Food Culinary Institute of America Cereal Balls

On-the-go cereal balls 

College kids love cereal, and that is an indisputable fact. Even if they don't love it going in, they'll probably be hooked by the third week of their freshman year. College students have lots to juggle, meaning food is often last on their list of priorities. So that makes that easy bowl of cereal a lifesaver when the work piles up.

Even at The Culinary Institute of America, where students' breakfasts can mean made-to-order eggs Benedict and huevos rancheros, convenience sometimes wins. Like, what happens when those hard-working students' alarm clocks get turned off through absolutely no fault of their own and they're running late to their 8 a.m. Chocolate and Confectionery Techniques exam?

The savior of every college student (and anyone of any age who sometimes oversleeps) is this recipe for On-the-Go Cereal Balls and here's why: One, they are yummy. Two, they are easy to make (no cooking!). And three, you can make them as healthy — or not — as you like.

All of the ingredients in this recipe, from the cereal to the nut butter to the dried fruit, can be picked up at any market. They can also be easily boxed up in a care package with the recipe included, plus a little note from home. Except for the powdered milk (which is cheap and easy to find), the ingredients are probably already in your college kid's dorm room, so they have no excuse — though they'll sure try to find one right?

Prepared quickly by hand in a bowl (or discarded pizza box, if we're being realistic), these cereal balls can be ready in a matter of minutes and will hold all week, ready to grab on the way out the door. Using whole grain cereal and lightly sweetened nut butters, they hit that sweet spot our kids so often crave at breakfast, but still offer the proteins and carbohydrates they need to power them through a busy morning.

And the flavor combinations are limited only to your family's preferences, like honey-nut cereal with almond butter and dried cranberries, or cinnamon-flavored cereal with cashew butter and dried cherries, or homemade granola and chocolate-hazelnut. There's no end to the combinations.

If you're facing food allergies, don't despair. This recipe can be made using gluten-free cereals, and the nut butters can include sunflower seed butter or even tahini, made from sesame seeds. And if dairy is an issue, you can omit the milk powder for slightly different results. This ingredient helps to bind the whole mixture together, so you might find that you need to add a bit more honey or nut butter, in that case. Always remember to check the ingredient list in your prepared foods for hidden allergens, too.

And since little kids are just pre-19-year-olds, this recipe is tailor-made for them as well, as they head back to school. You can size the balls up or down, depending on your little one's appetite, making them the perfect hand-held treat. Wrap them in parchment paper before you hop in the car to help keep that backseat free of sticky fingers, if such a thing is even possible.

On-the-Go Cereal Balls

Servings: 6

Start to finish: 5 minutes

3 cups of your favorite cereal

3/4 cup peanut butter or other nut butter

3/4 cup nonfat powdered milk (see Chef's Note)

1/2 cup honey

1/4 cup chopped dried fruit (optional)

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Lightly crush the cereal in a medium bowl, and then add the peanut butter, powdered milk, honey, dried fruit (if using), and vanilla. Mix until the cereal is evenly coated.

Use your hands to shape the mixture into 6 balls. Eat right away, or refrigerate, covered, until ready to eat.

Chef's Note: Powdered milk is made by dehydrating (removing the water from) liquid milk. This form of milk has many uses, but in a recipe like this, it helps hold all of the pieces together. You can find powdered milk at your grocery store.

Nutrition information per serving: 379 calories; 161 calories from fat; 18 g fat (2 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 2 mg cholesterol; 228 mg sodium; 50 g carbohydrate; 4 g fiber; 34 g sugar; 11 g protein.

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