Pros: Low fat, no sugar, wholesome, great vitamin and mineral content.
Cons: Easy to "doctor" this into a nutritional disaster.
Do you have a comfort food? Something warm, cozy, and filling? Maybe something you remember with fondness from your childhood? Maybe something that slips your mind for years (or even decades), and then suddenly jumps into your head and you want it the way you wanted your bed when you were little and off away from home at night?
I do. Mine is Cream of Wheat. Not the traditional variety but rather the Instant type.
Cream of Wheat was my morning comfort in bitingly cold winters, and I remember thinking of it as being like armor against the wind and snow. Sometimes Id have it for lunch after a morning of snowman building and driveway shoveling. Even after I grew up and stopped making snowmen (until I had my son, that is), I sometimes found myself seeking emotional comfort and warmth from my old bowl of happiness.
Cream of Wheat is made from farina, which is ground wheat. Its similar to grits, but grits are made from ground corn. Cream of Wheat has been around for a very long time, and was first sold in 1893. Thats a long history for a hot breakfast cereal.
Instant Cream of Wheat, which comes in a box with 12 individual packets, is an absolute breeze to make. While it can be made in the microwave, I find the easiest thing to do is pop a kettle on to boil, pour a packet of Cream of Wheat into a bowl, then wait. When the water boils, add the desired amount of water, stir, and let sit for a moment to cool just a little. If desired, you can use hot milk instead of water, but I never liked that taste. When mixing for smaller children, you can use more water for a smoother, creamier texture, and for older kids (like me), just mix to taste. I happen to like my Cream of Wheat a bit thicker than most. I think lumpy may be the word.
After mixing, its time to add what you want. Im sure there are some who eat Cream of Wheat without adding anything. Im not one of those. When I was a kid, I would add tablespoon after tablespoon of sugar, until the stuff literally crunched with the sugar. Then I would pour milk over it to watch the sugar slowly turn darker and melt. Yikes. As an adult, Ive discovered that just a tablespoon of honey goes a long way, and makes my Cream of Wheat taste just marvelous without a ton of sugar and milk.
On the flavor front, Cream of Wheat is not bells and whistles. Its made from wheat farina, salt, partially defatted wheat germ, guar gum, natural flavor, and BHT (as a preservative). Thats not a huge bunch of wowser flavor. But its a wholesome taste, and adding just a touch of honey (or your favorite jam, or maple syrup, or apples and cinnamon, or raisins and brown sugar) brings the flavor alive in a wonderfully warm and soothing way.
Nutritionally speaking, Cream of Wheat by itself is a nutritional hit. Surprisingly so. It contains no fat, no cholesterol, only 160 mg of sodium, 3 grams of protein, NO sugar, and 4% of your daily requirement for fiber. Thats per 28 gram/1 packet serving. Now, Ill be honestI havent eaten just one packet since kindergarten. I used to eat four, which left me feeling horrifically full. Now? Two packets, three if Im really hungry. Three packets will fill you up, and three packets come in at 300 calories. Not too scary. Of course, if youre adding a ton of sugar, jam, milk, etc., those calories can go up pretty quickly. In addition to being solidly laudable in the fat/sodium/fiber department, Cream of Wheat also packs in 25-45% of eight vitamins and minerals, including Calcium, Iron, and Folic Acid.
In all, I still, decades later, love a warm, comforting bowl of Instant Cream of Wheat. I love the taste, the texture, and the soothing way it heats up the belly. As a parent, I really like that it isnt loaded with sugar, and I can control the calories, fat, and sugar that do go into it. If youre tired of oatmeal or looking for something healthy that really does fill you up, look to Cream of Wheat. I know its old fashioned, I know its not fancy, but its solid, and thats why its still around after all these years.
Oh, a couple of small notes:
1. As of 2007, Cream of Wheat is no longer owned by Nabisco, but rather by B&G Foods. These are the same folks who bring us Polaner All Fruit Jams, Ortega Mexican Foods, Emerils, and Maple Grove Farms, among others.
2. The picture on the front of the box depicts an African American Chef presenting a bowl of Cream of Wheat. This picture has been on the box since the products inception, and the Chefs name is Rastus. According to various sources, it is believed that the model for Rastus was a Chef by the name of Frank L. White. Mr. White claimed to be the model, and, though he died in 1938, a headstone was erected in 2007 bearing his name and the classic image of Rastus.