hot cereals (including oatmeal, grits, polenta, Cream of Wheat and rice and quinoa porridges) are growing in popularity, too. “Cereal preferences show a strong correlation to the weather,” says Grotto. “When it’s warm out, students—and adults—eat more cold cereal. When it’s cold out, they tend to shift toward hot cereal.” He does note, however, that it’s not an equal split—cold cereal is consumed more often throughout the entire year. Those who regularly eat hot cereal have the right idea, as it can offer great taste in a filling, nutritious meal. Oatmeal, arguably the most kid-friendly, boasts a good amount of fiber—both soluble and insoluble—that helps cholesterol levels and satisfies your hunger, which can help with weight problems. It’s also high in minerals such as thiamin, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, manganese, selenium and iron. Oatmeal lends itself well to customization, and new trends go far beyond brown sugar or fruit. More savory combinations are gaining in popularity, with chefs and diners choosing to add egg or some bacon, maybe some cheese to the oats, for a hearty, low-sugar breakfast. Some oatmeal combinations worth testing with students include: • Oatmeal + peanut butter + jelly: PB&J Oatmeal • Oats + almond butter + brown sugar + blueberries + 375°F oven: Blueberry Oatmeal Breakfast Cookies • Oatmeal + corn + scallions + cilantro + chili powder + lime: Southwestern Oatmeal • Dry oats + onion + water + salt + garlic powder + pepper + eggs + cilantro + cast iron skillet: Savory Oatmeal Skillet If you feel like breaking out a truly new and exciting breakfast dish, consider menuing quinoa for breakfast—it’s a complete protein, it’s gluten-free and it’s high in potassium. You can even substitute quinoa in your favorite oatmeal recipes if you want to serve a high-protein bowl that’s prepared the ways kids prefer their oatmeal, perhaps simply with a touch of maple syrup and fruit. Some other ways to serve quinoa for breakfast—once again, not limited to traditional bowl preparations—include: • Quinoa + chopped apples + brown sugar + vanilla almond milk: Apple Pie Quinoa Breakfast Bowl • Quinoa + black beans + eggs + enchilada sauce: Southwest Quinoa Breakfast Casserole • Quinoa + almond milk + cinnamon + ginger + cardamom + ground cloves + honey + vanilla: Chai Spiced Quinoa Breakfast Bowl • Quinoa + eggs + chopped vegetables + a muffin tin and liners: Quinoa Muffins Breakfast of Champions “Probably the biggest change with cereal in schools,” muses Benson, “is that it continues to get better, in terms of the varieties available, as well as the health profiles of the products that are served.” Cereal might be the quintessential breakfast food, but it’s ever-changing—just like school meals as a whole. One thing that will never change, though, is the ease of serving and kid acceptability—they think it’s “grrrr-eat!” Hot or cold, kids love cereal—and school nutrition professionals do, too, given its ease in prep and serving! But do you know how to take cereal in schools to the next level? Rainbow of Fruit Parfait 12 cups Fruit cocktail, canned, unsweetened 12 cups Lowfat vanilla yogurt 24 ozs. Low-sugar cereal* SERVINGS 24 PER SERVING 250 cal., 2 1⁄2 g fat, 5 g pro., 54 g carb., 2 g fiber, 200 mg sod. 1) To assemble each parfait, place a half-cup of fruit cocktail in a 14-oz. plastic cup. 2) Pipe a half-cup (4 ozs.) yogurt onto the fruit. 3) Serve topped with 1 oz. of cereal. *Notes: Yoplait ParfaitPro Lowfat Vanilla Yogurt and Trix 25% Less Sugar Bowlpak Cereal can be used in this recipe. Assorted fresh fruit to equal 3 ozs. per serving can be used to replace the fruit cocktail, if desired. Recipe and Photo: General Mills, www.generalmillscf.com Cranberry Fruit Oatmeal 1 #10 can Peaches, diced, canned in juice or light syrup 1 gal., 1 qt. Water 3 lbs. Quick-cooking oatmeal 1 lb., 12 ozs. Dried cranberries, sweetened 1 cup Brown sugar 1 Tbsp. Ground cinnamon 1 tsp. Ground nutmeg 1 tsp. Salt 3 cups Nonfat vanilla yogurt (optional) 3 cups Dried cranberries, sweetened (optional) SERVINGS 48 (3⁄4 cup each) PER SERVING 200 cal., 2 g fat, 40 g carb., 4 g fiber, 5 g pro., 57 mg sod. 1) Drain the peaches, reserving approximately 1 qt., 1 cup of the liquid. 2) Add the water to the reserved peach juice, which will bring the total liquid volume to 1 1⁄2 gallons, plus 1 cup. 3) In a stockpot or steam-jacketed kettle, bring the liquid mixture to a boil. Add the oatmeal, 1 lb., 12 ozs. of the dried cranberries, the brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Return the mixture to a boil. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. 4) Add the diced peaches. 5) If not serving the oatmeal immediately, cool to 70°F or lower within two hours and from 70°F to 40°F within four more hours. Place in shallow pans with a product depth of 2 inches or less, and refrigerate. To reheat, heat to 165°F or higher for 15 seconds. 6) To serve, scoop 3⁄4 cup (scant #5 scoop) oatmeal into a bowl and, as an option*, top each serving with 1 Tbsp. (#60 scoop) vanilla yogurt and 1 Tbsp. (#60 scoop) of dried cranberries. *Notes: Adding the optional ingredients increases the nutritional data to 229 calories and 66 mg sodium. Recipe and Photo: U.S. Cranberry Marketing Committee (CMC), www.uscranberries.com Cereal in Schools: A Primer A quick look at how cereal grains fit into the meal pattern: • A half-cup of cooked cereal or 28 grams (1 oz. by weight) of dry, ready-to-eat cereal provides 1-oz.