10 of the Best Cereals for Kids

by Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD on June 10, 2010

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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]

References
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.

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{ 40 comments… read them below or add one }

FoodontheTable June 10, 2010 at 10:03 am

Thanks for this information. There are so many choices in the cereal aisle and a lot of commercials advertising different nutrients. This is helpful.

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Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD June 10, 2010 at 10:46 am

Thanks Amanda!

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Maria August 30, 2010 at 10:06 am

Hi,

My son is 17 months old and eats very well. Aside from his yogurt, egg, numerous fruit and veggie snacks, rice pudding, pureed meat/chicken/fish soups – full of veggies, red lentils and rice or pasta, he eats a fair amount of iron-fortified cereal. The brand we use is My Organic Baby – popular in Canada, and 10 tbsp. is 60 % of his RDA for iron. He gets about 16 tbsp. a day. Is that too much? It seems to be to me, but the company will not say. My pediatrician has been alerted because his poop was black last night and this morning. Can you tell me what I should be giving him if not this cereal?

Thanks,

Maria

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Tracey January 13, 2011 at 9:58 am

I was reading the list of 10 best cereal for kids and while the sugar content and whole grain ma be good, some of them have chemicals that in my opinion make them poor choices for anyone. Life cereal has BHT as preservative shich is considered a liver toxin and Frosted mini wheat has high fructose corn syrup as an ingrediaent.

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Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD January 14, 2011 at 10:00 am

Thanks Tracey. The BHT was an oversight — will let readers know in the post. I also acknowledge that Frosted Mini Wheats contain HFCS so parents can decide for themselves.

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Kat January 19, 2011 at 6:42 pm

Any opinion on Honey Bunches of Oats with Almonds? My daughter could eat the whole box in one sitting if let her!

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Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD January 21, 2011 at 4:05 pm

Kat — I just checked it out and its relatively low in sugar (6g). It doesn’t have as much whole grains as the other ones but still a significant amount (10g when 16g = serving). Overall, not bad!

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Kat January 23, 2011 at 3:12 pm

Thank you!

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Erin January 29, 2011 at 8:13 am

I am surprised that Multigrain Cheerios did not make the list. It seems to be better than Honey Nut Cheerios. MG Cheerios has 5 whole grains, 6 grams of sugar, 3 grams of fiber, and 100% of several vitamins and minerals.

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Erika February 27, 2011 at 7:10 pm

I also wonder about Puffins? We eat a lot of Puffins as a snack. I know that they’re relatively new, but I think that they’ve been out long enough to have made the list. Hmm…

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Kris March 15, 2011 at 6:02 pm

I was surprised by a lot of cereals on this list. I have to tell you, I THOUGHT that the Honey Nut Cheerios had HFCS, but I was wrong! They do however, have modified corn starch. I do try to not give my kids anything that is modified or enriched. HNC are one of the exceptions ;-)
My kids absolutely love the Barbara’s brand cereal, especially the Puffins.
What is your take on the Envirokidz brand?
A big hit in our house is Kashi Golean Crunch. :)

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Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD March 16, 2011 at 7:33 am

I’m a big Barbara’s Bakery fan too. I don’t knwo much about those products…they look great. Because my kids are young I do like to have at least one or two cereals with extra iron. Especially for my daughter who eats very few iron-rich foods.

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shizaa April 21, 2011 at 5:27 am

my son is 13 months old .i need healthy&balance meal plan.
thanks

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madaboutmad May 3, 2011 at 9:17 pm

For all concerned about iron and getting a balanced diet. It is virtually impossible for them to get everything (vit. minerals etc) even feeding them healthy foods, because they go through picky stages. My Pediatrician recommended a chewable Flinstones Complete. It has iron in it. I crush up only half since my daughter is only 14 months old and put it in her yogurt. Also, there are other vitamin liquids too with iron.

