Time-Tested, Reinvented: Exploring the Best Milk Alternative for Cereal

Cereal with milk. A classic breakfast that’s cheap, easy, and fast. Even though there are new breakfast foods and recipes emerging constantly, cereal is a tried-and-true breakfast that isn’t going away anytime soon. Cereal sales are actually still growing and it will likely stay that way for a while. Although cereal remains popular, the classic cow’s milk isn’t for everyone; whether you don’t like the taste, are lactose intolerant, or have a dietary preference, there are now many alternatives to cow’s milk available. Soy, almond, and oat milk are common milk substitutions. But how well do they fare with cereal? Let’s explore these milk alternatives - and possibly pick a new favorite type of milk!

Before You Pick a New Favorite Milk…

Don’t dump out all your cow’s milk yet. There are many things to consider before choosing a milk alternative. One important aspect is understanding the nutritional profiles of various milk substitutions. Factors such as protein content, calcium, vitamins, and added sugars play a significant role in determining the health benefits of the substitute. If you are looking for more protein, you might choose soy milk. If you want more calcium, you might choose almond or oat milk. If fiber is of particular concern, oat milk might be right for you. It’s important to look at the different nutritional aspects of various milk alternatives before you can pick the best one for you. Additionally, if you have allergies or sensitivities, you need to carefully look at the ingredients to avoid any adverse reactions. Another aspect to pay attention to is the environmental impact. Choosing plant-based milk alternatives can be a more sustainable choice compared to traditional dairy; they generally require fewer resources, produce lower greenhouse gas emissions, and are free of potential animal abuse. 

Now that we’ve discussed some considerations, what milk should you choose? 

Soy Milk

Soy milk is made by blending soaked soybeans with water and straining it. The strained product is the milk that many people love. Soy milk will typically contain a thickener or stabilizer to help the milk remain uniform and give it a more substantial texture. Like with many dairy alternatives, soy milk can be bought sweetened or unsweetened; often, lightly sweetened soy milk will taste closer to cow’s milk because sugar, oil, salt, and vanilla are added to the milk. The two versions do have different nutritional benefits. Unsweetened soy milk contains a lot of vitamin B6, magnesium, folate, and zinc while sweetened soy milk has riboflavin, calcium, and vitamins A, B12, and D. Sweetened soy milk also contains 5-15 grams of added sugar per serving, so beware. Soy milk is most similar to low-fat cow’s milk as the calories, fat, protein, vitamin D, calcium, and potassium content are similar.

In terms of cost, soy milk can cost about $4 per half-gallon. In comparison, cow’s milk is about $2 for a half-gallon. However, soy milk can improve cholesterol levels, reduce blood pressure, and lower inflammation; that might make those extra two dollars worth it. 

Almond Milk

The most popular milk alternative is almond milk with $1.3 billion in sales in 2021. But why should you choose almond milk? Almond milk is made through the soaking, grinding, and straining of almonds; just like with soy milk, you can find sweetened and unsweetened versions of almond milk. Almond milk is high in vitamin A, E, and D, along with calcium. There are also only 15 calories per serving of 3.5 ounces of unsweetened almond milk, making it a great alternative if you are trying to lose weight or reduce your calorie intake. However, sweetened almond milk will have more calories due to the added sugars. Because almond milk is plant-based, it also helps keep your heart and skin healthy. Of course, if you have a nut allergy, almond milk is definitely not the right option for you. Almond milk is also fairly easy to make at home so long as you have a little bit of patience and a willingness to learn!

Similar to soy milk, almond milk is around $4.29 per half-gallon. Cow’s milk is typically half that cost for the same amount. Almonds are typically around $2-3 per pound though; making your own almond milk could be a cheaper option while still providing the additional benefits of almond milk. 

Oat Milk

Oat milk is dairy, lactose, soy, nut, and can even be gluten-free (depending on the type of oats used in production). It is made through similar processes as almond and soy milk; oats are blended with water and then strained to create a milk-like liquid. Oat milk contains many vitamins and minerals such as vitamin B12, D, A and potassium. It also contains high amounts of fiber and calcium. Because the oats get diluted with water, oat milk isn’t as nutritious as whole oats, but it is still full of nutrients. It has more calories, carbs, and fiber than other milk alternatives and cow’s milk, but it doesn't have as much protein as soy and dairy options do. Staying on trend, oat milk can come sweetened and unsweetened; the sweetened option contains more added sugar. But, just like almond milk, you can also make your own oat milk at home.

Oat milk is more expensive than almond, soy, and cow’s milk with an average price of $5.29 per half gallon. As with anything, different brands have different prices. Oatly is currently $5.69 at Target, Chobani is $4.50, and Silk is $3.79. It all depends on the brand and the location. Similarly to almonds, rolled oats are cheaper than oat milk ranging from $2-3 per 42 ounces for those willing to try their hand at making it.

Best Milk Alternative For Cereal

Our top pick for a non-dairy milk alternative to pair with cereal is Oat milk. In our extensive research on the topic we found many others tend to agree. Oat milk has a smooth, creamy consistency that emulates the role traditional dairy milk serves when paired with cereal. While the flavors of almond milk, soy milk, and other alternative milks each have their draws, in many respects milk in cereal plays the role of supporting actor, you don’t really want it to overpower the cereal taste. We found oat milk plays this supporting role particularly well. The added fiber in oat milk also helps it make the bowl of cereal feel more substantial. It will keep you full for longer than other alternative milks, a desirable quality for a breakfast food. Soy milk gets an honorable mention, but that’s mostly because it has been around for a long time and many people are more familiar with the taste. Some even grew up pairing it with their cereal. Cereal often evokes a sense of nostalgia and has a personal history attached to it, so if you’re used to a particular taste anything else is going to require an adjustment period.

Ultimately, the best alternative milk for cereal all comes down to personal preference. Whether you need more of a certain nutrient, are lactose intolerant, or just prefer your cereal a little differently, there is a milk alternative for you. Each different alternative type of milk also tastes different with cereal. You might have to go through a trial and error process to pick which one you like the most. Choosing a new milk for your breakfast is going to come down to how you want your cereal and what you want to get out of your breakfast.

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