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Hot Breakfast Cereal: A Delicious and Nutritious Start to Your Day

Your parents probably told you breakfast is an important meal, perhaps even the most important meal of the day. Yet 54% of adults routinely skip breakfast, citing lack of time as the major reason. A 2008 review of the scientific literature found these four reasons to eat breakfast:1

  1. People who routinely eat breakfast have a higher intake of vitamins and minerals that typically aren’t replaced in people who skip breakfast.
  2. It’s easier to include whole grains, such as whole grain cereal, with breakfast. In fact, choosing whole grain cereal for breakfast can supply 1/3 of your daily whole grain needs. Whole grains are an important source of fiber and minerals.
  3. Skipping breakfast may lead to increased risk for weight gain and obesity, while eating breakfast may aid in weight management. Findings from the National Weight Control Registry show that 78% of people who successfully maintained a weight loss of 30 pounds or more for at least one year eat breakfast daily, and almost 90% eat breakfast on four or more days each week. Only 4% report never eating breakfast
  4. Numerous observational studies show that eating breakfast has a beneficial effect on academic and achievement test scores, grades, school attendance, and tardiness rates.

During the cold winter months, hot cereal is often a breakfast favorite. Hot cereal can be an excellent source of whole grains, fiber, vitamins and minerals. While oatmeal may be a traditional breakfast cereal, any type of grain can be cooked into a hearty, delicious, satisfying breakfast cereal. Choose from these options:

Oatmeal: Oats have a naturally sweet flavor which makes them a breakfast favorite. All types of oatmeal are whole grains, containing the bran and germ of the oat. Oats are steamed and flattened to prepare them for cooking as old-fashioned, regular, quick-cooking or instant oats. Steel-cut oats are cut into smaller pieces to help promote cooking, and produce the thickest, chewiest type of oatmeal. Oats are naturally gluten-free, but may be contaminated with wheat products unless they are certified as gluten-free on the nutrition label. Oats boast many health benefits:  the soluble fiber helps reduce risk of heart disease, increase feelings of fullness and satiety, and manage blood sugar levels. Oats are high in beta-glucans, a kind of starch that stimulates the immune system and may decrease the risk of some types of cancer. Oats also contain more than 20 unique polyphenols called avenanthramides, which have strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. 2

Polenta:  Polenta is a traditional Italian staple, originally made from a variety of different grains including spelt, rye, and buckwheat. Today, polenta is typically made from naturally gluten-free ground corn flour cooked in boiling water until thick. Choose whole grain instead of degermed polenta for the most nutrient-dense breakfast cereal that is a good source of zinc and fiber.3  Enjoy polenta with fruit, or mix in spinach or other raw leafy green vegetables and top with a sprinkle of cheese. Heat leftover slices of polenta instead of toast, and serve with eggs.

Grits:  Grits are made from dried kernels of corn with the germ and husk removed, producing hominy. The hominy is then ground into grits, which are boiled in water like rice. Because grits do not include the germ and husk, they are not a whole grain.4 Grits are a traditional food in the southern part of the United States. Stir in fresh fruit or fruit canned in its own juice for natural sweetness or add chopped Canadian bacon for protein.

Cream of Wheat was developed by a worker at a North Dakota flour mill in 1893 as a breakfast cereal for his family, and quickly became popular throughout the country as an alternative to oatmeal.5 Because it’s produced from wheat, Cream of Wheat contains gluten. Choose the whole grain variety for more fiber and minerals.

Cream of Rice is made from ground rice flour cooked in boiling water. It’s a bland, gluten-free cereal often used as a first food for infants. Traditionally Cream of Rice was not made from whole grains, but some companies now produce Cream of Rice made from whole grain brown rice.6 Choose the whole grain brown rice variety for more fiber.

Quinoa: Native to South America, quinoa was sacred to the Incas. Quinoa has a bitter coating, called saponin, that repels pests and makes quinoa easy to grow without pesticides. While most quinoa sold today has had this bitter coating removed, rinse quinoa before cooking to remove any residue. It’s naturally gluten-free and unlike other grains, contains all the amino acids that we need for good health. In fact, quinoa contains a higher amount of protein than any other grain. Quinoa is also a good source of potassium that helps lower blood pressure.7 Cook with additional water, milk, or non-dairy milks like soy milk or almond milk to make a creamy hot breakfast cereal. Flavor with cinnamon and vanilla, and top with sliced fresh fruit and sunflower seeds. Or enjoy a savory bowl of quinoa mixed with broccoli, spinach, onions, carrots and scrambled eggs or tofu.

