Choosing Cold Breakfast Cereals
Cereal is quick, easy and can be a healthy breakfast option for your children in the morning. Unfortunately, so many children’s breakfast cereals on the market today are full of sugars - and have virtually no nutritional profile. And with entire grocery store aisles dedicated to cereal, it can be difficult to make a healthy choice for your family. Use these tips to choose the healthiest breakfast cereals for your kids.
Most grocery store aisles arrange their cereal in different categories, with ‘kid’ cereals taking up a large portion of the aisle. Kid cereals typically have brightly coloured boxes and fun cartoon characters like leprechauns, toucans, tigers and rabbits. These cereals are strategically marketed towards kids (check out our previous blog post: The Effect of Food Marketing on Children) and yet they have virtually no nutrition. Some of these cereals even have upwards of 10-15 grams of sugar per 30 gram serving - that means almost half of the cereal is sugar! Your children may enjoy eating these cereals because they are colourful and sweet, but they will soon become hungry due to the lack of fibre and protein. In general, try to stay away from sugary kid cereals.
Whole Grains The first thing to look at on a cereal box is whether or not it is made from whole grains. What are whole grains, you ask? A whole grain product contains all parts of the grain, unlike refined grains, which remove nutrient rich parts of the grain. Because of this, whole grains are higher in fibre, vitamins and minerals, when compared to refined grains. Look for cereals that have a whole grain as the FIRST ingredient - such as whole wheat, whole oats and whole barley.
Go Easy on Sugar
Like I mentioned before, many cereals, especially kid cereals, are very high in sugar. Try to choose cereals with little to no added sugars - a maximum of 8 grams of sugar per serving is recommended. You can sweeten cereal at home by adding fresh, frozen or dried fruits such as blueberries, bananas, dried cranberries, raspberries and strawberries. You can also add spices such as cinnamon or vanilla for added flavour.
Fibre, fibre, fibre. We hear so much about needing more fibre, but what is it and why is it so important? Fibre is a type of carbohydrate that does not get fully broken down as it moves through our digestive system. Because of this special property, fibre:
Adds bulk and softens stool (which keeps you regular!)
Maintains blood sugar levels
Keeps you feeling full
Reduces bad cholesterol
For very young children (aged 1-3), 19 grams of fibre per day is recommended. Children aged 4-8 should be getting about 25 grams of fibre each day. Having a fibre containing breakfast can help your children meet their fibre needs every day. Fibre is found in higher quantities in whole grain products, but not all whole grain products are necessarily high in fibre. When looking at food labels on cereals, it is best to choose cereals with at least 4 grams of fibre per serving.
As you can see in the infographic below, it can sometimes be hard to find a cereal that is both low in sugar AND high in fibre. Cheerios (both multigrain and regular) have little sugar, but do not meet the criteria for fibre. While you can’t take away sugar, you can add fibre containing foods at home. Try adding these high fibre items to cereals that don’t pass the fibre test:
2 tsp of chia seeds (3 grams of fibre)
1 tbsp ground flax (2 grams of fibre)
2 tbsp Kellog’s All-Bran Buds (4 grams of fibre)
1 sliced kiwi or ½ cup raspberries (2 grams of fibre)
When looking at cereal boxes, it’s important to remember that not all boxes report their nutritional profile in a standard serving size. When comparing two cereal boxes, remember to look at the serving size - a cereal with 6 grams of sugar per 50 gram serving has less sugar than a cereal with 5 grams of sugar per 30 gram serving. For more information on reading food labels check out our previous blog post: Nutrition Labels 101.
Like cereal, there seems to be endless options for milk at the grocery store, many of which are not recommended for children. While nut and grain “milk” beverages (such as almond, cashew, coconut and oat milk) can be a healthy option for adults, these milks do not contain the essential nutrients children need. For children over the age of two, 1 or 2% cow’s milk or fortified (and unsweetened) soy milk are the best options for children - these contain adequate protein, vitamin D and calcium to help build strong bones.
When shopping for cereals, remember these three important criteria:
Made with whole grains
Less than 8 grams of sugar per serving
At least 4 grams of fibre per serving
And there you have it! My top tips for choosing healthy breakfast cereal for your and your family. Happy crunching!