There is no breakfast food that offers convenience and nutrition the way cereal does. But when you go down the cereal aisle you may be overwhelmed by the choices. How much sugar is too much? How much fiber and whole grains should you shoot for?
You’ll be glad to hear that research is on cereal’s side. In fact, a study published in this month’s Journal of the American Dietitian Association found that 35 percent of children (9 to 13 years) and 25 percent of adolescents (14-18 years) consumed ready-to-eat cereal. When compared to the breakfast skippers and non-cereal eating kids, the cereal eaters had diets lower in fat and cholesterol and higher in fiber and vitamins and minerals and these kids were leaner.
So I compiled a list and guidelines to help you choose cereals that are right for your family. The flexible guidelines include (per serving) 10g or less of sugar, 3g or more fiber, whole grain as the first listed ingredient (16g whole grains = 1 serving of whole grains), no artificial colors & preservatives and, in some cases, key nutrients like iron.
Let’s take a look.
1. Iron-fortified Whole Grain Infant Cereal: Because of their rapid growth and need for iron, I recommend that for the first two years of life, babies and toddlers consume iron-fortified whole grain cereals. Since the introduction of fortified formula and cereals, iron deficiency has decreased significantly. But it still occurs in about 10 percent of children under two. And you want your little one to avoid iron deficiency because if left untreated it can cause cognitive deficits that are sometimes irreversible.
I like Earth’s Best but any fortified whole-grain cereal will do. And older children can try some of the iron-fortified ready-to-eat cereals listed below.
2. Oatmeal: When your kid is ready to get off iron-fortified infant cereal, it’s the perfect time to switch them to regular oatmeal. Oatmeal is 100% whole grain, rich in filling, heart-healthy soluble fiber and is a great vehicle for fresh fruits, nuts and dried fruits.
I didn’t highlight a particular brand but if you are choosing one that is sweetened, watch the grams of sugar and additives.
In 2008, Consumer Reports analyzed and rated 27 ready-to-eat cereals marketed to children. The following 4 cereals all got a “very good” nutrition rating based on their sugar, fiber and sodium content.
3. Cheerios: 1g of sugar, 3g of fiber and whole grain oats as the first ingredient (16g whole grain). Cheerios also contains 45% Daily Value (DV) for iron, making it a great food for toddlers. There are other similar natural products such as Trader Joe’s Os and Annie’s Bunny Love (not fortified).
4. Honey Nut Cheerios: 9g of sugar, 2g of fiber and whole grain oats as the first ingredient (8g whole grain). It falls short a little short on fiber/whole grains and has more sugar than Cheerios but it still rated well.
5. Kix: 3g of sugar, 3g of fiber and whole grain corn as the fist ingredient (8g whole grain). This cereal also contains 45% of the DV for iron.
6. Life: 6g of sugar, 2g of fiber and whole grain oat flour as the first ingredient (18g whole grains). Again, falls one gram short of fiber but is packed with whole grains and contains 45% DV for iron. [This products contains BHT preservative]
7. Frosted Mini Wheats Bite Size:12g sugar, 6g of fiber and whole grain wheat as the first ingredient (49g of whole grains). This product was leader of the “good” Consumer Reports’ ratings. Its sugar content is greater than 10g but it has 6g of fiber, 49g of whole grains (3 servings worth!) and 90 percent DV for iron. This was also the only cereal with high fructose corn syrup. For no sugar try the unfrosted variety.
The following items are adult-targeted cereals that have kid appeal. Let us know if you have found a healthy (non-kid) cereal your kid will eat.
8. Barbara’s Bakery Shredded Spoonfuls: 5g of sugar, 4g of fiber and whole oat flour is the first ingredient (15g whole grains).
9. Kashi Honey Sunshine: 6g of sugar, 6g of fiber and organic whole grain yellow corn meal as the first ingredient (20g whole grain).
10. Wheaties: 4g of sugar, 3g of fiber and whole grain wheat as the first ingredient (16g whole grain). [This product contains BHT preservative]
Deshmukh-Taskar PR. Nicklas TA. O’Neil CE. Keast DR. Radcliffe JD. Cho S. The Relationship of Breakfast Skipping and Type of Breakfast Consumption with Nutrient Intake and Weight Status in Children and Adolescents: The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 1999-2006. J of the Am Diet Assoc. 2010:110(6):869-78.
Pediatric Nutrition Handbook. 6th Edition. 2008.