The Three Step Process That Will Solve Your Cereal Dilemma

October 11, 2011   33 Comments

Packaged cereal is a quagmire of marketing HOOEY. For example, I have seen Kellogg's emphasizing high fiber on its boxes of "Apple Jacks".

Quaker Oatmeal Squares

Yes, you will get fiber with your sugar and artificial colors and flavors - but that doesn't make it healthy.

What does make a packaged cereal a healthy choice? Last year, I came up with my patented "Healthy or Crappy Cereal Test" to help guide us in our cereal aisle problems.

I haven't found many cereals that pass my test - which makes life difficult. The ones photographed above - "Barbara's Shredded Oats" and "Quaker Oatmeal Squares" are interesting to me because they taste almost exactly the same.

Barbara's brand, which you can find at Trader Joe's and Whole Foods, has a healthy halo that is has earned by being an alternative to mass market cereal like Quaker.

Interestingly, Quaker seems to have been paying attention to what customers want. Their oatmeal squares have whole grains, 6 grams of protein, and no high fructose corn syrup.

So, which should you choose?

Healthy or Crappy Cereal Test

1. Is the first ingredient whole grain? Yes! For both cereals, the first ingredient is whole oat flour.

2. Is there 5 grams or less of sugar per serving? No! Quaker has 9 grams per serving and Barbara's has 12 grams per serving.

3. One serving must provides at least 4 grams of fiber. You can remember this one with Four Fiber. Yes! Both cereals have five grams of fiber.

At my local store, the Quaker cereal was $4 for a 16 ounce box - Barbara's was $4.10 for a 12 ounce box.

One more difference is that Quaker included artificial colors #5 and #6 in their ingredients. Why? I have no idea.

So, Quaker wins the healthier cereal battle. Yes, I wish there was less sugar in it but it tastes good and you can always mix it with a ZERO sugar added cereal like Cheerios or Shredded Wheat.

Perhaps the BIG BOYS are starting to get the message. We want packaged cereals that include actual nutrients and less sugar to start our day.

Have you tried either of these cereals? What do you think?

Quaker Oatmeal Squares, Crunchy Oatmeal Cereal with a Hint of Brown Sugar, 16-Ounce Boxes (Pack of 6)

Quaker Oatmeal Squares, Crunchy Oatmeal Cereal with a Hint of Brown Sugar, 16-Ounce Boxes (Pack of 6)

  currently unavailable Buy on

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Barbara's Bakery Morning Oat Crunch Cereal, Original, 14 Ounce (Pack of 6)

Barbara's Bakery Morning Oat Crunch Cereal, Original, 14 Ounce (Pack of 6)

  $27.41 ($0.33 / Ounce) Buy on

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Haven't tried either of these.... but erewhon cereals from attune Definitely do! They're my favorite right now. :)

on October 11, 2011

I wrote a short post on Quaker Oat Squares in March which explains why I wouldn't eat them. I'm not familiar with the other brand.

on October 11, 2011

I recommend Uncle Sam - - High in fiber and no fake ingredients.

I also use it as one of my ingredients for my home made high fiber bars.

on October 11, 2011

I'm normally in agreement with your posts, but this one has me scratching my head a little.

While I recognize that you're leaning towards the Quaker cereal for the lower sugar amount (and price), I'm surprised that you're okay with the artificial food coloring added to the product. Additionally, there's a long list of additives (supposedly nutritionally needed vitamin supplements) in the Quaker cereal, including BHT.

The Barbara's product is something, in theory, I could make at home if I followed the ingredient list - I know what everything is listed on the box. Wouldn't this make it the better snack option? Yes, it does cost a little more, but the ingredients are healthier for us and the earth. I would vote for Barbara's cereal being the better snack/breakfast option.

on October 11, 2011

@Renee - Thanks for your comment. There are also vitamin additives in the Barbara's - and no BHT or artificial colors.

I am trying to make choosing a cereal less overwhelming.

