When shopping for breakfast items — pancake mix, frozen waffles, granola — not all products are created equal. If you or your family are trying to eat a little better, here’s a few things to look for on the label.
Pancake or Waffle Mix
An ideal pancake or waffle mix includes 100 percent whole grains, preferably as the first ingredient. If you see the word “whole” used to describe a grain in the ingredients, then it contains all the essential natural-occurring nutrients of the grain — the bran, germ, and endosperm. Words such as “wheat” and “multigrain” might lead you to believe that they are whole grains, but unless you see the word “whole,” you can’t be sure. Also look for mixes that offer 3 grams of fiber or more.
Toaster Pancakes or Waffles
Toaster pancakes and waffles are a lifesaver on busy mornings, but some are better than others. Like the mixes, look for brands that use 100 percent whole grains. Bonus points if they use chia seeds or ground flax — both of which add healthy fat. Generally, if a product is made with whole grains, it will contain some fiber, but check the label anyway: You’re looking for 3 grams or more per serving. Additionally, brands such as Kodiak Cakes have a line of Power Waffles, which include 12 grams of protein per serving. The combination of protein and fiber helps you feel full for longer.
Muffins can often be cake disguised as breakfast, but it’s possible to find some redeeming qualities if the mix is made with whole grains, contains some fiber, and isn’t terribly high in sugar. (Some muffins have 30-plus grams of sugar per muffin.) Depending on the flavor — blueberry, banana, cranberry — the total sugar might be coming from natural sources. Regardless, it’s important to note that fiber and protein prevent blood sugar from spiking too quickly, so look for one that has at least 3 grams of fiber and pair it with protein, such as yogurt or an egg. And try to avoid baking them as jumbo muffins. A regular-sized muffin tin, or even a mini muffin tin, keeps portions under control.
Granola, while nutritious, is a fairly energy-dense food, meaning it packs a lot of calories into a small serving. Look for one that contains whole grains, such as oats or whole grain rolled wheat, dried fruit, and nuts — all of which provide fiber. Keep portions to ½ cup or under, or look for the single-serving packs. Kodiak Cakes has a line of hot or cold granola that comes in cups. They contain about 4 grams of fiber and 10 grams of protein for fewer than 300 calories.
People often wonder about the difference between steel cut oats, rolled oats, and quick oats, so here’s a brief primer. All oats start off as groats. Steel cut oats are the least processed; they’re simply chopped pieces of whole groats. Rolled oats, or old-fashioned oats, are steamed and rolled flat, so they cook quicker than steel cut oats. Quick oats, or instant oats, are cooked, dried, and rolled even thinner than old-fashioned oats. This is what makes them the quickest cooking of all. When it comes to nutrition, they’re all good choices. It’s what you add to the oatmeal that counts. Smart options are berries, nuts, and spices, and try to keep the brown sugar to a teaspoon or less.