How to choose a cereal bar

On the go snacks can be a tricky one. You want something portable, tasty and easy to grab. Let’s face it cereal bars do tick the box, they can be hugely varied in terms of their nutritional content. Whilst it is important to go for a snack you really enjoy and balance is what it’s all about, it can also also be helpful to think about what goes into that bar to help you meet your nutritional needs. Some people will need higher calorie, energy dense snacks, which can also mean more sugar. For others people lower added sugars is a better option for overall health and dental health. So think about the purpose of the cereal bar and your overall aims.

Recovery Snacks:

I work in eating disorder recovery and I am often encouraging people to eat cereal bars that are higher in protein and calories to help meet their bodies needs. The same can be said if you have been competing in an event and your body needs to refuel and recover. Nuts, seeds, protein powders and nut butters can help with this. If this is you then I’d recommend you DO NOT look at the ingredients list or the nutrition label as this may be triggering. You can choose something from the list below or ask someone else to look at the label for you. I often recommend that people buy a few cereal bars and cover up the nutrition on the label, pop them into a tupperware box and just grab one at random for snack time. This can help you work through the challenge of not always going for the lower calorie option.

Everyday Bars:

If you are looking for a quick stop gap between meals and are not looking to gain further weight then smaller bars may be more suitable. Take a look at the ingredients list to check out the amount of added sugars, a bar that is high in sugars can lead to you not feeling satisfied and wanting more. Any bar where the first of second ingredient is sugar or a syrup is best kept as a once in a while food in this situation. If there is 15g or more sugar per 100g (not per bar) then this is a high sugar food, but check the ingredients as this could be due to dried fruit, which contributes to your fruit and veg for the day. If you are having cereal bars everyday think about whether you could make your own. Energy balls are super easy and keep well or nominate a flapjack tin and try some recipes with less added syrup and sugar.

Keeps you going Bars:

Bars that include oats, nuts, seeds and protein powders can help you stay fuller for longer. The addition of fruit can also help here, although the fruit is sweet it has fibre and micronutrients, plus it’s another way to increase your fruit consumption. Or why not add something alongside the cereal bar, a banana or some nuts. You can easily make energy balls using oats, nuts, seeds and dried fruit too, a great money saving tip, plus you can choose your own flavours. 

For Children:

Cereals bars can be a good lunchbox filler, easy to take into the playground at break times. It’s important to avoid nuts as most schools will have a nut free policy. Do check the sugar content of the bars you buy as the free sugars are not good for dental health and overall health if eaten to excess of the bodies needs. Oats are again a good base for a cereal bar along with dried fruit. Plain breakfast biscuits, homemade banana flapjacks and energy balls are also great in lunchboxes. I’d highly recommend making your own flapjacks for lunchboxes if you can, get the kids involved and try my Banana flapjacks, these Sunshine bars or these chickpea, date and cashew bites.

Heres a few things to think about when choosing bars:

Whats in it:

The top ingredients are the biggest components. If the top ingredient is sugar/syrup then stop and think. There can be times you need the extra sugar (as a recovery snack for example) but longterm it’s not going to be great for your dental health and may leave you unsatisifed. However this is not a hard and fast rule. There are some bars higher in sugar that contain plenty of oats, fibre and protein to balance things out. Remember we want to think about overall nutrition in the day, not just what is eaten at one meal. So if you have a higher sugar foods at your afternoon snack to get you through the afternoon that could be what you need and may stop you reaching for the whole packet of biscuits later on. Cereal bars based on oats, nuts, seeds, dried fruit and other grains can provide a greater range of nutrition and satisfaction too. 

The label:

It isn’t always helpful for all people to read nutrition labels, if this is a trigger for you then please do not do it. Remember, everyone is different so do what works for you! If checking labels is helpful for you then look at the protein and fibre. Around 4-5g protein and 3-5g fibre should keep you going till your next eating occasion. Also have a glance at the sugar, if there is a lot of sugar check out the ingredients to see where that comes from. It may be dried fruit or it could be an added sugar. I do not advocate you go sugar free but always go for balance across your day and going for a lower sugar option if you can. 

What else are you eating today?

Think about when your next meal is, how long does this cereal bar need to keep you going and how hungry are you? How active were you yesterday and will you be today? Somedays you may need more fuel than others and some days you may just need a quick graze before your meal. It can therefore be helpful to have a range of snacks at hand. I love adding a handful of nuts alongside a cereal bar on days I’m just plain hungry.

Take home message: cereal bars can be a handy snack, the nutrition can be varied so do bear this in mind, remember you can mix things up and make your own some weeks too!

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