To answer Shizaa, my daughter is about your son’s age. I feed my daughter Earth’s Best Oatmeal in morning mixed with organic baby food fruit. She has Organic Whole Milk (Horizon’s has one with DHA) in morning and night. She also gets Greek yogurt mixed with baby food fruit. The others marketed to babies and toddlers are full of sugar. She also likes Kashi cereal bars, Kashi waffles with cream cheese or PB. She loves all fruit. When she is picky and wont eat table food, which is everyday, she will always eat her orangic baby food. Hope this helps

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Tiffani Hughes October 2, 2011 at 8:39 pm

Hi there,
I’m confused. Life cereal’s nutritional info lists yellow 5 and 6, harmful artificial dyes. Why is this cereal on this list? And why isn’t, for example, Cascadian Farms Fruitful Oh’s on the list? It lists whole grains and natural dyes such as beet juice and is very kid friendly.
Thanks,
Tiffani

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Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD October 3, 2011 at 10:13 am

Tiffani — that was an oversight. I plan on updating this list soon. Life and some of the other kid cereals do have iron which is especially important for kids under 5. I couldn’t access the nutrition information on Cascadian Farms Fruitful O’s but the criteria I list in the beginning of the article shows cereals should contain a serving of whole grains (16g per serving) and less than 10g of sugar. I see that Fruitful O’s contains 8g whole grain per serving — not sure how muh sugar. There are a lof great cereals that didn’t make this list — just some I wanted to highlight. Thanks for writing!

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Tiffani Hughes October 3, 2011 at 3:52 pm

I look forward to seeing the list, thanks Maryann

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loving mama January 1, 2012 at 8:51 pm

Dear Maryann,

I have come to your site looking for advice and guidance for helping my sweet daughter maintain a healthy weight. My 5 year old is active, plays on a soccer team, ski team, gymnastics… and we are healthy eaters. I am a registered nurse and understand nutrition basics. I have been very cognizant about what we eat at home and the lunches and snacks that are packed for her. I am very fine framed and as a devout yogi, border on the low end of a healthy weight. Sadly, my daughter has inherited my husbands build. My husband is slightly over weight despite being very active. His four sisters range are all overweight. One sister is very committed to healthy living, but still struggles with weight, and one is morbidly obese. My daughter at only 5 is already clinically overweight, with a BMI of 17.7, 52 pounds and 3’9″. I want to do all that I can to help teach my daughter about healthy eating and encourage her to love being active. I don’t want to do or say anything that would negatively impact her self esteem. I am looking for resources to help me toward this end and any advice or direction towards certain articles, etc would be greatly appreciated.

THANK YOU!

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Laura Lennon January 9, 2012 at 7:05 pm

What about ‘Chex” type cereals? I always thought they were an acceptable option.

Loving Mama –

I am so glad to see you reaching out and exploring your options, and taking a thoughtful approach. Having grown up with a parent who chose to scold without providing education or options.. it can take a lifetime to overcome. Hang in there with the loving encouragement to make healthy choices and an active lifestyle.

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Loving mama January 9, 2012 at 10:58 pm

Mary Ann, Can you give me your assessment for Quaker Oatmeal Squares?

What are the guidelines for max sugar per serving?

I know that low fat is less than 3grams per 100 kcals. What other stats are good to be aware of? I am thinking of making a set of lamentated index cards of a key ring to keep in my purse or send with my husband when shopping. Since the kids help with grocery shopping, they can learn about how to be choosey about healthy foods.

Not relative to ceral per say, but how do you feel about nuts? For example., when my daughter goes to the after school program on occasion they often have AWFUL snacks such as cheetos, bugles. So I like to send her an alternative that she really likes. My daughter loves peanuts, pistachios and flavored almonds. Nuts are high in fats, but I have thought them to be a better alternative. Yes? What is an appropriate serving size. I an apple too, but that usually comes back.

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hinatariq January 23, 2012 at 12:51 am

my daughter is 15 months old i need a full diet plan for her.i am a workink women and get back at home at 4 o clock .and she is also on my feed

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erin January 28, 2012 at 12:36 am

We love Mini Wheats at our house. I’m happy to see that they were on your list. That being said, I have made them a little more healthy for my family by mixing them in a tupperware-type container with SpoonSize Shredded Wheat. No one likes SSSW all on their own, but I am uncomfortable with the sugar content of MiniWheat’s, so this is a perfect marriage.

