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Breakfast Recipe: Quickstart Cereal

To get out of camp as early as possible, the most ideal breakfast item is an individually wrapped bar (or several): granola bars, energy bars, protein bars, breakfast bars, etc. They require no prep and can be eaten on-the-go.

But there are downsides to this approach. First, they’re not very satisfying. Second, they probably constitute a large share of your daytime calories as well, possibly leading to culinary boredom.

A hot breakfast like Cheesy Potatoes is at the opposite end of the spectrum. They’re more enjoyable, but also more time-consuming, and thus inconsistent with ambitious morning plans.

My happy-medium option is this Quickstart Cereal, which balances efficiency and palatability. It’s my go-to breakfast on personal trips, and one of the top-rated meals on my guided trips. We normally reserve it for the last morning of the trip or for summit days.

Granola plus protein powder, before adding water
Granola plus protein powder, before adding water

Stats per serving

  • 4.5 ounces
  • 617 calories (depends mostly on cereal type)
  • 137 calories per ounce

Ingredients

This meal can be very simple, with as few as two ingredients: cereal plus powdered milk or powdered protein. The recipe included below goes 50/50, which is how we do it on the guided trips.

For cereal, personally I rotate between granola and grape nuts. They taste good, pack well, and are spatially dense. Many granola varieties are carb-heavy, and I prefer the more calorically dense versions available in bulk at my local natural grocer.

For more variety in your cereal, add crushed walnuts, almond pieces, freeze-dried berries, raisins, Craisins or similar. To keep the portion size in check, subtract an equal amount of cereal. I have served this meal to hundreds of clients, and the 4.5-ounce portion is about right for most.

Powdered milk is the more conventional choice to pair with cereal. I recommend Nestle Nido, which is powdered whole milk and thus more calorically dense than powdered skim milk.

Protein powder is a convenient form of this difficult-to-get-enough-of nutrient. On my personal trips, I skip the milk and add only protein powder. Costco has the best prices on protein powder (if you are prepared to buy 5 pounds of it); at Amazon, Muscle Milk is about $1 more per pound for similar sizes (and you don’t have to leave your house!).

The two required ingredients are cereal and protein powder (or milk). The other ingredients are optional.
The two required ingredients are cereal and protein powder (or milk). The other ingredients are optional.

Portion sizes and ratios

If this meal is too much or too little, change the amounts. Personally, I use 1.5 ounces of protein powder and 3.5 ounces of cereal, because I want the extra protein and because I often need a slightly bigger breakfast.

Hot or cold?

Almost always I consume this meal cold. However, it can be eaten hot. Some cereals — notably grape nuts — will soften and absorb water when cooked. Some protein powders may congeal when heated, which may be unappetizing to some. I’m less bothered by it, and find that stirring well and using a minimal amount of water helps.

Preparation

This meal is very simple to prepare, and is the same for soloists and groups. At home, premix the cereal (with optional fixings) and the protein powder (or powdered milk) in a sandwich-sized storage bag. Each bag is one breakfast for one person.

In the field, simply add water and eat. I’m not going to recommend a specific volume of water — presumably, you have a preference for this ratio already.

Have questions or an experience with this meal? Leave a comment.


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Posted in on November 18, 2019
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18 Comments

  1. Bill on August 14, 2016 at 5:42 pm

    I’ve done something similar, but I used powdered yogurt instead of protein powder. Have you paid any attention to the discussion of whey protein vs soy protein? The story that I heard was that soy was better during exertion and whey was better for recovery. That story comes from the bodybuilding community, so I don’t know how relevant it is to outdoor activities.

    • Andrew Skurka on August 14, 2016 at 7:38 pm

      No, I’m unfamiliar with the conversation. Costco has whey protein products, so I go with that. Body builders may notice the difference, but I’m doubtful that I would.

    • Angelika J Thomas on August 22, 2016 at 1:04 am

      Bill, where do you get powdered yogurt?

