I’m not a big cereal fan, but I used to be. Back in my younger (less knowledgeable) years, I indulged in my fair share. And though it wasn’t optimal, cereal was one of the only things I had an appetite for when I was pregnant. Luckily, my mother was pretty strict about the quality of cereal we ate as kids—a curse I was forced to suffer through, unlike all my “lucky” friends who were allowed to eat Frosted Flakes.
My cereal days are long gone, and I don’t really miss it. My daughter, on the other hand, still loves it, and would probably eat cereal for every meal if I let her. Unfortunately, she’s stuck with the same curse, and the sugary, chemical-laden junk that passes for breakfast cereal—let alone food fit for human consumption—is rarely allowed in our house.
She’ll thank me later.
I try to limit processed foods as much as possible. But it’s not always effortless, even though I’m a professional chef who finds ease in the kitchen. I understand the restrictions faced by individuals and families with places to go and deadlines to meet, and I can’t imagine how much harder it must be for those with even more limited kitchen skills than mine. So I get how easy it is to eat a quick bowl of cereal before rushing out the door. I’ve been there, and my household is still there on certain days.
Making your own granola is one of the greatest options for a prepared-food family staple out there. And it’s far easier to make than you might think. I know I’m not going to stop my family from enjoying cereal, and I’m not sure I even want to be that mom. But with homemade granola, I can at least provide an alternative with a little more substance, made with ingredients (and sweetness) I can control. It’s the one cereal I’ll eat.
The great thing about homemade granola is how easily you can alter it to suit your tastes and budget. Flavor combinations, different sweeteners, and ingredients such as nuts, seeds, spices, and dried fruits can completely change the final product. The options are so endless with granola that it’s a breeze to be creative and difficult to get bored. For example, try a mix of macadamia nuts, cashews, coconut, and dried pineapple for a delicious tropical flair. Dried apples, walnuts, and warming spices such as ginger, nutmeg, and cinnamon summon thoughts of crisp autumn days. Hazelnuts, almonds, and raisins remind me of my favorite childhood packaged Swiss muesli. (You just have to take into account that dried fruit is almost pure sugar.)
My all-time favorite granola recipe is inspired by the one we served at the bakery I worked at in my early days as a pastry chef. It’s made from simple ingredients, loaded with lots of nuts and seeds, and has just a hint of sweetness from honey. There were never enough nuts in the granola for my liking, so I’ve added more here, in addition to lots of large-flaked coconut—my favorite! The best part? My kid likes it, and I can often persuade her to eat it over a boxed cereal.
As a great source of fiber with a suitable serving of protein, this is one cereal I can endorse. For a rounded meal and added protein, serve with milk or yogurt, or eat by the handful for a quick snack.
Cinnamon-Vanilla Granola with Coconut
Makes 6 cups
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
¾ cup cashews
¾ cup almonds
⅓ cup sunflower seeds
⅓ cup pumpkin seeds
¼ cup flax seeds
⅓ cup melted coconut oil, butter, or neutral-flavored oil, like walnut oil
⅓ cup honey, maple syrup, or coconut nectar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon sea salt
¾ cup large flake coconut
½ cup raisins
- Preheat oven to 350°F and place racks in upper and lower third of oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Combine oats, nuts, and seeds in a large bowl.
- Gently warm the oil or butter with honey, maple syrup, or coconut nectar together until liquid. Add cinnamon, vanilla, and salt to mixture. Pour into bowl with oats and toss with a wooden spoon or your hands until thoroughly combined. Divide between prepared trays and spread into an even layer.
- Bake granola for 7 minutes, then remove from oven, stir each tray, and switch positions (put tray from top rack to bottom rack and vice versa). Bake until golden brown, checking at 5 minutes, then 1-minute increments, until golden.
- Let cool on a rack, then toss with raisins and coconut. Cool completely at room temperature, then transfer to jars or container with a tight lid.
Image from Briana Goodall.