Nutritious Breakfast Cereals for Kids
According to recent US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Dietary Guidelines, eating breakfast can help your kids get the nutrition they need to be healthy. In addition, it can help them establish good eating habits and maintain a healthy weight.1 Data show that children who regularly eat a fortified breakfast cereal get more calcium, iron, folate, zinc, vitamin A, vitamin B6, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, magnesium, fiber, and vitamin C than children who skip breakfast. Research also shows that eating breakfast can help lower fat and cholesterol in your kid's daily diet, and eating cereal with milk can help increase daily amounts of calcium and vitamin D.2
With many breakfast cereal choices,
are you confused about which cereal is best for your child?
Many breakfast cereals, particularly those marketed to children, contain high amounts of added sugars, including refined sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, corn syrup solids, raw sugar, malt syrup, liquid fructose, honey, dextrose, sucrose, and maltose. Eating too much of any of these sugars can contribute to weight gain, obesity, tooth decay, high triglyceride levels, and inflammation that can lead to heart disease.3 For this reason and to help improve the health of people nationwide, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) conducted a comprehensive analysis of sugar in more than 1500 cereals, 181 of which are marketed to kids.
Data from the Environmental Working Group analysis show:
- Children who ate cereal with more than 6 grams of sugar per serving ate less fiber and had a higher body mass index (BMI)
compared with kids who ate cereals with less than 6 grams of sugar per serving
- Chilren who ate higher-sugar breakfasts had more behavioral and attentional problems at school compared with kids who ate low-sugar breakfasts
- Children who ate a low-sugar cereal at breakfast ate half as much as children who ate a high-sugar cereal
- When given sugar with fresh fruit, kids who ate low-sugar cereals consumed half as much added sugar as kids given a high-sugar cereal4
- Cereals featuring cartoon characters on the box contain the highest amounts of added sugar
- Some cereals contained as much sugar as 3 Chips Ahoy cookies or 2 Keebler fudge-stripe cookies
- On average, children's cereals have 40 percent more sugar than adult cereals, and they have twice the sugar of oatmeal4
Cutting sugar is key
to maintaining a healthy weight
and staying healthy.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not require food labels to list the percent daily value of sugar. In addition, nutrition fact labels include both naturally occurring and added sugar, which can make it difficult to identify the source of sugar. For example, sugar in fruit and milk occurs naturally, whereas corn syrup and sucrose in sweetened breakfast cereals are added sugars. But nutrition fact labels do not list sugars separately. In March 2014, the FDA proposed new guidelines to include added sugar on nutrition fact labels.5
Nutrition Program Limits Sugar
The Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) supplemental nutrition program, which provides nutritious foods to low-income women and children who are at risk for health, growth, and developmental problems from poor nutrition, established a 1 1/2-teaspoon (or 6-gram) limit for sugar per 1-ounce serving of breakfast cereals they offer for purchase.
Cereals the Women, Infants, and Children Supplemental Nutrition Program offer are:6
- Bran flakes
- Plain Cheerios
- Corn Chex
- Kellogg's Corn Flakes
- Kellogg's Unfrosted, Bite-sized Mini Wheats
- Plain Kix
- Plain Life Cereal
- Post Grape Nuts
- Post Grape Nuts Flakes
- Rice Chex
- Wheat Chex
Use the WIC list as a guide for low-sugar cereals that are good for your child. Then follow our health breakfast tips to ensure your child starts his or her day with a nutritious meal that will help them stay healthy.
Healthy Breakfast Tips
- Make sure your child has time for breakfast every day
- Be a good breakfast role model by eating breakfast with your child
- Add fresh fruit to cereal for added taste, more vitamins, more minerals, and more fiber
- Choose cereals with <6 grams of sugar per serving
- Read nutrition fact labels and teach your child to read them
- Offer unsweetened hot cereals such as oatmeal, cream of wheat, or grits for a filling, low-sugar meal
- For a quick approach, microwave hot cereal
- Stir in fresh or thawed frozen, unsweetened fruit for added taste and nutrition
1. US Department of Agriculture. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010. http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/dga2010/DietaryGuidelines2010.pdf. Accessed June 1, 2014.
2. Frantzen L, Trevino R, Echon R, Garcia-Dominic O, DiMarco N. Association between frequency of ready-to-eat cereal consumption, nutrient intakes, and body mass index in fourth- to sixth-grade low-income minority children. J Acad Nut Diet. 2013; 113(4):511-519.
3. Johnson R et al. Dietary sugars intake and cardiovascular health: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circ. 2009; 120:1011-1020.
4. Environmental Working Group. Children's cereals: sugar by the pound. http://www.ewg.org/research/childrens-cereals-sugar-pound/executive-summary, May 15, 2015. Accessed June 1, 2014.
5. US Food and Drug Administration. Proposed nutrition facts label changes are based on science and research. http://www.fda.gov/forconsumers/consumerupdates/ucm387164.html. February 27, 2014. Accessed June 1, 2014.
6. US Food and Drug Administration. WIC food packages — regulatory requirements for WIC-eligible foods. http://www.fns.usda.gov/wic/wic-food-packages-regulatory-requirements-wic-eligible-foods. Modified December 2013. Accessed June 1, 2014.