    • satori on August 28, 2016 at 6:49 am

      @Bill – There is a growing body of data that shows soy has an estrogenic effect on men, and should be avoided. Stick with whey and casein protein; rice and pea protein if you’re a vegetarian.

  2. Aushiker on August 14, 2016 at 6:30 pm

    Having experienced Whey Protein and its interaction with a microwave I would be dubious about trying to have it hot. That said I like the idea of adding it to my breakfast cereal when bikepacking etc.

    • Andrew Skurka on August 14, 2016 at 7:36 pm

      I hear you, and since another person made a similar comment I’ve added a caveat to that section of this post.

      Any explanation for why it congeals, especially when heated?

    • Bill on August 15, 2016 at 12:19 pm

      I’ve had that problem microwaving my oatmeal with protein powder in it. The solution was just to add the protein powder after I took it out of the microwave. I don’t often do that, but I had some old protein powder that I wanted to get rid of.

  3. Scott T on August 15, 2016 at 11:50 am

    I use a similar recipe of homemade granola, which I compose of half nuts (almonds, pecans) to increase the caloric density and half grain (oats, wheat clusters or crisped rice sourced from breakfast cereal), spices (cinnamon), and toss with maple syrup then bake. I mix it with powdered coconut milk which is calorically dense and plant based in a ziploc and similarly add water and eat out of the bag, often without even using my utensil. A good option for plant based, or dairy free individuals, the recipe could be easily tweaked for a gluten free need also. The protein powder is an interesting idea, something to try on my next trip.

  4. Sean on August 15, 2016 at 1:17 pm

    I’ve been eating this plus a spoon of instant coffee as a camp breakfast since 2009, originally with powdered milk, then with (usually Trader Joe’s) protein powder when that became cheaper. It has all the necessary nutrients, and the caffeine wakes you up and cleans you out. It’s good to seem I’m not the only one who has discovered the “morning cup of sadness.”

  5. Ken on August 15, 2016 at 2:16 pm

    Scott-

    I’m with you. I actually make my own granola w/ almost all nuts/seeds etc. and almond flower, coconut oil/ghee etc. to hold it together. Lots of debate about sweeteners (stevia vs. others, honey vs. sugar, etc), but I don’t use any (I’ve adapted to low glycemic index already). Pre add dehydrated whole milk or as you say coconut milk (pre try all these for taste – I got sick of Nido after a while and like another brand). You can keep yourself over 150 cal/oz and still have a cereal fix, and get lots of protein. I do everything in a plastic PB jar (no cook). Wish there was something lighter.

    FWIW I do another just add water protein powder-whole milk powder-butter powder shake later. Small enough butter powder ups the Cal/oz and doesn’t hurt the taste.

  6. spelt on August 15, 2016 at 5:04 pm

    Quaker protein oatmeal (banana nut) and both flavors of Kashi-GoLean hot cereal, made with Nido and mixed with dry protein cereal (Kashi GoLean Crunch or Special K Protein are my preferred), plus nuts or fruit if desired, are generally what I do. I like the texture of the hot cereal mixed with the dry before the dry gets too mushy. I’m experimenting with Sturdiwheat as the hot cereal, which ups its protein content with soy grits, but the flavor isn’t really hooking me. I’m sure cold soaking any of those would also work.

    Long time ago, I used to do what I called “protein pudding,” which was protein powder mixed with just enough milk to make it gloppy and eatable with a spoon. I’m sort of picturing powder as a cold cereal mix-in to get similarly gloppy, but maybe I’m being overly pessimistic!

  7. Dogwood on September 11, 2016 at 7:05 pm

    Easy enough to get protein, all 9 essential amino acids, and good fats, on trail in a fast no cook/warm water b-fast by adding non intoxicating shelled hemp seed to a cold or hot cereal such as consisting of buckwheat, quinoa(pre cooked quinoa is available), Teff, or millet, and a nut butter such as Artisana or Justins cashew/almond/macadamia,/walnut/etc with some dried milk, which does not have to be a dried cow’s milk, but could be a dried coconut milk powder which may be higher in fat cals/gram than the NIDO.

