You walk in the door at 9 PM after a god-awful day at work, starving and exhausted. Cooking dinner is out of the question. So should you order takeout—or just have a bowl of cereal?
Sure, a greasy container of moo shu pork would taste great. But you’ll probably feel a hell of a lot better after eating the cereal. Because despite what you might think, it’s actually pretty easy to turn the stuff into a respectable meal that will fill you up and actually deliver some nutrition. Here’s how.
1. First, pick a clean cereal.
If it’s gonna be the base of your meal, it better not be junk. So before you start filling up your bowl, make sure your cereal is pretty clean. Obviously, that means no artificial colors or preservatives—or weird ingredients like high fructose corn syrup or soy protein isolate. As for the nutritional stats? A serving should have 200 calories or less and at least 5 g of fiber, says Keri Gans, a registered dietician and author of The Small Change Diet. And keep it below 10 g of sugar per serving. (Try one of these 10 low-sugar cereal options.)
2. Pay attention to the serving size.
It’s insanely easy to pour yourself two or three times as much cereal as the serving size calls for, especially if you’re using a big bowl. But if literally measuring out your cereal feels too diet-y, at least try to eyeball a reasonable portion. A 1-cup serving is about two handfuls.
MORE: The 10 Best Organic Cereals
3. Add a solid source of protein.
This is the stuff that’ll keep you from raiding the fridge again in 2 hours. If you’re using dairy milk, great—pouring a cup over your cereal will give you 8 g of protein. But if you’re using a nondairy milk, like almond or coconut, you’ll need to get your protein from somewhere else. Try adding a generous spoonful of nut butter, a few tablespoons of chopped nuts or seeds, or even a scoop of protein powder. Or just skip the milk altogether and use plain Greek yogurt or cottage cheese instead. Both pack more than 20 g of protein per cup.
4. Toss in plenty of fresh fruit.
How ’bout some kale with your Kashi? Um, no thanks. We’re all about finding surprising ways to get more vegetables, but the cereal bowl is where we draw the line. Still, that’s not an excuse to leave your meal entirely devoid of fresh produce. Top your cereal with at least one serving of fruit—or more, if you’re really hungry, since it’s almost impossible to get too much. Think fresh or frozen and thawed berries, chopped banana or pineapple, grated apple, or sliced grapes. (Here are good frozen options.)
MORE: Quinoa Cereal, Anyone?
5. Resist the urge to add extra sugar.
You’re hopefully getting a decent amount of sweetness from all that fruit, which means you shouldn’t need to sprinkle on any table sugar or add any honey. If you still want more sweetness, add a tablespoon or two of dried fruit—like raisins, dried cherries, or chopped dates—so you’re at least getting some extra fiber. Or just use a little bit of stevia. But remember, this is dinner—not dessert.