Finals season is upon us. Gone are the days of cooking elaborate 3-course meals for dinner, having the patience to make oatmeal every morning, or stir frying some veggies for lunch. At this point, you're lucky if you have any fresh produce in the fridge. Thankfully, every university student has at least one box of cereal in their cupboards. On its own, cereal is not the most nutritious meal. But with a few quick upgrades, a bowl of cereal can become a satisfying meal and give your brain a well-deserved boost.

#SpoonTip Start with a basic, plain cereal like Rice Krispies, Corn Flakes, Shredded Wheat, All-Bran, Chex, or Cheerios. That way, you have complete control over the sweetness and complimentary flavors of your dish; this is supposed to be a meal, not dessert!

1. Fruit

apple, juice, sweet, pasture
Santina Renzi

Stick with the fresh varieties as opposed to dried; bananas, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, and blackberries are all great options. Fruits offer so many health benefits, such as being high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Additionally, fruits are naturally low in fat, sodium, and calories making it the perfect addition and quick source of energy.

2. Say Goodbye to Cow's Milk 

Micaela Petrucci

Consider swapping milk for cottage cheese, plain Greek yogurt, or soy yogurt. These products up the protein content and create a thicker, more decadent texture. Stay clear of sweetened varieties and add some real fruit instead; add a drop of maple syrup or agave if you have to satisfy your sweet-tooth.

3. Nut Butters

peanut butter, peanut, sweet, pasta
Libby Perold

You can never go wrong with classic PB, but Almond Butter or Sunflower Butter make great additions as well. Unless you have an allergy, nuts are an incredible addition to just about any meal or snack. They provide protein and plenty of healthy fats to keep you full and satisfied. Nuts have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering LDL (aka bad cholesterol) and inflammation. One of my favorite combinations is a bowl of multigrain cheerios, vanilla soy milk, a sliced banana, and a huge glob of peanut butter. 

4. Sprinkle on some Flax, Chia, or Coconut

Becky Hughes

Your brain will thank you for these superfoods! A mere tablespoon of both chia and flax boasts a healthy dose of fibre, heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Chia also contains high amounts of calcium, potassium, and antioxidants.

It gets a bad rap for being high in saturated fats, but coconut can help boost your immune system and increase your metabolism. Not to mention, it's pretty tasty.

5. DIY Trail Mix

The only thing better than trail mix is customizable trail mix. Honey Nut Cheerios would make a perfect base, offering just the right amount of sweetness. Add some dried fruit (apricots, cranberries, blueberries, raisins, banana, coconut), nuts (almonds, peanuts, cashews, walnuts), seeds (sunflower or pumpkin), and dark chocolate to create a brain boosting masterpiece. 

Be prepared when the hanger hits by making a huge batch ahead of time; portion it into Ziploc bags for a convenient on-the-go snack. Without requiring milk, there is zero risk for soggy cereal.

6. Powerhouse Parfaits 

yogurt, milk, sweet, berry, strawberry, cream, dairy, muesli, blueberry, granola, mint, dairy product, frozen yogurt
Jenny Mun

Feeling fancy? Parfaits come together in a snap, making them perfect for a quick lunch or breakfast. The possibilities are endless—start with a dairy product like cottage cheese, greek yogurt, or soy yogurt and then layer on the cereal or granola and fresh fruit. If you're lacking fresh fruit, some defrosted frozen fruit would work perfectly.

Sprinkle some ground cinnamon into your cereal for a flavor boost. You could also add some pumpkin pie spice to embrace your #innerwhitegirl. While not technically a spice, cocoa would make a great addition if you're craving something a bit more sophisticated in taste. The bitterness of cocoa would go perfectly with ripe bananas or sweet cherries.

7. Smoothie Bowl Topper

Jillian Rogers

Everything tastes better when eaten with a spoon, and smoothies are no exception. Smoothies make the perfect breakfast for busy students because you can whip 'em up the night before.

If you don't have time to go all out and strategically place the raspberries and chia seeds in aesthetically pleasing arrangements,  I can relate. I store my smoothie in a mini shaker bottle over night and add 1 cup of cheerios in the morning. This is the perfection solution for people who love to chew and just don't get the same satisfaction from drinking their meals. 

8. Homemade Cereal Bars

One of my favourite food blogs is "The Big Man's World" because of the insanely easy breakfast hacks and upgrades. I can honestly say that every recipe I've tried has turned out exceptionally well, and these cereal bars are no exception. This recipe is easily customizable for celiacs, vegans, and those with peanut allergies.

9. Energy Balls

Again, this recipe from "The Big Man's World" is a serious game changer. These adorable cereal treats are perfect to pop into your mouth on your way to exams or after a workout. They are high in protein and healthy fats, which will keep you full and your brain focused. And the best part? All you need is 10 minutes to whip up a batch on Sunday night to have a nutrient dense breakfast every morning that week. Leftovers can be easily stored in the freezer.

10. Breading

Thought cereal was limited to breakfast foods? Think again. These cornflake-crusted chicken fingers call specifically for corn flakes, but you could easily substitute with whatever cereal you have available.

Go forth and crush your finals with a brain powered by cereal.