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Sugary Cereal: Reality Check and a Plan

I have to admit, I was in love with sugary cereal when I was a girl.

Cap’n Crunch was one of my favorites, and when Peanut Butter Crunch hit the aisles, I begged and begged for my mother to buy it. Then Cookie Crisp made its entrance, and I became hooked on that, too.

Boy pouring a bowl of sugary cereal. Do you have a strategy for sugary cereal?

Back in the 1970’s, I am certain my parents weren’t thinking about the amount of sugar in cereal—they were simply impressed by the variety of breakfast cereal products, especially geared to children, hitting the market.

I wasn’t damaged by sugary cereals (or at least I don’t think so), nor did I struggle with weight problems, but times were different then.  Eventually, my parents found these cereals to be expensive, consumed rapidly (!), and with a large family, regarded them as more of a treat, and not our regular fare. They eventually looked to other breakfast ideas.

Now, as a mother, I stock cereal regularly for my own children.

I have always kept the plainer varieties around—Cheerios, Kix, Wheaties, Rice Krispies, and Shredded Wheat—saving the sweeter versions for a special treat. Case in point, when we have our summer vacation, we always get Cocoa Pebbles and sometimes Fruit Loops.

As a pediatric nutritionist who works with families on a regular basis, the question about cereals comes up often. So often, I have created a chart outlining 17 of the Healthiest Cereals for Children. [You can get it by clicking on the button below.]

Sugary Cereal in the Morning

The old adage “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day” is proving to be more true as research unfolds. There are benefits of eating breakfast, especially for athletes, and in the realm of academic performance when children eat it regularly.

We also know that children who start the day with breakfast have fringe benefits: they eat better overall, getting more nutrients and better regulating their appetite.

For many children, cereal often takes center stage in the morning. While many parents wouldn’t dream of offering cookies for breakfast, the truth is, many cereals contain the added sugar equivalent to a dessert.

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* Based on an average serving size of 3/4 cup cereal.

Don’t be misled—this chart merely represents the sugar content of these cereals. These cereals may also be fortified with other beneficial nutrients like calcium, iron and folate and can be a source of calcium rich foods and other nutrients for any child.

You may be thinking, “But my child won’t eat anything else!” Maybe that’s true, but it is still in your job description as a parent to keep trying to steer your child to optimal nutrition so that she or he learns lifelong eating habits that support his health and wellbeing.

How to Transition to Less Sugary Cereals

Don’t ever believe your child is a lost cause, or cannot be moved along the food variety path. Or, that he cannot learn to like less sugary cereal.

If you have a child who is accustomed or even addicted to sweet cereal, make the transition to lower sugar cereals easier by:

  • combining high and low sugar cereals together. For example, mix regular Cheerios with Honey Nut Cheerios using a 50:50 ratio (ie, ½ cup of regular Cheerios and ½ cup Honey Nut Cheerios).
  • Gradually lower the portion of sugary cereal while increasing the portion of low sugar cereal.

Overall, I think I’ll stick with my plan—sweet cereal as a special occasion treat —and continue to stock my lower sugar cereals (plain Cheerios = 1 gm sugar/serving; Original Kix = 3 gm sugar/serving; Multi-grain Cheerios = 6 gm/serving; Wheaties = 4 gm/serving; Rice Krispies = 4 gm/serving).

There’s always fresh fruit to add on top to sweeten the bowl…

Do you start the day off with sugary cereal?

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