For me, the added artificial colors, and BHT are a very small component of the overall product and I believe that they are at a concentration that is not unhealthy for most of us.

on October 11, 2011

I don't really thing there IS a healthy cereal. Yes some might contain better ingredients than others, and the 2 you listed are probably an okay option if you really love cereal. (My guess is that most kids wouldn't find those appealing though).

I once spoke with someone who used to work for a cereal company, and he said that cereal, ANY and ALL cereal, is so processed that by the time it comes out in cereal form there are no nutrients left. Yes, in many cases cereals are fortified to get some nutrients back in. But cereal is not a whole food, not even organic "healthy" cereal.

on October 11, 2011

@Snack Girl, sorry, but I have to agree with Kathy and Renee on this one. It may be a small amount, but this isn't a 'treat'. Often people get in a routine with things like breakfast cereals. They might eat the same thing for weeks at a time (or for some people on and off for years). So, not really a 'limited exposure'. Also, it is the same thing as 'added salt, added sugar'. Not a big deal, until it is in EVERY processed product that you buy. So, given the price difference is small and it would be an easy choice to avoid for something you might potentially eat everyday, I have to agree with them.

Also, while you were at TJ's you should have taken a look at the Kashi Autumn Wheat (plain not the cinnamon or vanilla flavors also found at other stores- it is sweet enough on its own and you can add those other two ingredients easily yourself when you go to eat it). Anyway, it is not only organic, but only has 3 ingredients! The first of which is organic whole grain wheat, and they have 7g of sugar per serving and 6g fiber (50g whole grains). Cheapest place to buy it is TJ's or occasionally Fred Meyer has a good sale on it as well.

on October 11, 2011

I tend to go for the unsweetened cereals and add honey to them. What are your thoughts on all the Kashi cereals? I tend to think of them as a healthy alternative but I'm not so sure anymore.

on October 11, 2011

@Izabel - I have reviewed a couple of them and some of them have too much added sugar - I apply the cereal test to Kashi too! Their healthy halo seems to be falling off a bit. Thanks for the question!

on October 11, 2011

Great info! My wife and I are always watching cereal labels, and fiber and sugar are the most important to us!

on October 11, 2011

I highly recommend Nature's Path's "Flax Plus Flakes" and "Heritage Flakes" cereals. The ingredients are organic and all whole wheat or whole grain, with no artificial ingredients or added preservatives. Both are lightly sweetened with honey or evaporated cane juice with 5 grams of fiber or more per serving and only 4 grams of sugar per serving.

on October 11, 2011

I'd say that cereal in general is junk food. I'm all in favour of eating real food for breakfast like omlettes, left over roast chicken, salads, fish etc

on October 11, 2011

I agree with Nell. A breakfast with protein keeps me satified until noon, and if it's food I make at home I know what's in it.

on October 11, 2011

My 10 y/o loves Quaker Oatmeal Squares! I like it too, and feel it's a pretty good alternative to most on the market in 'regular' grocery stores. (we don't have a Whole Foods or Trader Joes)

on October 11, 2011

Let's skip cereal all together! How about whole wheat pita with a raw nut butter? How about a green smoothie? How about old fashioned oatmeal with walnuts, blueberries, and cinnamon? What's the big deal about cereal? Where are the phytochemicals and antioxidants? 99% of them are crap anyway. I agree with the PP, I was surprised you picked the Quaker with the artificial colors.

on October 11, 2011

Why does anyone need to add sugar to cereal???? Starting the day with sugar in a meal is a bad idea. Before I started making my own granola I always ate plain Cheerios, or Shredded Wheat biscuits, etc. It is almost impossible to find cereal at the store with out sugar, and I feel very frustrated! Thanks for the chance to vent!

on October 11, 2011

I was surprised a few years ago to learn that Quaker Life cereal has artificial colors as well (yellow #5 I think?). I expect that in candy or Fruit Loops but not in a supposedly healthy cereal. Why do they need color for a brown/tan cereal?

on October 11, 2011

I make my own granola, always with some nuts, and I vary the dried fruits. Whole, old fashioned oats. I take it with me when I am travelling.

