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Four tips for a healthier breakfast

Would you let your child eat ice cream for breakfast?  How about a candy bar?  Most parents would never allow their child to eat such sugary foods for the most important meal of the day.  But did you know that many popular children’s cereals contain as much sugar as these dessert items?

For example, one cup of Golden Crisp cereal contains almost as much sugar as a Snickers Bar.  One cup of Cocoa Krispies or Cap’n Crunch has as much sugar as five Oreo cookies.   Finally, a cup of healthy-sounding Apple Cinnamon Cheerios have the same amount of sugar as a ½ cup serving of ice cream.

According to a 2011 study published in Pediatrics, the journal of The American Academy of Pediatrics, “Compared with serving low-sugar cereals, high-sugar cereals increase children’s total sugar consumption and reduce the overall nutritional quality of their breakfast.”  Children served high-sugar cereals consumed twice the amount of sugar overall at breakfast time, and were significantly less likely to include fruit in their breakfast.

Give your child a healthy start to the day with these four tips for choosing a nutritious cereal:

  1. Check out the nutrition facts label Turn your cereal box around and look at the Nutrition Facts label.  A healthy cereal will have at least 3 grams of fiber and less than 10 grams of sugar per serving.  Cereals that meet these criteria include Cheerio’s, Shredded Wheat, Wheaties, Total, Life, and Original Honey Bunches of Oats.
  2. Practice portion control In the study mentioned above, children who ate sugary cereal poured themselves an average of two servings in one meal.  To keep your child’s portions in check, try using smaller bowls, or keep a one cup measuring cup in the cereal box for your child to scoop out his or her serving with.
  3. Be careful what you top your cereal with If a low-sugar cereal tastes bland to your child, don’t add sugar!  Instead, try fresh or dried fruit for additional color, sweetness, and healthy vitamins and minerals.  Use skim or 1% cow’s milk or light soy milk to keep the fat content low.
  4. Become a mix master If your child has difficulty giving up his or her favorite sugary cereal, try mixing it half-and-half with a lower sugar cereal.  For example, Count Chocula has 16 grams of sugar in a 1-cup serving.  By mixing ½ cup Count Chocula with ½ cup Kix, you reduce the sugar to 9 grams.

Reference:  Harris, J. L., Schwartz, M. B., Ustjanauskas, A., Ohri-Vachaspati, P., & Brownell, K. D. (2011).  Effects of serving high-sugar cereals on children’s breakfast-eating behavior.  Pediatrics, 127(1), 71-76.

By: Leah Sabato, MPH, RD, LD has been a dietitian at Dayton Children’s for three years.  She has a passion for working with kids and their families and believes that good nutrition should be easy, tasty, and fun!

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We have created this blog as a way to communicate key childrens' health and safety issues to parents and other child advocates. It is managed by Dayton Children's department of marketing communications. Comments can be sent to rodneyg@childrensdayton.org.

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