Millet is the most popular grain in India, and is commonly eaten in China, South America, Russia and the Himalayas. Millet isn’t just one grain, like oats or wheat; instead it’s the common name for several different types of small-seeded, gluten-free grains. It’s enjoyed as a breakfast cereal in many parts of Africa. Millet is a good source of the minerals magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, zinc and copper.8 Cook millet with extra milk or non-dairy milk like soy milk or almond milk and mix in dried fruit and a tablespoon of peanut butter. Or top creamy millet with toasted nuts and seeds like walnuts, pecans, and pumpkin seeds.

Healthy and delicious tips for hot breakfast cereal:

  • Cook any breakfast cereal on the stove, in the microwave, bake in the oven, or save time in the morning by making overnight cereal.
  • Make a breakfast bowl, layering hot cereal, eggs cooked the way you prefer, roasted veggies, and seasonings like your favorite hot sauce.
  • Top cooked hot cereal with fresh, dried, or fruit canned in its own juice.
  • Instead of sugar or maple syrup, use cinnamon, vanilla, or nutmeg for natural flavor and sweetness.
  • Add protein to hot cereal with nuts or seeds like walnuts, pecans, pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds.
  • Enjoy savory hot cereal by adding leftover cooked pieces of chicken or fish, chunks of tofu, vegetables, and a sprinkling of cheese.
  • Cook your favorite grain in milk instead of water to add calcium and protein to your cereal. Add a spoonful of plain Greek yogurt after cooking for even more nutrition and flavor.
  • Sprinkle 1-2 tablespoons of granola or your favorite cold cereal on the top of cooked hot cereal for a crunchy addition.

Table: nutrition info for 1 cup cooked portion of hot cereal

Cereal                          calories           fat       carbohydrate               fiber                protein

Grits                            143 kcal           0 g       31g                              1g                    3g

Oatmeal                      166                  4g        32g                              4g                    6g

Polenta                        146                  1g        32g                              4g                    4g

Cream of Wheat         150                  1g        31g                              5g                    6g

Cream of Rice             150                  1g        32g                              2g                    3g       

*Quinoa                      222                  4g        39g                              5g                    8g

*Millet                        207                  2g        41g                              2g                    6g

*nutrition values for quinoa and millet are based on preparing them similar to rice. For a creamy breakfast cereal with more water, the calories will be less.


  1. Breakfast and Health. International Food and Information Council. http://www.foodinsight.org/Content/6/IFIC%20Brkfast%20Review%20FINAL.pdf December 2008. Accessed 1-20-17.
  2. Oats – January Grain of the Month. Oldways Whole Grains Council. http://wholegrainscouncil.org/whole-grains-101/easy-ways-enjoy-whole-grains/grain-month-calendar/oats-%E2%80%93-january-grain-month Accessed 1-20-17
  3. Polenta. Italy Heritage. http://www.italyheritage.com/traditions/food/polenta.htm Accessed 1-20-17.
  4. Grits. Author: Stan Woodward. South Carolina Encyclopedia. http://www.scencyclopedia.org/sce/entries/grits/ Updated May 2016. Accessed 1-21-17.
  5. Cream of Wheat History. B & G Foods. http://www.bgfoods.com/creamofwheat/cow_history.asp Accessed 1-21-17.
  6. Cream of Rice. Cook’s Info. http://www.cooksinfo.com/cream-of-rice Accessed 1-21-17
  7. Quinoa – March Grain of the Month. Whole Grains Food Council. http://wholegrainscouncil.org/whole-grains-101/easy-ways-enjoy-whole-grains/grain-month-calendar/quinoa-%E2%80%93-march-grain-month Accessed 1-22-17.
  8. Millet and Teff – November Grains of the Month. Whole Grains Food Council. http://wholegrainscouncil.org/whole-grains-101/easy-ways-enjoy-whole-grains/grain-month-calendar/millet-and-teff-%E2%80%93-november-grains Accessed 1-22-17.