Fast Food Real Food Part 2 – Leaving the Box Behind

Fast Food Real Food memeIn Part 1 of this series, I introduced you to the Burt Family Brown Bags.  These were the 7 quick and easy ‘go to’ recipes that helped us bypass the fast food drive through and head for the house.  I knew when I got home I could have a meal in minutes.  These bags were where we started.  But I still wanted to improve nutrition while maintaining the convenience of these meals.  Today we are going dramatically improve the nutrition of the “Breakfast for Dinner” bag.  It started out with 2 boxes of cereal in a bag.  Add milk.  Dinner is served.  🙂

Cereal BoxesIt doesn’t take long in real food circles to realize that boxed cereal is not nutritious.  Some even say the box is better for you than the cereal inside.  This rumor is so prevalent that it has even been addressed by Snopes and Mythbusters.  While they discovered that the cereal did, in fact, have more nutrition that the box, most of the nutrition came from what was added to the cereal and not the cereal itself – like a synthetic vitamin in a bowl.  The opinions on boxed cereal range from “choose carefully” (here and here) to “cereal is toxic” (here, here, and here).  A Calorie Counter has a page where you can check the nutrition of your favorite cereal.  (This is a really informative page – worth a look.)  And Live Strong has an article to help us learn a little about reading cereal nutrition labels. (Our hugest, most huge?, issue is that of serving size.  My kids can consume a LOT of food).

For our family it came down to a question of nutrition and a certainty of economics.  Our 12 children could easily consume 2-3 boxes of cereal if that is all I offered them.  And then they were starving 3 hours later!!!  WOW!  Add that up at $3 per box minimum.  Even giant “economic” bag cereals didn’t last long.  When you consider the economics in light of the fact that they were arguably the most unhealthy thing on our menu, I HAD to come up with another option.

And so I give you all of our breakfast cereal recipes.  Some of them are WAY quick and easy.  I listed those on this post.  Some are more involved and I honestly don’t fix them very often, but I posted the recipes In The Kitchen because sometimes I do.  And when I started this journey, I needed options.  And the kids needed a transition from boxed cereal to real food cereal.  Do they miss boxed cereal?  Let’s just say that each of them has 1 box of the cereal of their choice at the top of their Christmas list.  And we will gather around the table and enjoy each other and this very NON nutritious treat.  Because sometimes, on special occasions, memories and relationships are more important than nutrition.

Quick and Easy Cold Cereal Recipes:

IMG_7076I have cold cereal scheduled for Monday morning so that I don’t have to think or plan – just set it on the table. This “recipe” works well for me because it is usually leftover from last week – no prep involved. But even if I have to fix it, it is ready in 20 minutes.  It is . . .

Cornbread and Milk

Yep.  Really.  My kids like it drizzled with a little honey.  I love it plain.  We have cornbread at least once each week, so I just tuck the leftovers away in the frig for Monday morning.  Here is my quick and easy cornbread:

Turn the oven to 425 degrees.

Add:

  • 3 tablespoons oil to a 10 inch cast iron pan or 13X9 baking pan

Place the pan in the oven to heat the oil.  While the oven and your pan are preheating, mix the following:

  • 1 1/2 cups corn meal (we love stone ground)
  • 1/2 cup unbleached flour (you can leave this out if gluten is an issue but the cornbread will be crumbly – which is fine for cereal purposes)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt

When the dry ingredients are mixed add:

  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk (or 2 tablespoons of vinegar and 1 1/4 cup milk)

Combine well and adjust the consistency to be about like cake batter – where it drips off the spoon instead of glops. 🙂  Add:

  • the hot oil from the pan in the oven

Mix quickly and pour the batter back into the hot skillet and return to the oven for 12-15 minutes.  When it is golden brown, it is ready.

Slice and serve with milk.  We eat it cold or warm from the oven.  My son is reading over my shoulder as I type and his comment is, “Cornbread and milk – best cold cereal ever – next to chocolate granola.”

IMG_7087The most common homemade breakfast cereal is granola.  But when I started this journey, those recipes were overwhelming – huge quantities, tons of ingredients, baking and stirring, and baking and stirring.  And then there was the solution . . .

Skillet Granola

This is quite possibly the simplest breakfast cereal ever.  And it is so good!!  It is still our family favorite (especially the chocolate version).  And it is ready to serve in 5 minutes.  Really!!

Fill an 8 cup measuring cup or bowl with any combination of the following:

  • oat flakes (I usually soak and dehydrate now but when I started I used them right out of the can.  These are not quick oats, but those would probably work, too.)
  • nuts – pecans, walnuts, almonds, etc (soaked and dried are delicious)
  • flax, chia, sunflower, or other seeds
  • coconut (unsweetened is best)
  • buckwheat (we love it sprouted and dehydrated)

These 8 cups can literally be anything you have that would be good in granola.  IMG_7081Today I used old fashioned oat flakes, flax seed meal, chopped walnuts, coconut, and sunflower seeds.

In a large skillet warm the following:

  • 1/3 cup oil (I use coconut oil)
  • 1/3 cup honey (or maple syrup)

When the oil and honey are just bubbly add the 8 cups of granola.  Stir for 1 minute to combine and coat the cereal.  Sprinkle with:

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons sucanat (or other sugar to  give just a hint of a glaze)

Cook one more minute, stirring constantly.  Literally 2-3 minutes total cooking time is all it needs.  Serve with dried fruit and milk.  SO GOOD!!

And since my son requested it . . .

Chocolate Skillet Granola

Follow the directions above but add up to 1/2 cup cocoa and 1/2 cup sucanat (or other sugar) to the 8 cups of granola  mix.  Cook exactly the same as for regular granola, but sprinkle with a full teaspoon of salt (rather than a 1/2 teaspoon) and 1 teaspoon of vanilla when you remove it from the heat.  Serve.  Daddyboy LOVES this with dried cherries :-).  It is a special occasion treat because of the higher sugar content but it is a family favorite.

IMG_6744This next cereal has become a staple.  It is easy and delicious and there are so many options that you never get tired of having the same cereal.

Millet Cereal

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  For the basic recipe – in a 13X9 baking dish combine the following:

  • 1 1/2 cups millet
  • 8 cups milk
  • 1 cup chopped dates (or sucanat or other sugar to taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla

Place the dish in the hot oven for 30 minutes.  Remove and stir.  You’ll think that it will never absorb all the milk, but just have patience.  Sprinkle nuts on the top, if desired, and return to the oven for 30 more minutes.  It will absorb all the milk and be ready to serve when your timer goes off.  The long bake time is the only draw back to this cereal, but it can be made ahead and stored in the frig.

You can also make it into most any flavor:

  • Banana Nut – add mashed bananas to the original mixture and nuts when you stir it at the half-way point
  • Coconut Pineapple – add finely chopped and drained pineapple and coconut to the original mixture
  • Peach – add chopped peached to the original mixture
  • Crunchy – add raisins, dried cranberries, cherries, coconut or other dried fruits to the original mixture and any nuts at the half-way point.
  • Make your own . . . what would you add?