Like a superhero who goes around by day as a mild-mannered average Joe, packaged breakfast cereal also has a secret identity that makes it just about indispensable. Once only at the breakfast table, cereal has evolved into an all-day powerhouse of menu innovation. Many forward-thinking operators appreciate the ingredient’s versatility when they see how much customers enjoy the crunch, flavor and whole-grain goodness cereal adds to so many dishes.
Putting cereal to work
Beth Winthrop, Senior Manager and Health & Wellness Architect for Sodexo University Services, is one industry leader who appreciates cereal’s numerous applications.
Rice Chex™ as a gluten-free option
“Some of my multi-tasking cereal favorites are ‘throwback’ cereals that have been around a while,” she says. “We dietitians still have a fondness for Rice Chex™, which was gluten-free before any other rice cereal was.” Winthrop likes to use any of the seven gluten-free Chex™ cereals as ingredients in cereal bars and snack mixes. Because they are not overly sweet, she says they also make a great gluten-free substitute for panko breadcrumbs. “They create a product that’s very crunchy and light,” she says, noting that most operations do not deep fry gluten-free offerings because of possible cross-contamination from cooking oil. “Use Rice Chex™ to crumb a piece of chicken or fish, then bake it in the oven, and it will be wonderfully crispy,” she says.
Fiber One™ adds sustenance
Another of Winthrop’s “old school” cereal go-to’s is Fiber One™. “I like to use the plain, original version, because it’s not sweet, which lends an amazing functionality for savory dishes,” she says. “It’s just about the best crouton substitute you’ll ever find. You can jazz it up with herbs, garlic power or cheddar cheese powder, but even plain, it’s a satisfying, non-fried, whole grain option for a salad bar or prepared salad station.” One of her favorite dishes is a salad of dark greens tossed with fresh strawberries, a balsamic vinaigrette and a handful of Fiber One™ cereal. “There are only 60 calories in a half-cup serving, and 14 grams of fiber, so it’s a great salad addition,” she says.
Students find new ways to make cereal “hip”
After observing “dining hall hacks” on many of the campuses she serves, Winthrop suggests taking a cue from creative students and begin using cereal in unusual new ways. “It’s a great topping for frozen yogurt or ice cream, for example,” she says. “And I’ve been noticing an uptick in the idea of using dry cereal as a topping for hot cereal. “Paired with sunflower seeds or pepitas and a bit of dried fruit, the dry cereal gives that hot dish a wonderful crunch and a bit of sweetness.”
While millennials have been famously labeled as “anti bowl and spoon,” Winthrop has a workaround for that: “People love anything you can layer in a mason jar, and cereal makes a great ‘layer’ as you’re building on-trend portable creations.”
For some creative ways to incorporate cereal into your menu, check out this link.