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Angela March 8, 2012 at 4:57 pm

My son loves the whole grain Cheerios. He munches on them throughout the day. We found that he also likes fresh strawberries with Kellogg’s Rice Krispies, which is crunchy and gives off a popping sound. It contains the same amount of iron as in Cheerios.

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Nancy Mure May 16, 2012 at 7:02 am

You may want to retract what you said about iron fortified cereal after seeing this. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cb_8nFpwV6Y
I wouldn’t want my kids eating it.

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Danielle June 19, 2012 at 9:51 pm

Infants SHOULD NOT have infant cereal. Really surprised this is on here. Do some more research before your baby starts solids mama’s!!!

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Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD June 20, 2012 at 7:49 am

Danielle — thanks for your comment. Can you please explain why with supporting research?

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maryann June 24, 2012 at 1:55 pm

What are your thoughts on other milks than cow milk for 9mo. olds, 1 yr olds and 18mo. olds? ie Soy, almond, coconut etc?

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Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD June 25, 2012 at 6:59 am

I wouldn’t give milk as a main beverage until after 1 year. Under one year should be either breastmilk or formula because they are better sources of iron and key nutrients needed. There are many alternatives to cow’s milk but, in general, they are lacking in protein and/or fat and calories for this age group and some may not be fortified with important vitamins like A and D, and calcium. Soy is the most comparable alternative to cow’s milk because of it’s fat and protein content. Nut milks and coconut milk contain very little protein and not as much fat as cow’s milk and may or may not be fortified with vitamin D which is important as it is contained in few foods. For chidren under 2 who are still in the critical growth period, check with your pediatrician for options. Here is an article that can give you a little more guidance http://www.littlestomaks.com/2009/12/ask-the-expert-choosing-the-right-milk-for-your-toddler/

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Stephanie September 13, 2012 at 3:25 pm

What about just puffed brown rice cereal? Wouldn’t that be good for kids? Especially served with almond milk?

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Heather October 11, 2012 at 11:13 am

Hi Maryanne,
I just saw that there’s been a recall of the Frosted Mini Wheats Bite Size.

Just wanted to let you know.
Heather

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Chinenye Alishi February 5, 2013 at 8:08 am

Is Cereiac good for a baby of 8 months

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Quentin May 26, 2013 at 12:58 pm

Normally I do not read article on blogs, however I would like to say that
this write-up very forced me to take a look at and do it! Your writing taste has been amazed me.

Thanks, very nice article.

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Ava August 27, 2013 at 1:29 pm

Thank you so much for this list! We are going grocery shopping today and wanted some cereal options for our 7 year old and almost-two year old. Before this list it was Cheerios only for our older one (but he is getting bored) and plain rice cereal for my baby, but we will explore the options mentioned in your post and in some of the other comments.

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Chrissy September 28, 2013 at 9:58 pm

I’m not sue if this is something that has been changed since you wrote the article but, I have a box if frosted mini wheats in my cabinet and it doesn’t seem to contain HFCS.
Great article!

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Ali haider November 8, 2013 at 7:25 am

the cerals should be with pic

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Kourtney January 1, 2014 at 3:56 am

Today, I went to the beach with my kids. I found a sea shell and gave it to my
4 year old daughter and said “You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear.” She placed the shell
to her ear and screamed. There was a hermit crab inside and it pinched her ear.

She never wants to go back! LoL I know this is entirely off topic
but I had to tell someone!

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Vaishali March 20, 2014 at 8:37 pm

I would have loved to see Weetabix original on the list. Great cereal made with whole grain wheat, fiber, iron (25% DV) and very little sugar (only 2 g). Babies love the taste.

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Tayo Salako March 27, 2014 at 1:46 pm

My 2 year old moved from Organic baby cereals to Weetabix (sweetened only with fresh fruit, never sugar) and Oatmeal (sweetened with fresh fruit and honey). Breakfast is gone in minutes, and he loves it.

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Craig September 29, 2014 at 6:41 am

NO Cereal is good…grab a piece of fruit…an egg…maybe a handful of nuts….companies spend millions convincing us that we NEED their processed junk….eat more of what your Grandparents did..

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