There's something always satisfying about waking up in the mornings and knowing that breakfast is there waiting for you. I think that's the reason we all resort to boxed cereal. My usual quick breakfast usually consists of a bowl of homemade granola with skim milk, half a banana and two tablespoons of yogurt. And of course the default mega-size cup of black coffee.
Part of my early diet strategy from a few years ago involved store-bought granola, which if you're not careful in choosing, can contain tons of saturated fat and sugar. The reason why factory-made toasted oats taste so good is because it's slathered with lots and lots of honey, maple syrup and sugar! Add that with plump, juicy, sugar-cured fruits and you've got a candy factory masquerading as health food. Some companies substitute the maple syrup/honey with manufactured sweeteners in order to lower the calories, something which I think takes away from the wonderful flavor of real granola.
The truth is that granola isn't the best kind of breakfast food for you. You'd be better off with cooked oats, a dash of cinnamon, a teaspoon of honey and some sugar free dried fruit. But in moderation, granola can be a nice crunchy topping to some yogurt or cottage cheese, which will be high enough in protein and should keep you feeling jaunty for the rest of the morning.
The secret to good granola is to toast the oats over low heat in the oven until they turn a beautiful brown color. I use applesauce to substitute the oil and to sweeten the granola. Then I toss the toasted oats with some unsulphured dried fruit mix - you can use unsweetened fruit, but because I use less sugar/sweetener than most recipes call for, I think it's perfectly fine to use sweetened fruit.
Homemade Low-Fat Tropical Granola
Makes 12 servings of 1/4 cup
3 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats
3 tbsp ground flax seed
1/2 cup chopped pecans (you can also use almonds or walnuts)
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 tbsp brown sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened apple sauce
1 tbsp vegetable oil (I used Smart Balance 3-oil blend)
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
Dried Tropical Fruit Mix
1/2 cup unsulphured Tropical Fruit Mix: Pineapple, Mango Papaya, Banana chips (I buy them from the bulk aisle at Whole Foods or they are also available at Trader Joe's)
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup low sugar dried cranberries (I use Eden Organics)
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line a large sheet pan with parchment paper. Set aside.
In a large bowl, mix together all the ingredients for the granola using two large spoons. To create clusters, use your hands to squeeze the mixture together.
Spread the granola mix onto the prepared sheet pan in one layer. Toast in the oven at 325°F for 25 minutes until the granola is crisp and brown. Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan.
Mix in the dried tropical fruits. Store in airtight jars for up to two weeks.