    Best of all these seeminbgly strange and rare sounding ingredients have become more mainstream even being found in large franchise grocery stores or even places like Walmart. Pre soaking the millet or when opting for regular quinoa shortens the prep time.

    What also helps raise the cal/oz ratios and overall nutritional profile which some hikers ignore, thinking trail performance/energy is only about consuming massive calories even if they are nutritionally dismal “empty calories”, is the low added sugar content. Why carry the wt of empty calorie refined sugar, artificial sweeteners, HFCS, etc? Could be better to add your own sweetness with the naturally occurring sugars in a dried milk or by adding some dried fruit rather than impulsively grabbing for pre mixed packaged cereals. Or add greater flavor and a wider spectrum of nutritional benefits by adding fresh or low sugar crystallized ginger or REAL cinnamon.

  8. Dogwood on September 11, 2016 at 9:05 pm

    For a twist on keeping the nutritional bar get up and go boredom at bay consider consuming dipped in a nut butter. PB is not the only nut butter widely available anymore nor do nut butters entail having to purchase large amounts that need to be repackaged. Several varieties, again more widely available if taking the time to peruse mainstream grocery store shelves, are available.

    The added benefits are also a greater perhaps more optimal wider nutritional profile relating to better trail performance, Also, these foods as well as ones already discussed can be packed densely taking up less volume than pre packaged highly processed often nutritionally dismal options.

    Items like nutritional powerhouse shelled hemp seed or dried coconut milk can also be found at Costco. Small amounts go a long way. Plus the higher cal/oz ratios lower food wt hauled and overall wide nutritional profile can equate with lowering trail food costs in the long run.

    And, since typical food items or food eating times – b-fast, lunch, dinner – can be blurred once on trail these items can be a snack or dinner too. For example, the company Mediterra offers savory nutritional bars that can be dipped into a reconstituted dried hummus for any meal or snack.

  9. Franz on June 25, 2017 at 12:27 pm

    I’m prepping this recipe and others from your cookbook for a canoe trip across the Minnesota – Ontario border in the BWCA, and am trying to reconcile the Muscle Milk label with your chart. The Muscle Milk label claims 32g of protein per serving size of 162g (5.7oz), which equates to 5.6g of protein per oz. A quick Google search, though, agrees with your 20g ave. per oz. Am I missing something? Thanks!

    • Andrew Skurka on June 25, 2017 at 4:19 pm

      The amount of protein in protein powders varies. The stuff I use is pretty high, which is why I bought it instead of other stuff. YMMV.

  10. Zach H. on March 14, 2018 at 9:45 am

    Andrew, thank you for this write up on your recipe! I’ve always thought that oatmeal or cereals were the way to go for breakfasts and turns out I was right, but this takes it to a different level and helps me calculate this better for my trips (I usually only buy this stuff for backpacking, minus the protein powder, I use it post workout)

    Definitely going to use this info for my trips this summer and perfect it for winter excursions! I would love to know more about what foods are most calorically dense so I can make good decisions on packable meals

  11. Mark on August 28, 2018 at 10:13 pm

    I alternate between cereal with powdered whole milk, bars, and instant grits. I quite like the instant grits, especially with a little canola oil added (for flavor and calories) and the newly-available bacon jerky. A little cheese helps a lot, too, if you’re carrying it. Lightweight and savory.

    I’d already started adding (chocolate or vanilla) protein powder into hot chocolate mix; I’ll have to try adding it into the cereal.

  12. Sarah on July 1, 2019 at 9:57 pm

    Hi Andrew,
    Thank you! Always looking for ways to get enough protein, even when I’m not hiking.

    For anyone who is lactose intolerant, allergic to casein, or otherwise feels like they are dying when they eat whey or milk powder, I recommend beef collagen (20g/scoop that comes with the package, which looks like 4 teaspoons). I buy mine from Vital Proteins (grass fed) from Costco due to the price. It doesn’t clump in warm liquid, but for cool liquid, add a little at a time and stir a bunch. You can also add it to soup or hot chocolate.

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