Cereal Killer

Making the transition into college life means a lot of things- Moving further away from childhood and closer to the “real world,” meeting new people that could become your life-long friends, learning vital skills to form the foundation of your career… And of course, neglecting your diet just in time to put on a couple extra pounds of insulation for winter. The dreaded freshman 15 is the result of too much freedom for some, but I know that my own downfall would be the lack of time. Cooking will probably fall by the wayside as my schedule fills up with classes and assignments, so in trying to circumvent such horrible eating habits, I did some research in advance to find convenient but also nutritious ways to fuel up between study groups. Cereal is already my go-to snack, meal, and comfort food when pressed for time, so I knew that I would need to go find some good options that wouldn’t leave me comatose from sugar or lack of nutrients.

That’s why I naturally turned to Nature’s Path, producers of many different cereal products that I’ve loved for ages now. From oatmeal to waffles to hand pies, everything they make is organic and generally vegan (but not all) so I figured it would be hard to go wrong with this established brand. Venturing away from my usual buys and treading through unexplored waters, it was hard to pick and choose through the extensive selection of whole grain goods, but eventually I arrived at the checkout line with some enticing new options in hand.

With such an extensive product line, how is one to choose just a few different items? They all sounded potentially tasty, so I just grabbed the first box that caught my eye- Acai Apple Granola, with Pomegranate. Filled with decently sized clumps of crispy rice, oats, and chunks of dried apple, I could clearly see that there would be no mystery add-ins with unpronounceable names here, although there was still one ingredient that had me stumped. Acai has been popping up more and more often lately, purportedly used as a source of antioxidants and beneficial fatty acids, but to be perfectly honest, I couldn’t tell you what it tastes like if it bit me on the nose. Keeping that in mind, what hit me upon first bite was the wonderfully crunchy texture and light, natural sweetness. Lacking an overwhelming or intense flavor profile, it was quite agreeable to the palate nonetheless, something that a whole family with very different tastes could probably enjoy. Easy to eat and sufficiently filling to stave away hunger until the next meal, I can’t tell you that it necessarily tasted like pomegranate, but the tart apples did provide a nice crisp counter point to the simple, sweet grains.

Straying momentarily from my initial objective, I just couldn’t resist the lure of their Peanut Butter Granola Bars. As a huge fan of granola bars, it only makes sense to find some more portable snacking options too, right? Well that’s what I told myself as the package went through the checkout line, and let me tell you, I didn’t regret this quick pick for a moment once I took my first bite. Thick, chewy, but somehow not the least bit sticky or sickening, I don’t know that I’ve ever tasted such a delicious peanut creation! Packed full of hearty oats and full peanuts, you can literally see the quality ingredients that make up such an incredible nutty flavor, slightly toasty and completely delicious. Boasting a nice rounded sweetness that pairs perfectly with the strength of the peanut flavor, it somehow managed to be completely rich and indulgent on the tongue, but not the least bit unsettling in the stomach. Seriously satisfying, I could easily have gone hours before even thinking of my hunger again!

Being a fan of all things pumpkin, I was excited to see the title of Flax Plus Pumpkin Raisin Crunch plastered across the cardboard box near me, and into the cart it went. Upon opening up the inner sleeve at home, I was a bit disappointed to learn that the “pumpkin” in the title only referred to the seeds, not the actual flavor. All the same, it really didn’t need any additional character, making an impression as is. The thick, substantial flakes crunched solidly between my teeth, tasting vaguely nutty and decidedly hearty from the abundant flax seeds visible from the outside. These are not your typical bland wheat flakes- They’re an entirely different creature altogether, and in a very good way. Mixed in with these flakes were the most delicious oat clusters, bringing in a delightful sweetness to the party and lightening up this otherwise heavy cereal. Raisins can be a tricky addition, as some people are terribly adverse to them, while others want tons of the dried grapes in everything. In my opinion, there was a good amount in this mixture- Not so many that it completely overwhelms the other components, but enough that you occasionally get a small burst of fruit flavor and nice textural contrast to the crisp grains. Only occasionally would I come across one or two pumpkin seeds, but they were certainly a treat to discover, even if I wish there had been more. All things considered, I would definitely purchase this one again for a fast, hearty breakfast.

[UPDATE: Nature’s Path seems to have changed the formula on this variety recently to include honey and is thus no longer vegan!  What a shame…]

Although I could have easily continued sampling many more varieties of cereals and granolas, I decided to cap off my grain-guzzling spree with a box of Soy Plus Granola. Pouring out a bowl of sizable granola chunks containing crispy rice and oats interspersed with spherical soy puffs, I wasn’t sure what to think of this final offering, since “soy” doesn’t evoke thoughts of any specific flavor. Thankfully, it wasn’t just a bowl of bland protein pieces like so many other soy cereals tend to be, but actually a lightly sweet, almost fruity taste. The soy puffs were the absolute best- Just like corn pops, but so much healthier! Unlike that sugar kid’s cereal though, this one is nothing to feel guilty about later; it won’t leave you feeling as though you just ate candy for breakfast.

With these delicious and healthy new choices in hand, I’m sure that rushed meals or fast snacks won’t get the better of me in
college!

[Written for Go Dairy Free]