on October 11, 2011

I have eaten the Quaker Oat Squares and like them very much. I don't eat them for breakfast as much as I have them for a snack when I want something crunch. I don't eat them to excess because of the high sugar content, but they definitely have a place in our home. They're also great mixed with some yogurt.

on October 11, 2011

I like the Special K with extra protein. I try to eat protein packed foods.

on October 11, 2011

I love Quaker Oatmeal Squares. I usually just eat oatmeal, but when I don't feel like making it I'll eat dry cereal. So it's not very often, but when I do eat dry cereal it's usually Oatmeal Squares. Someone else mentioned the Kashi Autumn Wheat, which I also have and is really good.

on October 11, 2011

Thanks Snack Girl - good info for the cereal lovers out there (and there are many!). Something to keep in mind - when "whole grains" are processed into powders for flours and cereals this produces foods that act more like refined grains, so they're more likely to increase blood sugar and raise insulin levels (a condition associated with chronic inflammation). Best to get eat most of your whole grains in the unprocessed form (i.e., eat whole oats rather than cheerios/oat squares).

on October 12, 2011

I try to eat cereal every day. I've started to eat them w/ Almond Milk - no flavor - 40 calores. I like Multi-Grain Cheerios. The overall description works for me and has (along with unflavored oatmeal-like McCann's Irish oatmeal best) lowered my cholesterol. Am diabetic and my numbers are very good! I would love to have a bagel or an omelet every day, but that's deadly! How can you eat eggs w/o potatoes and toast??? You have to read the entire description of ingredients. Just purchased Fiber One 80 - one word - ugh! Liked the high fiber chex and Wheaties (samples). If you can't eat what's good for you, what's the use? I do like Kashi's Heart to Heart and their Autumn wheat squares but Autumn has a lot of calories. For the most part, cereal fills me up for the morning. Checkout the ingredients. A little sugar is okay, but the fiber content is more important. Sometimes high fiber equals horrible taste. Who wants to eat tree fibers?

on October 12, 2011

I've tried the quaker oatmeal squares. Might not be the best option for those of use on Weight Watchers, but could be better if you mixed a partial portion with a Fiber One Cereal.

on October 12, 2011

I like Kellogg's All-Bran. A heart specialist actually recommended it to my Mother. It has 10 grams of dietary fiber. It's great with either strawberries or bananas cut up in it!

on July 18, 2012

What are your thoughts on Cracklin Oat Bran? It's delicious but high in points and fiber.

on August 2, 2012

@Yoshi - it has 15 grams of sugar per serving or 3 teaspoons. I would mix it with a less sugary cereal like Cheerios. Thanks for your question!

on August 20, 2012

I love oatmeal squares but I don't love all the preservatives. How similar do they taste to Barbaras?

on November 12, 2014

I changed cereals after talking with my doctor. I now only eat a cereal if the total protein plus the total fiber = more than the sugar. I found one brand that delivers this, Post Great Grains Protein. Protein=8g,Fiber 6g.. Sugar=9. It's harder to find this than I thought it would be. Made with whole grain Wheat, Whole Grain Rolled Oats, Whole grain Barley,Almonds, pumpkin seeds, cracked Flaxseed plus a few organic ingredients, I thought it was better than most. there is one ingredient I can't pronounce, for freshness, but other than that the list was common items, and I absolutely love the taste and price.

on April 16, 2015

Thank you Snack Girl, I really enjoy reading your blog. I like General Mills Fiber One with no Aspartame. I realize it is not the best on the market, but will eat it occasionally when in a pinch.

on April 16, 2015

For those with IBS this cereal is a NO because of the wheat in it,but I can't find how much there is in it?Does anyone know?

on January 21, 2016

I don't agree with you on the Artificial colors being in cereal. It may be a little amount but it does cause ADHD in children. I would of course buy the Barbara's brand. Some of your food choices aren't very good.

on February 25, 2016

I add 1 cup of blueberries to my Quaker Oat Cinnamon Squares cereal and it keeps me full.

on March 10, 2016

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