-eq. grain credit. Equivalent volumes are 1 cup flakes or rounds, 1 1⁄4 cups puffed cereal and 1⁄4 cup granola. • Bran and germ are not creditable in school meal programs. • The definition of whole grains: A grain that consists of the entire cereal grain seed or kernel, which has three parts—the bran, the germ and the endosperm. If the finished product retains the same relative proportions of bran, germ and endosperm as the original grain, it is considered a whole grain. • Foods that meet the whole grain-rich criteria for school meal programs contain 100% whole grain or a blend of whole-grain meal and/or flour and enriched meal and/or flour, of which at least 50% is whole grain. The remaining 50% or less of grains, if any, must be enriched. Homemade Granola 2 cups Light brown sugar 2 cups Honey 1⁄2 cup Unsalted butter, melted 1 1⁄2 cups Canola oil 1⁄2 cup Ground cinnamon 1⁄2 Tbsp. Ground cloves 24 cups Rolled oats 1 qt. Pecans, chopped 1 qt. Dried fruit, such as raisins SERVINGS 100 (1⁄2 cup each) PER SERVING 276 cal., 10 g fat, 41 g carb., 5 g fiber, 13 g sugar, 7 g pro., 3 mg sod. 1) Preheat the oven to 350°F. 2) In a large bowl, combine the sugar, honey, butter, oil, cinnamon and cloves. Mix well. 3) Add the oats and nuts to the bowl and mix until they are combined with the honey mixture. 4) Line baking sheets with parchment paper and spray with non-stick spray to coat. 5) Evenly distribute the oats mixture among the pans. 6) Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the mixture is lightly browned, stirring every 5 minutes for even baking. 7) Allow to cool completely. Add the dried fruit and mix to combine. Notes: The granola can be stored in an airtight container for up to three weeks. It can be served with milk or yogurt for breakfast. Recipe and Photo: Chef Nick Speros, Project Bread, www.projectbread.org America’s Most-Loved Cereals As of early 2016, the most popular cereals in the country’s retail markets were: Honey Nut Cheerios (General Mills) Frosted Flakes (Kellogg’s) Honey Bunches of Oats (Post) Cheerios (General Mills) Cinnamon Toast Crunch (General Mills) Special K (Kellogg’s) Frosted Mini Wheats (Kellogg’s) Lucky Charms (General Mills) Froot Loops (Kellogg’s) Raisin Bran (Kellogg’s) Kansas Granola Bar 6 lbs. Old-fashioned oats 1⁄2 cup Baking powder 1 Tbsp. Salt 1⁄2 cup Ground cinnamon 2 lbs., 8 ozs. Dried cranberries, unsweetened 16 Large eggs 4 lbs., 12 ozs. Bananas, ripe, mashed 2 cups Applesauce, unsweetened 64 fl. ozs. Skim milk 1⁄2 cup Maple syrup 2 lbs. Brown sugar, unpacked 1⁄2 cup Vanilla SERVINGS 96 PER SERVING 235 cal., 2.7 g fat, 6.57 g pro., 44.7 g carb., 4.23 g fiber, 220 mg sod. 1) Preheat the oven to 350°F (325°F for a convection oven). 2) Combine the oats, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and dried cranberries in a bowl. Make a well in the center of the mixture. Set aside. 3) In a separate bowl, combine the eggs, mashed bananas, applesauce, milk, maple syrup, brown sugar and vanilla. 4) Pour the wet ingredients into the well in the center of the dry ingredients and mix well. The mixture will appear runny. 5) Spread the mixture onto 10 3⁄8" x 12 3⁄4" sheet pans (four pans for 96 servings), each lined with parchment paper. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through, until the bars are golden brown. 6) Cut into 24 granola bars per sheet pan. Recipe: Recipes for Healthier Kansas, Kansas State Department of Education Child Nutrition & Wellness, www.kn-eat.org Cereal Stats A quick look at the cereal industry in America: • Cold cereal sales totaled $9.6 billion in 2014. • Hot cereal sales increased 6% from 2012 to 2014, to a total of $1.4 billion in 2014. • 94% of U.S. adults report eating either hot or cold cereal, though they more often report eating cold cereal. • Of adults who report not eating cereal, 33% say they’re eating breakfast items with more protein, while 23% report eating items with more fiber. • Approximately 30% of cereal eaters add ingredients, such as nuts or fruit, to their cereal. • 57% of cereal consumers indicate a desire for cereal to keep them full for longer, while 51% say that they wish cereal gave them more energy. Source: “Top Breakfast Cereal Trends in 2015,” Prepared Foods, 2015 Who Needs a Bowl and Spoon? There used to be just one way to eat cereal: with a bowl and a spoon (plus a hefty pour of milk). This is still the chief way of serving cereal in schools, usually via traditional bowlpaks. But the need to offer grab ‘n’ go options for breakfast in the classroom or second chance breakfast service has led to new formulations and packaging. “Portable packages such as cereal pouches allow students to eat cereal without milk, causing less mess and simpler preparation,” notes David Grotto of Kellogg’s. Bars and “cookies” are other options—either commercial products or recipes prepared by the school nutrition staff. Recipes published in School Nutrition have not been tested by the magazine or SNA in a school foodservice setting, except for certain “Kitchen Wisdom” selections, which are evaluated by a volunteer pool of operators. When available, nutrient analyses are provided by the recipe source. Required ingredients, preparation steps and nutrient content make some recipes more appropriate for catering applications or adult meals. Readers are encouraged to test recipes and calculate their own nutrition analyses, meal patterns and HACCP steps. Kelsey Casselbury is a contributing editor for School Nutrition and a former managing editor of this publication. She is based in Odenton, Md.
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